India to partially restore mobile phone services in Kashmir

Post-paid lines will start working from Monday in latest easing of two-month security clampdown

Indian policemen and locals inspect the site of an explosion in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. At least seven pedestrians were wounded on Saturday in Indian portion of Kashmir in a grenade explosion, according to authorities. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

The Indian government on Saturday announced the unblocking of about 4 million mobile phone connections in Kashmir in a major step towards easing a two-month-old security clampdown imposed after cancelling the region's autonomy.

Rohit Kansal, a government spokesman, said that "all post-paid mobile phones" would be functional from noon on Monday. The move will apply to all 10 districts of the Kashmir valley, he told a press briefing in Srinagar on Saturday.

However, there are no immediate plans to reactivate more than 2 million prepaid mobile phones, he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government cut off telephone and internet lines in Jammu and Kashmir ahead of revoking the state's special rights on August 5, striking down long-standing constitutional provisions for the Muslim-majority region that is also claimed by neighbouring Pakistan.

India said the moves were aimed at preventing protests and militant attacks in Kashmir, where it has been fighting an insurgency for decades. But the restrictions have affected people's access to health care and services, and cut off contact with loved ones. In August, United Nations experts termed the curbs "a form of collective punishment".

The restrictions are being eased gradually: landline connections were restored last month, and an advisory asking tourists to not travel to the region was lifted on Thursday.

Mr Kansal said restrictions on public movement had been lifted in "99 per cent" of Kashmir but gave no indication when internet services would be restored. Meanwhile, internet kiosks are being set up, some specifically for tourists, he said.

Protests have flared in Kashmir despite the curbs, and critics say India's move will alienate Kashmiris further and fuel armed resistance. Locals have resisted attempts by authorities to show things are back to normal, with many keeping their shops closed while students and teachers have largely stayed away from schools.

Concerns over security were renewed on Saturday by a grenade attack in a market area near the old town of Srinagar, the regions's main city. Police said seven people were injured.