Easing of Kashmir crackdown begins, Indian authorities say

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Authorities in Kashmir have said that they have restored 17 out of approximately 100 telephone exchanges in the valley [Danish Ismail/Reuters]

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have begun restoring landline phone services after a nearly two-week security crackdown and news blackout, following a decision to revoke the special status of the Muslim-majority region earlier this month.

Administrator Shahid Choudhary said restrictions were being lifted in most areas and government offices would open on Saturday.

According to a local police chief who spoke to the AFP news agency on Saturday, 17 out of approximately 100 telephone exchanges were restored in the restive Kashmir Valley.

Dilbag Singh, police chief in Jammu and Kashmir state which encompasses the valley, said mobile internet had also been restored to five areas of the region of Jammu.

"We have opened up 17 telephone exchanges. Landline connections have been opened in some parts of each district in Kashmir," Singh told AFP.

However, roughly two dozen people who spoke to an AFP reporter in the main city in Kashmir, Srinagar, on Saturday morning said their landlines were still dead.

Al Jazeera corresponsedent Osama Bin Javaid reporting from Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administred Kashmir, said that despite India's announcement, the mood was "sombre" and "anxious", and residents were still unable to contact their relatives in the valley.

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Jammu and Kashmir Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam on Friday stated that restoration of telecom activity would be carried out in phases, pending the security situation in the region, asserting that "terrorists" often used mobile services to carry out "terrorist actions".

Journalist Bharat Bhushan told Al Jazeera that it was an "unverifiable, non-verifiable statement".

Asmat Pandith, a Kashmiri student in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera she and her fellow students were under a "mental siege", amid the lockdown in the valley that has barred them from contacting their families.

The students said that while they hope the curfew is lifted, they would only believe the Indian government's pronouncements when they see the results themselves.

The lockdown has failed to stop public anger. On Friday, in Srinagar, several hundred protesters clashed with police, who responded with tear gas and pellet-firing shotguns, another AFP reporter on the ground said.

Protesters hurled stones and used shop hoardings and tin sheets as improvised shields, as police shot dozens of rounds into the crowd. No injuries were reported.

"We want peace and nothing else but they have kept us under this lockdown like a sheep while taking decisions about us," resident Tariq Madri told AFP.

Rare UNSC meeting

The UN Security Council met on Friday to discuss Kashmir for the first time in 54 years, an event the Pakistani government hailed as a major diplomatic breakthrough.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted on Saturday welcoming the move to hold the meeting and saying that "ensuring resolution of the dispute is the responsibility of this world body".

Syed Akbaruddin, India's UN ambassador, told journalists after the meeting that Kashmir was an "internal matter" for India and that it was "gradually removing all restrictions" that were recently placed on the region as it "moves towards normalcy".

Zhang Jun, China's UN ambassador, told reporters that council members had been "seriously concerned" by the Kashmir crisis and that neither India nor Pakistan should provoke a situation that was "already very tense and very dangerous".

Those countries should "discard the zero-sum game mentality" to the region, he added.

US President Donald Trump spoke with Pakistani Prime Minister Khan by phone on Friday and conveyed the importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through dialogue, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.

Pakistan-India tensions

Relations between India and Pakistan remain tense despite calls from the international community to resolve the issue peacefully.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged Pakistan and India to refrain from any steps that could destabilise Indian-administered Kashmir, while also expressing concern about reports of restrictions by the Indian government.

On Friday, Pakistan's army reported more exchanges of fire across the heavily-militarized Line of Control (LoC) dividing Pakistan- and Indian-administered Kashmir.

It said one Pakistani soldier was killed, bringing the death toll to six since Thursday. The Pakistan Army spokesman Asif Ghafoor confirmed to Al Jazeera that three civilians were among those killed.

The latest spat between the two countries was sparked on August 5, when India's Hindu nationalist government revoked Article 370 of the Constitution and ended the decades-old autonomy Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed, including powers to pass laws on all matters except defence, communications and foreign affairs.

Before India scrapped Kashmir's special status, New Delhi had sent thousands of extra troops to the disputed region, imposing a curfew and communications blackout.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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