SRINAGAR: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was greeted by near-empty streets lined by security personnel on his first official visit to Indian-occupied Kashmir on Friday, as separatists enforced a strike to demand political dialogue about the future of the divided region.
Schools and shops were shuttered and normally busy roads were free of traffic in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-held Kashmir, when Modi arrived to meet army commanders in one of the most world’s most militarised regions. “It is our earnest wish that Mr Modi and the newly elected NDA government understand the ardent political message we seek to convey through this act,” said separatist leader Mirwaiz Omar Farooq.
Police erected barricades to stop and search vehicles entering Srinagar ahead of Modi’s arrival, and soldiers flanked main roads throughout the Himalayan region. Modi was later due to inaugurate a hydroelectric dam in the mountains, barely a mile from the Line of Control. “We have repeatedly expressed our hope that the Kashmir issue is addressed in its proper perspective as a political and human issue,” said Farooq, who heads a coalition of separatists and is seen as close to Pakistan.
On Wednesday night, sporadic fighting broke out in Poonch District along the defacto border, with the Indian army saying they had foiled an infiltration attempt by militants. Earlier in the day, Modi saw off the inaugural train on a new stretch of railway to the town of Katra, allowing easier access to the a Hindu shrine there that is one of India’s most popular pilgrimage sites and receives upwards of 10 million visitors each year.
Modi said the train, in addition to making it easier for pilgrims to reach the shrine, would help connect the state with the rest of India. “Infrastructure is the centre point of development,” Modi said. “My objective is to win the hearts of the people of Jammu and Kashmir through development.”
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