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Why a growing number of Kashmiri youth are picking up guns

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Shopian, Indian-administered Kashmir – Sajad Ahmad Beigh, a 23-year-old herder from south Kashmir’s Shopian district, left his home with a flock of sheep into the nearby woods on a summer afternoon early last month. He never returned.

A week later, his brother Khurshed Ahmad was informed by the Indian army officers that Sajad was shot dead in a gunfight in Sugg village, 4km (2.5 miles) away from his home.

“He was very young. We had no idea what happened to him,” Khursheed, Sajad’s brother, told Al Jazeera. “It was not a thing he would discuss. We had no idea. We were shown body at 9:30pm on the day of his killing to identify,” he said.

An offensive launched by Indian forces in Kashmir has killed at least 116 rebels since January, handing a blow to the armed rebellion that broke out nearly 30 years ago against Indian rule.

Sajad‘s rebel life lasted a mere seven days. Several fighters killed over past months were recent recruits – some of them just days old.

In Srinagar, a rebel killed this month had picked up the gun last month. Another young man – who was enrolled for a PhD in business administration at a local university – who disappeared from a trekking trip is suspected to have joined rebel ranks.

Has the August 2019 decision on J&K reduced violence in J&K as was claimed by BJP at the time?

Or 4 that matter, has security situation in Kashmir improved since 2014?

Here’s the comparative violence data from 2011 to 2019.

The data & the graph are self-explanatory. @IPCM_2018 pic.twitter.com/pIcawkmY82

— Happymon Jacob (@HappymonJacob) June 20, 2020

Kashmir’s Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh said “22 terrorists have been killed in the last two weeks” and more than 100 – one-third of the total rebel numbers – killed since the beginning of the year.

At least 42 rebels were killed in June alone, according to an official tally.

In the main city of Srinagar where gunfights are rare, five rebels were killed in two military operations in the last two months. Three civilians were also killed when, according to their families, an “unexploded shell” went off at one of the sites. One of the victims was a 12-year-old boy, Basim Aijaz.

On Wednesday, the killing of a 65-year-old civilian caused outrage after a picture emerged of a toddler sitting on his body.

Hard-line Kashmiri policy

The security forces have pledged to wipe out armed rebellion from the region, but a slow trickle of youth, like Sajad, continue to join the rebel ranks as they leave behind families “shocked and clueless”.

Last year, 139 youth joined the armed rebellion, according to official figures.

Kashmir story - DO NOT USE

Family of Sahil Ahmad Malik, a rebel from South Kashmir’s Shopian, displaying his picture from a mobile phone [Shuaib Bashir/Al Jazeera]

Kashmir’s security situation has gradually worsened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in 2014, data show, raising a question mark over his hard-line Kashmiri policy.

Last August, India revoked a 70-year-old constitutional provision, Article 370, which guaranteed a limited autonomy to the disputed region – home to about 12 million people.

India’s Hindu nationalist government also rushed thousands of additional troops to the region, which is already believed to host more than half a million Indian forces, making it one of the world’s most militarised zones in the world.

Most of the pro-freedom leaders, as well as a large number of pro-India leaders including former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, remain in jail since last year’s decision to strip Kashmir’s special status and impose a strict military and communication clampdown.

An internet shutdown was lifted in February but Kashmir is still deprived of high-speed internet. Government has defended its decision saying the internet would be used to organise protests against the government.

New Delhi’s decision to disband the local legislative body has also alienated sections of politicians who were previously loyal to New Delhi.

‘Deepening the alienation’

“At this time, Jammu and Kashmir is one of those last corners of the world where normal political processes and institutions are under suspension. People don’t have participation in the decision-making process, the most basic of any democratic societies,” Zafar Choudhary, a political analyst based in Jammu region, told Al Jazeera.

epa08499939 Indian army soldiers return from the site of a gunfight with separatist militants in Srinagar, the summer capital of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, 21 June 2020. Three militants

Kashmir is one of the most militarised regions of the world [EPA]

Zafar said that amid a political vacuum, New Delhi has been pushing for “unprecedented constitutional changes” in the region. “And new policy decisions of massive repercussions, such as domicile law continue to surprise people,” he said.

Kashmiris fear the domicile law is a tool to bring about demographic change in India’s only Muslim-majority region. The law had previously barred outsiders from other Indian states from buying land and settling in Kashmir. Last week, up to 25,000 outsiders were granted residency in the disputed region, which is also claimed by Pakistan. Both countries govern parts of the Himalayan region.

Zafar, who is also the editor of news website The Dispatch, said New Delhi’s policy of assimilating Kashmir with the rest of India is having the opposite impact. “These are proving to be materials of further deepening the alienation,” he said.

Last year’s security lockdown also devastated the region’s main export produce – apple – while hopes of a revival of economic activity this year were dashed by coronavirus restrictions.

Meanwhile, the military offensive has continued even as the region battles the global pandemic.

No more funerals of rebels

Rebels enjoy popular support and those killed in gun battle are considered martyrs and accorded mass funerals. The killing of popular rebel commander Burhan Wani in southern Kashmir’s Tral region four years ago sparked widespread protests. His funeral attracted tens of thousands of people.

