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India Officially Divides Kashmir After Revoking Special Status

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  • India has officially divided the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal territories and stripped the state of its autonomy.
  • The move enforces a decision made by the Indian government in August to revoke a constitutional provision that had granted Kashmir certain autonomous powers since India’s independence in 1947.
  • Meanwhile, a media blackout and security crackdowns continue in Kashmir, prompting condemnation from human rights groups.

Kashmir Split Made Official

India officially divided the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal territories Thursday, effectively stripping the former state of special autonomy granted to it under the constitution and giving the Indian government significant control of the region.

The move comes nearly three months after India’s government revoked the constitutional provision known as Article 370 that gave the state certain autonomous powers such as its own constitution and flag, and the ability to make its own laws.

When India scrapped Article 370, it gave the central government authority over Kashmir and forced the state to abide by Indian laws. That legal change has now taken effect.

Now, instead of one highly autonomous state, Kashmir has been split into two federal territories with significantly less authority.

One of those territories is still called Jammu and Kashmir, and it has a legislative assembly. In general, federal territories have much power than states in India, and the central government has a lot more control over them.

The second territory is called Ladakh, and it will not get its own legislature.

Security Debate

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has continually claimed that revoking Article 370 is necessary to secure the region, which has long been one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints and one of the most militarized regions.

But many have argued the move is not in the interest of security at all, and just a blatant power grab.

Some even say it will actually likely worsen security in Kashmir for several reasons.

First, in addition to revoking Article 370, the Indian government also said it would let Indians buy property in Kashmir, something only Kashmiri’s had been allowed to do.

Kashmir is one of India’s only Muslim-majority territories, and some experts have expressed concern that allowing Indians to buy property and move to Kashmir would change the demographics of the region and create tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

Others also claim that the decision was just part of an agenda for Modi, a staunch Hindi Nationalist, to intentionally change the demographics in Kashmir. If violence were to break out, he could justify crackdowns on the Muslim population.

At the very top level, some believe the move would cause more insecurity than security simply because it would upset the people of Kashmir.

Military Crackdown Continues

Following the Indian government’s initial announcement, Modi sent tens of thousands of troops to Kashmir to prevent violent outbreaks, functionally putting the territory on total lockdown.

That lockdown has been in place since the Indian government first announced that they were revoking Article 370 in August.

In addition to a massive security crackdown and a near-constant curfew, Indian military forces also enforced a communications blackout, shutting down internet access, mobile and home phone services, and cable TV for the 12.5 million people in the region.

Since August, the authorities have reportedly started to ease some of the restrictions, lifting some roadblocks and restoring some landlines and cellphone services.

Shops, businesses, and schools in Kashmir have still largely remained closed since the crackdown started. Indian forces reportedly have encouraged students to go back to school and for businesses to open again, but Kashmiris have largely stayed home because they fear violence. 

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that 1.5 million Kashmiri kids are still not in school.

While some services have been restored, the authorities have still limited internet access, claiming that it will be used to organize protests.

Since August, hundreds of anti-India protests have erupted all over the region.

Government and military forces have clashed with protestors violently, with authorities firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and sometimes even live ammunition to prevent protesters from marching in the streets.

According to a United Nations report, six people have been killed and dozens more have been injured. It has also been reported that at least 4,000 people have been arrested since the crackdown began.

Meanwhile, human rights organizations have condemned Modi and India for what they are doing in Kashmir.

“We are extremely concerned that the population of Indian-Administered #Kashmir continues to be deprived of a wide range of #HumanRights and we urge the Indian authorities to unlock the situation and fully restore the rights that are currently being denied,” the UN wrote on Twitter.

Amnesty International has also said the crackdown and the media blackout violate human rights.

But Modi has continued on, even going as far as to argue that he is giving the people of Kashmir more rights and better standards of living by bringing them fully under India’s purview.

“Now the real participation of co-operative federalism will be seen,” he said in a speech Thursday. “New highways, new railway lines, new schools, new hospitals will take the development of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to new heights.”

While some of the changes that will happen in this new era for Kashmir are readily apparent, there are still many unknowns.

For example, Kashmir’s official language was Urdu under its Constitution. Now that Kashmir is operating under India’s Constitution, it is unclear if the Kashmiris will be expected to adopt Hindi, which India’s official language.

Regardless, Oct. 31 represents a massive change for the region, and the first day since 1947 that Jammu and Kashmir has officially not been its own autonomous state.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Washington Post) (BBC

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E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria

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  • On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
  • The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
  • Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
  • The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Striking Back Against Militias

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.

The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.

Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.

For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.

Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.

In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.

Public Perception in a Downward Spiral

Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.

Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation

“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”

Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”

However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.

All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.

Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC) (CNN)

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Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School

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  • Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
  • Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
  • Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
  • According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.

Abductions Before Dawn

Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.

They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.

Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.

This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.

In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.

Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?

Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.

Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.

Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.

The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.

See what others are Saying: (NPR) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)

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