India's Seychelles military base plan hits choppy waters

Opposition declares agreement between two governments ‘dead’ against backdrop of contest for influence in Indian Ocean.

    India’s plans for building military facilities in Seychelles have hit choppy waters, with the Indian Ocean island’s political opposition blocking efforts to ratify a deal reached by the two governments.

    Seychelles and India signed a 20-year agreement in January to build an airstrip and a jetty for its navy on Assumption Island.

    This week, the opposition in Seychelles, led by Wavel Ramkalawan, declared the deal “dead”.

    “I hope I have made it clear that this is the end of the Assumption agreement and that I don’t expect to see it on any agenda between President Faure and the opposition,” Ramkalawan said in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

    The opposition coalition holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly, and the country’s law mandates that the agreement must be ratified by this body.

    Seychelles, known internationally for its picturesque beaches, is of strategic importance to both India and China.

    Asia’s biggest economies are drawn to its Indian Ocean location along some of the world’s busiest sea-lanes.

    Asian power rivalry

    India and China are locked in a thinly veiled contest for influence across a vast part of Asia.

    China last year inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, situated on a global shipping point that links the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

    India’s plans for a military base in Seychelles was first announced during a trip by Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, to the islands in 2015.

    “This agreement would potentially allow for a greater arc of surveillance to curb piracy and other illegal activities in the exclusive economic zone of Seychelles. It would also burnish India’s credibility as a collective security stakeholder,” Uday Bhaskar, retired Indian navy officer and defence expert, told Al Jazeera.

    But the project has faced public protests in Seychelles as activists argue that the country cannot afford to be drawn into a regional conflict involving nuclear powers India and China.

    “It is clear that India wants to establish a military base in Assumption to monitor the traffic in the Mozambique channel in the Indian Ocean and to especially monitor the energy transport of China around the world,” Ralph Volcere, a political activist who has led demonstrations against the pact in Seychelles, told Al Jazeera.

    “Seychelles, a small island with only 90,000 people, cannot afford to be taking sides. We are not pro-India, anti-India, pro-Chinese, anti-Chinese. We are only pro-Seychelles.

    “We know the rivalry between China and India to have influence over the Indian Ocean. The Chinese also wanted to build a base here, but we turned that down. Now we can’t have India station it’s military personnel in our country. It doesn’t matter if they are American or English or German – we don’t want foreign military personnel here.”

    An email from Al Jazeera to the office of Seychelles president, Danny Faure, seeking details about the pact went unanswered.

    Leaked pact details

    The protests and demonstrations against the project led to the India-Seychelles agreement being amended in January this year.

    Safeguards including a no-nuclear weapons use were included in the renegotiated pact that also prohibited India from using the base during war.

    Earlier this month, details of the classified agreement between India and Seychelles surfaced on the internet along with a YouTube video, complete with maps and the location of proposed facilities.

    Following the leak, local news-media reports quoted President Faure as denying that land on Assumption Island was sold to India.

    His government has since ordered a probe into the leak.

    “Maybe the two governments should have made the text of the agreement available to the public. Secrecy has only roused suspicions that Seychelles interests will be harmed. But if you read the text of both the old and the new agreements, they are quite reasonable,” Manoj Joshi, a Delhi-based foreign policy analyst, told Al Jazeera.

    India has said it intends to invest $550m in building the military base.

    Also earlier this month, Seychelles Vice President Vincent Meriton said the deal is “still in the conception phase, and there is no clear cost attributed to it at the moment. It will cover about a quarter of the remote island about 1,140 southwest of the Seychelles’ main island of Mahe”.

    India’s waning influence

    In any event, India’s influence, from neighbouring Nepal to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, may be waning, according to a number of Asia experts.

    “India is facing a lot of blowback in the region. China is a subtext in India’s troubles in both Maldives and Seychelles,” Joshi told Al Jazeera.

    “For small countries, China offers a leverage against a big neighbour like India. Indian diplomacy must find ways of dealing with China’s rise in the Indian Ocean.”

    As China expands its sphere of influence in Sri Lanka, building and operating ports in the country, India has bid for operating an airport on the island nation’s southern tip.

    Like Sri Lanka, Nepal, a landlocked country between China and India, too has turned to Beijing for investments. According to some, it’s “a natural fit”.

    “Look at our roads, our infrastructure. There’s popular demand for infrastructure investment,” Swarnim Wagle, a former member of the National Planning Commission of Nepal, wrote recently in the South China Morning Post.

    “Our debt-GDP ratio is 22 percent. The average for low-income countries is 43 percent. We can raise borrowings substantially, but too much of internal borrowing crowds out the private sector. So there’ll be need to look at funds from outside, and China is a natural fit as it’s eager to invest abroad.”

    Meanwhile, in the Maldives, once seen as one of the closest allies of India in the Indian Ocean region, India is struggling to mend frayed bilateral ties.

    ‘Degree of discord’

    The Indian and the Maldives foreign ministries traded barbs over an extension of the state of emergency in the country last month.

    “India has traditionally had a very robust, empathetic relationship with the Indian Ocean island states. This is currently in some degree of review, and there has been a degree of discord,” Uday Bhaskar, the Indian defence expert, told Al Jazeera.

    “In Seychelles, the opposition party has voiced certain concerns about the military infrastructure in the Assumption island.

