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In Kashmir, 'Fear Is Palpable From Both Sides'


Now to Kashmir, the region claimed by both India and Pakistan. Earlier this month, India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, revoked the special status of the Indian-controlled section of the region and placed the area under a military lockdown and a communications blackout. Modi's actions have been bitterly contested by Pakistan and to an extent China. Because of the communications blackout, residents have had a very difficult time reaching the outside world. But some journalists have been able to get information. We're joined now by Rahul Pandita. He is a journalist who recently returned from a 10-day reporting trip throughout Kashmir. He's with us now from Delhi.

Rahul, thank you so much for joining us.

RAHUL PANDITA: My pleasure.

MARTIN: So, first of all, can you just describe the conditions there? What is daily life there now? Can people go to school? Can they go to work? Can they buy their essentials from the store?

PANDITA: That is absolute communication blackout, which means that still today no landlines, no mobile, no internet was working. But apart from that, the restrictions on the road are really soft. They are partial, and they are partial by design, which means that if you have a car, you can walk or you can travel from one place to another. On the main roads, most of the shops are closed. But once you get off the main roads, there are many shops which are open. People can easily buy essential items like vegetable, milk, meat, et cetera.

MARTIN: And what about school? Can kids go to school? Are schools open, hospitals, doctors' offices - things of that sort?

PANDITA: Hospitals have been open. There's been a lot of emergency staff on work. In some private hospitals, some doctors have been missing. But in government hospitals, the staff is on complete duty. The schools have been closed for the last 10, 15 days. But Julia's (ph) school will open from tomorrow onwards.

MARTIN: You wrote a piece about your time in Kashmir. I'm going to quote from it now. You write, (reading) fear is like a pest that afflicts the apple crop in Kashmir sometimes. There is no pesticide that works against it. Everyone in Kashmir is on alert. It is foolish to let your guard down. There are too many complications, too many intricacies.

What did you mean by that? What are you trying to tell us?

PANDITA: There's a lot of anger, like I said, against the Indian government, against the abrogation of this article. That is one kind of fear - that, you know, people are not sure about what New Delhi's designs are. But at the same time, there is a silent majority in Kashmir to whom the abrogation of this article is acceptable. They favor it. But again, they cannot say it openly because if they do, they fear that Islamist extremists will enter their door and shoot them. So the fear is palpable from both sides.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, you've been to the region many times. Is there anything that particularly struck you?

PANDITA: Unfortunately, in the past few decades, Kashmir has gone through similar situations many times. Just about three years back, a senior terrorist commander called Burhan Wani who was the commander of the Pakistan-based terrorist organization, Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in an encounter with Indian security forces. So it led to a lot of clashes, especially in Southern Kashmir. In fact, this time, the authorities are trying to learn a lesson from the mistakes they committed in 2016. So the clampdown you see in terms of mobile telephony and Internet is because of the fact that the Indian authorities fear that these instruments will be used by the underground workers of terrorist organizations to incite people, which has happened so many times in the past.

MARTIN: Well, I think that others would say that the abrogating the status unilaterally is itself a provocation.

PANDITA: Well, it is. We must understand that the abrogation of Article 370 has been long in the political manifesto of the current ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. It may not find a lot of supporters in Kashmir, but outside Kashmir, in the rest of India, it has made them extremely popular.

MARTIN: Yesterday, we reported on the U.N. Security Council meeting that took place on Friday. The topic was Kashmir. It seems like there was not really a consensus on how to move forward on this issue. Did you have a sense of how the residents of Kashmir would like - what role they would like the international community to play in this conflict, if any?

PANDITA: I think that a majority of Kashmiris are really, really tired of the violence. Many, many years ago, there had been a lot of hopes on Pakistan. But I think that hope is gone. Once the ban on communication is lifted, when Internet is restored, many are expecting to see a few - at least a few clashes between protesters and Indian security forces in Kashmir.

MARTIN: That's journalist Rahul Pandita. He was kind of to join us from Delhi.

Rahul, thank you so much for speaking with us about your reporting.

PANDITA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.