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Saudi Arabia angers India with independent Kashmir banknote

SRINAGAR: A resident walks past Indian army soldiers standing guard next to closed shops during a one-day strike called yesterday by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) against the Indian government decision to open Kashmir’s land for all Indians. – AFP

NEW DELHI: India has complained to Saudi Arabia over a banknote that shows Kashmir as a separate country, in the latest protest over maps of the disputed region that have also targeted foreign media outlets and a social media giant. The foreign ministry in New Delhi said it expressed “serious concern” over a new 20 riyal note issued to mark Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the powerful G20 bloc of countries, which includes India. Kashmir is contested between India, Pakistan and China but the world map on the note’s background shows it as a separate country, including the part of the territory administered by India.

The ministry said Thursday it had asked Saudi authorities to take “corrective steps”. Saudi authorities have yet to publicly respond. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still expected to address a virtual G20 summit in November. India has become increasingly assertive in expressing its custodianship of the former princely state, which was split between India and Pakistan when the two countries were partitioned in 1947. Tens of thousands have died in a three-decade insurgency on the Indian side.

The Indian government this week warned social media giant Twitter over geo-tagging data that showed Ladakh region – a part of greater Kashmir administered by New Delhi – as belonging to China. Three years ago India ushered in new laws that made erroneous depictions of the country’s map a criminal act, punishable by a three-year prison sentence. New Delhi banned broadcaster Al-Jazeera in 2015 for nearly a week after it published an Indian map that excluded Kashmir. It has also regularly censored The Economist magazine for showing Kashmir as a disputed region.

Kashmir shuts down
In another development, Indian Kashmir was hit yesterday by its biggest general strike since losing its semi-autonomous status last year, with local anger brewing over a new measure allowing outsiders to buy land in the disputed territory. The Himalayan region has been divided and disputed between India and Pakistan for more than 70 years and has seen decades of unrest that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Modi’s Hindu nationalist government changed the constitution to bring the territory under direct federal rule last year, sparking protests and a months-long internet blackout.

Shops and businesses stayed shut on Saturday and most residents kept at home after a shutdown was called by a coalition of political and religious groups that want self-determination for the region. Extra Indian security forces patrolled the nearly empty streets. This week New Delhi announced the abolition of laws that meant only the 12 million permanent Indian Kashmir residents could own land there. Even Kashmir groups normally supportive of Indian rule have opposed the changes, which also allow the Indian armed forces to designate strategic zones for building military infrastructure.

Many Kashmiris accuse the government of seeking to water down the local population in India’s only Muslim-majority territory. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah said Kashmir had been “put up for sale and left bereft of any basic protections”. “The amendments add to the fear of demographic changes. They want to alter the character of this place,” said Abdullah, who was among hundreds of political leaders detained for months during last year’s protests. More than 500,000 Indian troops are based in Kashmir, where an insurgency has been waged against security forces for more than three decades. – Agencies

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