Pakistan is now urging the Indian government to lift the occupied Kashmir blockade because of the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak reaching the disputed region.
One case has already been reported in the occupied territory, although the actual numbers are likely to be higher. Already under a draconian lockdown, a new government order on Tuesday extended existing restrictions on internet speed till at least March 26.
This is ostensibly to “prevent misuse of social media applications”, but it puts the entire populace of IOK at further risk due to the difficulty in getting information. Kashmiris have been quoted by the Indian media as saying that the restrictions on internet speed are unacceptable at a time when easy access to reliable information about the virus is crucial.
In Pakistan, the Foreign Office spokesperson hit a similar note, stressing that lifting restrictions is necessary for people to obtain full information and to ensure the provision of essential items and medical supplies.
Pakistan had also raised this point during the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation teleconference, when Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said, “Opening up communication and movement would facilitate dissemination of information, allow distribution of medical supplies and allow containment to proceed unimpeded.”
Then, as now, the Indian government ignored the point. Their external affairs ministry is too busy issuing statements about how “The Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India” (even though such a statement goes against UN Security Council resolutions) and then having the audacity to call the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor illegal because it passes through AJK, which is part of the same dispute and it is unlikely to change direction.
Even respected Congress leader P Chidambaram, a staunch opponent of the Kashmir lockdown, said on Thursday that the government must order an “immediate lockdown of all our towns and cities for two to four weeks” to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Although Chidambaram was not referring to internet access, his comment does reflect that Kashmir will move to the backburner as India grapples with the coronavirus crisis.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2020.