India promises to ease Kashmir lockdown

By ASHOK SHARMA

The Indian government has assured the Supreme Court that the situation in disputed Kashmir is being reviewed daily and unprecedented security restrictions will be removed over the next few days, an attorney said after the court heard challenges to India's moves.

Top Indian bureaucrat BVR Subramaniam confirmed there would some loosening, telling reporters in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, that landline phone services would be restored gradually beginning Friday night and schools reopened from Monday.

He didn't announce any immediate restoration of mobile phone services, which he said could be misused by terrorist groups.

A heavy troop presence and restrictions including a near-constant curfew and a news blackout remained in place for a 12th day. The government imposed the lockdown to avoid a violent reaction to its decision on August 5 to downgrade Muslim-majority Kashmir's autonomy.

The Supreme court decided to give the government more time before ruling on a petition demanding the lifting of media restrictions, attorney Vrinda Grover told reporters. She represents Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin, who said she was unable to publish her newspaper in Srinagar.

Subramaniam also said that government offices had started functioning normally. He said that Friday's prayers passed off peacefully in the region and life in 12 of the region's 22 districts was almost back to normal.

Public transport will be restored gradually after evaluating the security situation, he said.

"Some preventive arrests were made in the region as a preventive measure to maintain law and order," Subramaniam said, though he did not give the number of people in government custody.

He also said there has not been a single loss of life since security forces imposed the lockdown early this month.

"We have prevented any loss of life or serious injuries to anyone despite concerted efforts by terrorist groups, radical groups and continuing efforts by Pakistan to destabilise the situation," he said.

Meanwhile, the family of a Kashmiri journalist for a regional daily newspaper said he has been detained by the Indian armed forces. Irfan Amin Malik works for Greater Kashmir, one of the largest newspapers in Kashmir.

Malik's father, Mohammed Amin Malik, told The Associated Press that Malik was taken into custody late Wednesday night at his house in Tral in Pulwama, a southern district in Kashmir.

"We are worried about our son," he said.

Principal Secretary Rohit Kansal of the Jammu and Kashmir region said he was looking into the case. Jammu and Kashmir police chief Dilbagh Singh declined to comment.

Malik is the first journalist known to have been detained since India's decision to revoke Kashmir's special constitutional status. The decision has raised tensions with Pakistan. The nuclear-armed rivals both claim Kashmir and the Himalayan region is divided between them.

Pakistan's military said earlier Friday that Indian firing across the Line of Control dividing the region killed another soldier, raising the death toll to six in less than 24 hours.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the continued clampdown in Indian-administered Kashmir and warned his counterpart, Narendra Modi, that "no nation can be defeated militarily when it rises for independence."