But Indian authorities now confiscate bodies of slain rebels and transport them to remote mountainous locations where they are quietly buried.

“We briefly saw his face and were not allowed to cry or touch it or even take a last picture of him. We were told to submit our phones before the funeral,” Sajad’s younger sister, Shahida, a college student, told Al Jazeera. “There is no one whom we could tell and they would listen that having the dead body is our right.”

Shahida said last month Sajad’s mobile phone was taken away by the army when he was with his cows near his home.

Relatives and neighbors carry the coffin of civilian Bashir Ahmed Khan during his funeral on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Suspected rebels attacked pa

Relatives and neighbours carry the coffin of civilian Bashir Ahmed Khan during his funeral on the outskirts of Srinagar on Wednesday [Dar Yasin/AP Photo]

“They [army] told him to come and collect it. When he went to the army camp they beat him and tortured him. He was unable to walk, his thighs hurt. He was again told to collect it and he refused to go due to the fear. His phone is still with them,” she said.

Inspector General of Police Vijay Kumar told Al Jazeera that they are not handing over bodies of “militants to families and not allowing their burial in the native places”.

“This way we are not only protecting people from COVID-19 infections, but also stopping glorification of militants during funerals,” the official said.

In a nearby village of Baghandar, Sahil Ahmad Malik, 25, lived with his family till he left home in August 2018 to join rebel ranks. The family told Al Jazeera that he never visited or made contact with them during his rebel life that lasted two years.

Malik was killed along with Sajad in southern Kashmir, a rebel stronghold, his family said. They however, did not see his body as they were not informed before it was buried in Sheeri village, located over 120km (75 miles) from Shopian.

‘Harassment from security forces’

Habla Begum, 50, Malik’s mother alleged that they continued to face harassment from the security forces for two years when her son was an active rebel.

Kashmir domicile law

Last year’s security lockdown devastated the region’s economy [Tauseef Mustafa/AFP]

“Every day there was a raid in our home. We could not sleep properly all those months. I did not see his dead body. We heard he was killed,” she said at her home in Baghandar village.

“They beat my younger son who was 18. I cannot even explain the harassment we faced during the 23 months. Once they [army] kept me on snow bare feet the whole night in winters, the other time they kept a torch shining on my eyes the whole night in the darkness. This was the punishment for us,” she alleged.

“They were forcing us to tell him to surrender and bring him but we didn’t have any information about him. I kept on pleading with those officers that they too might have mothers like me. We all felt suffocated.”

When asked about the allegations of harassment by the security forces, IGP Kumar told Al Jazeera that they have not received any complaints.

“We have received any complaint about the harassment by police through social media but parents did not report any complaint. We are still looking into it.”

Kumar said the current active rebel strength is between 165 and 180 – a considerable drop from the early 1990s when armed fighters ran in thousands. The numbers slowed down drastically in the early 2000s, after which street protests became more commonplace.

Indian security forces have been accused of using disproportionate forces on protesters, including stone-pelters, blinding thousands by pellet guns.

‘This will carry on’

Ajai Sahni, a security expert and executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management based in New Delhi, believes the rebels will possibly “carry on” with limited numbers and resources.

Kashmir

A Kashmiri man holds his hands up as paramilitary soldiers stand guard near the site of a gun battle between rebels and government forces in Srinagar [Dar Yasin/AP Photo]

“I don’t see any radical transformation in their trajectory,” he said.

“They have come down from several thousand to a few hundred. This is a sustainable type of insurgency and they can maintain this level for a long time, especially because they get help from Pakistan,” Sahni said, referring to New Delhi’s accusation that Islamabad backs rebels. Pakistan denies arming rebels.

He, however, said there had been “no efforts” for political accommodation in Kashmir even when deaths and rebel activities declined drastically in the early 2000s.

Since the killing of Wani, the rebel commander, a growing number of Kashmiri youth have joined rebel ranks as they see no hope of a political solution.

The calm at the de facto border between India and Pakistan has also been broken in recent years. The cross-border shelling, which had come down considerably, has seen a sharp uptick as New Delhi changed its Kashmir policy under Modi.

In 2014, there were 547 ceasefire violations, which increased manifolds in 2019 to 3,479.

The official data shows that there has been an increase in the number of incidents of violence such as the killing of rebels, civilians and the Indian security personnel in recent years.

On Wednesday, a Kashmir-based rights group said at least 229 people have been in the first six months of this year. The report [PDF] by Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society said 32 of those killed were civilians.

Meanwhile, Kashmiris will continue to bear the pain of violence and political and economic marginalisation until, in Sahni’s words, a “political outreach is initiated” from New Delhi.

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The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know

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What happened on the day Navalny fell ill?

On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13. 

He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a cup of tea. He was on the way to Moscow.

In the first half-hour of the flight, he fell ill and witnesses said he screamed in pain. He was later in a coma.

He was airlifted to Germany’s capital, a six-hour flight, to the Berlin Charite hospital.The plane made an emergency landing at Omsk. He received treatment in the Russian city, where doctors said he was too unwell to be moved, but two days later on August 22, a Saturday, they said his life was not in danger.

