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4G Internet In Kashmir: From Masses To Classes, Kashmiris Unite For The Restoration Of High-Speed Internet

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The demand for 4G internet service is Kashmir is growing amongst the masses, political classes, and even the separatists. In the dire times of the COVID-19 pandemic when the rest of the country has unrestricted access to high-speed, 4G internet, people in Kashmir complain of being isolated, neglected, and left in the dark. 

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The Supreme Court of India, on March 26 had issued a notice to the Central government and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) administration, on the plea of ‘Foundation for Media Professionals’ filed through advocate Shadan Farasat, which aimed to seek the restoration of 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir.

It was alleged that the government’s action (of blocking 4G internet services in Kashmir Valley) was violating the right to equality (Articles 14), freedom of speech (Article 19), right to life (Article 21) of the Indian Constitution.

The Centre has opposed the idea of the restoration of 4G internet in the name of national security as militancy still poses a serious threat to Jammu and Kashmir and it cannot be overlooked.  Citing a recent incident where a massive number of people gathered for the funeral of a militant killed by security forces in Sopore, the Centre’s advocate — Attorney General K K Venugopal was quoted by the media as saying “the militants are being made into martyrs.”

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Internet Blockade In Kashmir

Post the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution on August 5, the previous year, India, the world capital of internet shutdowns, stripped as many as eight million residents of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) of mobile phone networks and internet connection for many months altogether and, still continues to be limited to the second generation (2G) network.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the absence of 4G internet connection poses massive challenges to the residents of the valley as, the communication of necessary information and essential advisories becomes more pertinent with each passing day.

With more than 300 cases and 5 deaths so far, the doctors of the region are already facing a lonely battle against a virus that is rather new to the human race, and need to be constantly updated on the advancements on the global level.

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However, the medical professionals are stuck with not just an absence of basic modern communication solutions but also a general lack of face masks or other protective gear in hospitals.

The student community, once again, forced to sit home had just returned back to their schools nearly after a gap of 6 months of lockdown. While the other students across India continue to move further in their studies with online classes and video content, Kashmiri students barely lie afloat with their studies being interrupted with painfully slow internet speed.

Demand for restoration of 4G Internet Services in Kashmir

The leaders of the Valley that were detained for more than 7 months have been active in raising their voices against the suspension of high-speed 4G internet services.

Farooq Abdullah, the president of National Conference (NC) and Member of Parliament from Srinagar wrote to the Prime Minister of India in March asking him to immediately restore the high-speed 4G internet services in the Kashmir valley.

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The government then, in an order said the low-speed internet will continue in the Union Territory till March 26 “in the interests of sovereignty and integrity” of the country. However, the low-speed internet (2G) never got replaced with high-speed (4G) internet infuriating the leaders even further.

Omar Abdullah, the former Chief Minister of J&K and son of Farooq Abdullah wrote in a tweet “If you are going to restore our 4G then please just go ahead & do it. Stop messing with our heads with these “orders” “fake orders” & “denials”. Why should we be made to feel like beggars for the restoration of basic services the rest of the nation take for granted?”

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The Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also demanded the restoration of 4G internet facilities in Kashmir to fight the coronavirus. “In view of this global health crisis that has spread to the valley, 4G internet facility should be immediately restored,” the Hurriyat said in a statement.

Mir Umar, a resident of Baramulla district of Kashmir Valley told the EurAsian Times that “it’s simply a denial of a fundamental right to the people of Kashmir. When the world is facing and fighting COVID-19, people in Kashmir are additionally fighting for the restoration of 4G internet.

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Only the state and its operators have access to high-speed 4G internet. The general public has only access to 2G internet. Isn’t it irritating?

When there should be an easy flow of information – for medical professionals, students, and employees who’ve started working from home there is no actual response from the government. Only deadlines, which are adding more to the sufferings of people.”

International Organizations like Amnesty International have asked the Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir to “restore full access to internet services in the region of J&K and ensure that people have full access to health and safety-related information”.

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The RSF, an international NGO that promotes free, independent, and pluralistic journalism, has called the Indian government’s move on the absence of 4G internet “potentially criminal” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Taliban rejects calls for cease-fire by the Afghan Government, International community

In line with a landmark US-Taliban peace agreement — which was only cautiously welcomed by the Afghan government — some 5,000 Taliban prisoners should have been released months ago from government prisons in return for the estimated 1,000 captive security forces.

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The Taliban on Sunday rejected mounting calls for a ceasefire by the Afghan government and the global community, saying they were yet to find “an alternative” to the ongoing insurgency.

The group’s spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, said on Twitter that the implementation of the Doha deal signed between the US and Taliban on Feb. 29 and the start of intra-Afghan negotiations would be necessary for the conflict to de-escalate and end. “If anyone seeks ceasefire before talks then such is illogical. War is raging precisely b/c we have yet to find an alternative,” he said.

Mujahed underlined that prisoner exchanges must be completed and intra-Afghan negotiations launched “immediately” for a resolution to the fighting.

Last week, Afghan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani warned the peace process might face “serious challenges” if the Taliban continued with the war.

