India: Militant Attacks Cause Cellphone Mayhem in Kashmir

By Adeel Shah

2015-06-02
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150602-IN-boysphones-620 Indian Kashmiri Muslim children use their cellphones during Eid prayers in Srinagar, Oct. 24, 2006.
AFP

A spate of militant attacks targeting cellular communications towers has disrupted service for hundreds of thousands of mobile phone customers across the Kashmir valley and forced providers to suspend operations.

Since May 24, a relatively unknown militant outfit, Lashkar-e- Islam, allegedly has launched a series of attacks that have killed at least two people and injured four others and has threatened cellular companies with violence if they did not shut down their regional services.

The violence and service disruptions started in Sopore, North Kashmir, in late May and have now spread to other parts of Kashmir.

According to state telecom officials, around 200 towers have been shut down in North Kashmir, and hundreds of towers have been switched off in other parts of the Valley.

The militant group has also reportedly menaced land owners who permit phone companies to install mobile communication towers on their property.

Srinagar resident Younis Ahmad was among those Kashmiris who decided to obey the militants’ orders. He switched off a mobile tower that was on his land for seven years, he said.

“I don’t want to put my family at risk, because the attacks are spreading everywhere,” Ahmad told BenarNews. “Those behind the attacks cannot be the well-wishers of the people.”

Similar fears have gripped vendors and franchise outlets that offer mobile phone recharge services in the city.

“Why should I put my life in danger, for small money? I have closed my recharge business till things get normal,” said Imtiaz Ahmad, a recharge vendor in the old city of Srinagar.

In the past nine days, five attacks on cellular phone towers and facilities have been reported across the valley, including one on Monday in which a grenade was hurled at a cellular tower in downtown Srinagar. One person was injured in that attack.

“In Srinagar city, around 40 to 60 Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) towers were closed on Monday evening,” said Shabir Ahmad, president of the Kashmir BSNL Tower Landlords Welfare Organization.

“For us, safety is important, and not the money. We have unanimously decided to close cellular towers till June 10,” he told BenarNews.

BSNL is an Indian government-owned telecommunications company.

“People have started closing the towers because they don’t feel safe. BSNL apart, landlords on whose land other telecom towers are installed too have switched off their towers,” a senior official who works with private telecom operator Airtel said on condition of anonymity.

“The services are badly affected across Kashmir.”

Police action

On Tuesday, Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed ordered the state’s police chief to take all possible steps to thwart any “attempt to disrupt cellular networks” in the valley and “provide security to mobile tower installations and owners.”

“The miscreants cannot be allowed to take law into their own hands and police should deal sternly with such elements,” a state government spokesperson quoted the chief minister as saying.

Kashmir is at the heart of a long-running dispute between neighbors India and Pakistan. Both have territorial claims over the predominantly Muslim region.

In the 1990s, an insurgency broke out against Indian rule. The conflict has claimed more than 50,000 lives, according to human rights groups.

On Monday, Indian forces killed three suspected insurgents during a gun battle near the Line of Control, the de facto boundary that separates the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir.

In response to the attacks on cell towers and related facilities, police said they had beefed up security.

“We have deployed additional forces during the night to tighten the security in central and northern Kashmir,” a senior police official told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.

Police have also launched an investigation.

“We have got leads and have identified those who are behind the attacks,” Kashmir Police Inspector-General Javid Gillani told BenarNews. “We have arrested a few OGWs (Over Ground Workers) who have helped the militants in these attacks.”

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