04 January 2002

Centre hangs up on Kashmiris

4 January 2002
The Times of India

Centre hangs up on Kashmiris


NEW DELHI: It's the political equivalent of using a sledgehammer to swat a fly: In order to ensure the telephone system and the Internet in Jammu and Kashmir are not misused by militants, the Vajpayee government has simply switched off the Internet and effectively banned most Kashmiris from calling long-distance.

Even as the rest of the country literally rang in the New Year by calling friends and relatives around the country, people in J&K woke up to find they had, quite literally, been disconnected.

While militants are still at liberty to communicate through walkie-talkies and satellite phones, a Srinagar housewife cannot go to a PCO to speak to her sister in Kupwara, a pujari in Jammu cannot speak to his son in Texas and correspondents in the state can no longer file news via the Internet or PCO fax.

Under orders from the communications ministry - acting on instructions from the Cabinet Committee on Security - Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd suspended all public STD and ISD facilities out of the state, as well as Internet services.

Private subscribers and offices can still call the rest of the country, but the majority of people in J&K who rely on PCOs to communicate with the outside world have been thrown into the telephonic equivalent of solitary confinement.

According to Jammu-based activist and writer Balraj Puri, the Centre's latest move is ''another step in the isolation of the people of Jammu and Kashmir''.

A former intelligence agency official with extensive experience in Kashmir told this correspondent that the ban ''won't stop the bad guys from talking to each other''.

He pointed out that in any case it was never possible to dial Pakistan from the state and that ordinary Kashmiris would be inconvenienced and alienated. ''Beyond a point, such measures are counter-productive''.

Communications minister Pramod Mahajan's statement that the ''temporary'' ban has been imposed because of the ''border situation'' suggests the government wants to ensure spies do not convey details of troop movements using PCOs or e-mail.

But additional troops have also been deployed on the Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat borders. ''Let the government suspend STD facilities from PCOs in these states'', said a Kashmiri journalist who asked not to be identified. ''Or have they decided that everyone in Jammu and Kashmir is anti-national?''

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