In a virtual conference with the representatives of some 20 regional countries and international organizations, Ghani underlined that though the Afghan government had the capacity and political will to end the war, it had offered the Taliban a political solution to move away from violence.

“The champions of peace will be people of Afghanistan and the region. Regional support for a democratic system in Afghanistan would further strengthen regional cooperation,” he said.

The rejuvenated yet fragile Afghan peace deal hinges on sluggish prison swaps testing the patience of the warring parties.

In line with a landmark US-Taliban peace agreement — which was only cautiously welcomed by the Afghan government — some 5,000 Taliban prisoners should have been released months ago from government prisons in return for the estimated 1,000 captive security forces.

The freeing of prisoners came to a halt less than halfway through in May amid bitter exchanges and allegations, as well as a spike in violence across the war-ravaged country.

According to official sources, there are 12,000-15,000 inmates in Afghan government prisons, including militants from Pakistan, Central Asia and Gulf countries. No figures are available on captives held by the insurgents.

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Four Pakistan Army soldiers killed in North Waziristan near Afghan Border

The clash occurred near Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan, during a raid on a hideout and resulted in the death of four troops, the statement by Pakistan’s army said.

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Four Pakistan Army soldiers and as many militants were killed in a clash in Pakistan’s restive North Waziristan region on Sunday, the military said.

The clash occurred near Miranshah, the capital of North Waziristan, near the border with Afghanistan, during a raid on a hideout and resulted in the death of four troops, the statement by Pakistan’s army said.

“As soon as the troops cordoned off the area, terrorist opened fire. All dug out terrorists were shot down by security forces, ” the statement said, adding: “In exchange of fire, four soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom).”

The killed soldiers included Sepoy Muhammad Ismail Khan, Sepoy Muhammad Shahbaz Yasin, Sepoy Raja Waheed Ahmed and Sepoy Muhammad Rizwan Khan.

North Waziristan – once dubbed the heartland of militancy – is one of seven former semi-autonomous tribal regions in Pakistan where the army has conducted a series of operations since 2014 to eliminate Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Successive operations have pushed the TTP towards neighbouring Afghanistan, and Islamabad claims the terrorist network has now set up bases across the border to attack Pakistani security forces.

The military operations also displaced over a million people, but the government claims most of them have returned to their homes. The tribal agencies were recently given the status of districts and merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

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India refuses to review RCEP decision over China’s border hostility – Reports

Last year, India backed out of the RCEP agreement citing its negative effects on “farmers, MSMEs and dairy sector”. “The present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP.

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India is firm on the decision to not become a member of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). The Modi government is reportedly “not reviewing” its decision on RCEP due to the presence of China as a member.

According to the sources, India has decided it won’t join any trade agreement including RCEP where China is a member as matters have turned worse for India, especially after the border stand-off with China.

Last year, India backed out of the RCEP agreement citing its negative effects on “farmers, MSMEs and dairy sector”. “The present form of the RCEP Agreement does not fully reflect the basic spirit and the agreed guiding principles of RCEP.

It also does not address satisfactorily India’s outstanding issues and concerns. In such a situation, it is not possible for India to join the RCEP Agreement,” PM Modi had stated at RCEP summit in Bangkok. The summit included China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the 10-nation ASEAN grouping.

“There is no question to join the pact now that the prime minister has given a clarion call to a self-reliant or ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) India,” said an official who refused to be identified. The comments came after Thailand said all member countries have decided to sign the trade pact by the end of 2020 without India, and the deal may come into force by the middle of next year.

According to Chinese state mouthpiece, Global Times (GT), this is a method of venting of irrational emotions after a recent deadly border conflict in the Galwan Valley.

“India’s years of hesitation toward the RCEP are essentially due to the country’s weak manufacturing sector,” it said. “After the deadly border conflict in June, India’s diplomacy has entered an irrational state of anger.

It is expanding its emotional approach to many other aspects of relations. Using border tensions with China as an excuse for its latest RCEP rejection is just another example. If India continues this irrational approach, it would not only harm regional interests but would not benefit India’s own long-term interests,” it added.

It further criticised the Indian media for calling RCEP as “Chinese-dominated” and “Chinese-backed” trade deal.

Despite China’s belligerence, no other country has shown any hesitation for signing the RCEP agreement. “For countries such as Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand it will be difficult to have inner coherence between geopolitics and trade,” said Rajiv Bhatia, a veteran diplomat.

Vietnam, which is now the ASEAN chair has said that it will continue to urge India to join the RCEP “whenever it feels comfortable”.

Amid soaring tensions in the South China Sea when the Chinese ship attacked and sank a Vietnamese boat near the Paracel Islands, it is still going to go ahead with the RCEP deal. Similarly, Australia, which has blamed China for the origins of Covid-19 and its growing military aggression, also seems clear about joining the RCEP.

China’s advice to India is that while facing a “more powerful neighbour”, it is imperative for India to properly assess its situation and rationally reduce its rivalry toward China to develop favourable economic and diplomatic strategies, rather than “irrationally heating up nationalism and blaming China when it encounters unsatisfactory situations”.

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