Was he poisoned? 

Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, a claim several European countries support.

A laboratory in Germany said it had confirmation on September 2, followed by laboratories in France and Sweden on September 14.

Samples from Navalny have also been sent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for testing.

Russia says there is no evidence to prove Navalny was poisoned, while its ally Belarus has also doubted the claim. The doctors in Omsk said they had not detected poisonous substances in Navalny’s body. 

US President Donald Trump has been criticised for towing Russia’s line, saying on September 4 – two days after Germany’s claim to have “unequivocal evidence” – that “we have not had any proof yet”.

How is Navalny’s condition now?

On September 7, more than two weeks after falling ill on the plane, Navalny’s doctors in Germany said he was out of a coma and that his condition was improving. His spokeswoman said, “Gradually, he will be switched off from a ventilator.”

On September 15, Navalny posted on Instagram that he was breathing alone. He has said he plans to return to Russia. 

If he was poisoned, who may have poisoned him and where?

Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned at the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin – a claim the Kremlin has strongly denied. 

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh had initially said she believed Navalny’s tea at the airport was poisoned, but on September 17, his team said the nerve agent was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport. 

What effect has the alleged poisoning had?

The alleged attack has widened a rift between Europe and Russia, with Germany and France leading calls for a full investigation but stopping short of outrightly blaming the Russian government. 

MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Germany’s ambassador to Moscow, while the United Kingdom has summoned the Russian envoy over the incident.

For its part, Moscow rejects what it called the politicisation of the issue.

Significantly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which transfers Russian gas to Germany. Once again, the Kremlin has warned not to involve the Navalny case in any discussion about the pipeline, with Dmitry Peskov saying on September 16, “It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation.”


A timeline of events surrounding the alleged poisoning attack on Navalny: 

August 20 – Navalny falls ill on flight; plane makes emergency landing in Omsk; his spokeswoman says he was poisoned, perhaps by the tea he drank at the airport

August 22 – Navalny airlifted to Berlin Charite hospital 

September 2 – Germany says it has ‘unequivocal evidence’ Navalny was poisoned, Russia responds by saying the claim is not backed by evidence

September 4 – US President Donald Trump says ‘we do not have any proof yet’

September 6 – Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, threatens action over gas pipeline project, saying, ‘I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2’

September 7 – German doctors say Navalny is out of an artificial coma

September 11-13 – Russia holds local elections; Navalny’s allies make gains in Siberian cities

September 15 – Navalny posts on Instagram that he is breathing alone

September 16 – Kremlin spokesman warns against politicising Navalny issue in discussions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Germany

September 17 – Navalny’s team now suspects he was poisoned in his hotel room, not the airport, citing traces of nerve agent on an empty water bottle

September 17 – MEPs call for sanctions against Russia 

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Former Canada PM Turner, in office for just 11 weeks, dies

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John Turner, Canada’s 17th prime minister who held the office for just 79 days in 1984, died on Saturday aged 91.

Former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner, who was in office for only 11 weeks in the 1980s, has died at age 91, Canadian media outlets reported on Saturday.

Turner served as the country’s 17th prime minister and, despite his short tenure at the helm of a Liberal Party government in 1984, he spent decades in Canadian federal politics.

Turner took over from Pierre Elliott Trudeau – current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s father – in late June 1984 at a time of increasing voter fatigue with the Liberals, who had been in power for 20 of the previous 21 years.

At that point, he had already held the posts of finance and justice minister.

But his 79-day tenure as prime minister was the second shortest in Canadian history. He resigned as Liberal leader in 1990 and was replaced by Jean Chretien, who led the party to victory in 1993.

Turner’s time in federal politics was perhaps best remembered for his battles with former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, especially over free trade with the United States, CBC News reported.

‘Distinguished service’

On Saturday, legislators from across the Canadian political spectrum shared their memories of Turner, whom many described as being deeply devoted to the public service, and sent their condolences to his family.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who held the post from 2006 to 2015, said Turner “served his family and country with great dignity”.

“His legacy and commitment to public service will be remembered for generations,” Harper tweeted.

Liberal parliament member Yvan Baker said Turner was one of his early political role models.

“Canada meant everything to him, and he will be remembered for his life-long & distinguished service to this country,” Baker wrote on Twitter, alongside an image of himself with the late former prime minister.

Deeply saddened to learn former PM John Turner has passed away. He was one of my first political role models. Canada meant everything to him, and he will be remembered for his life-long & distinguished service to this country. My sympathies to his family at this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/U1Mq6pX1ZE

— Yvan Baker, MP (@Yvan_Baker) September 19, 2020

Bob Rae, a longtime politician and now Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Turner was many things – a lawyer, Rhodes scholar, athlete – but a “believer above all in the public service”.

Canada’s Minister of Indigenous-Crown Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said she would miss Turner’s “wise counsel”.

“He cared deeply about this country and our democratic institutions. We must now all carry his torch as we build an even better Canada,” she tweeted.

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:

Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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Trump bans TikTok over security concerns

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From: Inside Story

More than 100 million Americans will not be able to download two of the world’s most popular apps from Sunday.

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