    “But there have been protests in Sri Lanka about China’s infrastructure projects as well. One can expect that there will be a degree of competition between India and China in the Indian Ocean Region over the next decade.”

    For now, the proposed Indian military base continues to generate anger in Seychelles.

    Demonstrators carrying “Hands Off Assumption” placards have protested in the capital Victoria every Saturday since January.

    As a battle for hearts and minds, this is an issue that reverberates far beyond Seychelles, all the way to New Delhi and Beijing.

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    Balkrishna Doshi: 'Architecture is a backdrop to life'

    Pritzker Prize-winning pioneer of low-cost Indian housing Balkrishna Doshi reflects on what architecture means to him.

      Ahmedabad, India – Balkrishna Doshi, a 90-year-old architect, is the first Indian to win the Pritzker Prize, the highest accolade in architecture.

      The jury citation has lauded Doshi for architecture that “has created an equilibrium and peace among all the components – material and immaterial”.

      It refers to “the poetic and philosophical underpinnings” of his work.

      Doshi is the first Indian to win the $100,000 award – established by the Pritzker family of Chicago – in its 40-year history.

      Doshi was born in Pune, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, on August 26, 1927, into an extended Hindu family that had been involved in the furniture industry for two generations.

      He began studying architecture in 1947. He lived in London and Paris, working with iconic architect Le Corbusier before returning to India.

      Doshi’s practice, Vastushilpa Foundation, boasts more than 100 projects that include low-income housing, private residences, public spaces and galleries.

      “With an understanding and appreciation of the deep traditions of India’s architecture, he united prefabrication and local craft and developed a vocabulary in harmony with the history, culture, local traditions and the changing times of his home country India,” according to the Pritzker Prize jury citation.

      Al Jazeera spoke to him in Ahmedabad.

      Al Jazeera: What inspires you? Which artists or works of art inspired you?

      Balkrishna Doshi: Life [chuckles]. There are many. I am inspired by India’s cities and towns where I travelled a lot, like Benares, south Indian temples [and] the old parts of the city of Ahmedabad.

      One of the most inspiring monuments that have had an impact on me is Fatehpur Sikri in northern India. 

      The works of great architects, in Europe and America, also inspire me.

      Al Jazeera: What does architecture mean to you?

      Doshi: Celebrating life. When you are in a good space, a beautiful space, maybe near a water fountain, you become aware of the shadows casting strange images.

      There is a sudden consciousness, propelled by beautiful spaces, where you are aware of your inner feelings – that’s when we feel happy and we create.

      I think architecture is a backdrop to life.

      Al Jazeera: In a previous public lecture, you have referred to the Hindu philosophy of Leela or creation. Could you expand on that?

      Doshi: The focus, while creating, is to enhance the subtle nuances of experiences. We breathe in and out but external stimuli make us shocked, surprised, aroused.

      We are not always aware of the skin of our body. But if you are in a space where your senses are heightened, it touches your inner core. That’s what temples do, that’s what mosques do, that’s what grand palaces do.

      I have always tried to create images through activities. That’s what architects do.

      You will be surprised how our experiences differ as shadows change. The sun and the moon and the breeze breathe life into buildings. Architecture makes you aware of your senses.

      Al Jazeera: You are known for pioneering low-cost housing. The Aranya Low-Cost Housing project you designed is capable of accommodating more than 80,000 people. Why did you prioritise social housing? 

      Doshi: I used to walk in the streets of Mumbai in the 1950s. I saw the streets at night full of migrants from across the country, sleeping on the pavements. The image of their night life on the streets is indelible. I thought to myself: Isn’t this part of India? Are they not my people?

      I was determined then that one day I will work for this “other half” and show how people can live, how we can build for these people.

      What, after all, is the role of an architect? Is he supposed to build only monuments? Is he supposed to work only for clients? Is social consciousness not part of the architect’s duty?

      That’s what I took as my challenge.

      Al Jazeera: Tell us a bit about your childhood and when your interest in architecture began.

      Doshi: Since childhood, while going through day-to-day activities like playing on the streets, walking to the market, meeting people, I realised that life means gathering, rejoicing.

      Work happens in between. I studied outside in the [open] spaces, not in the classroom.

      When I was an eight- or nine-year-old boy, I used to visit my grandfather’s furniture workshop. I was aware of structures and spaces.

      Later, I became involved in urban planning and industrial townships.

      I feel architects are not conscious of their social responsibility. We see buildings as a product.

      We make a building as a transaction between myself and the client and my skill. But this is not the right approach.

      So I thought of setting up a school where good architects will be nurtured.

      Also, I continued with my passion for working in low-cost housing.

      Al Jazeera: What would you say defines modern architecture?

      Doshi: I would use the word contemporary. If I am staying in a mud house but using a mobile phone, would that be modern or old? These are nomenclatures but everything we do is contemporary.

      For me, modern architecture is both today and tomorrow because it is continuously used and is workable.

      Al Jazeera: What is the significance of this award?

      Doshi: This award means a lot to me. It is so overwhelming. It’s a great honour for me and India.

      This award has many ramifications. I was thinking, maybe with the Pritzker Architecture Prize now, India and Indian professionals, practitioners and architecture schools will become more hopeful.

      It’s encouragement to work passionately; it’s another mode of joy and recognition. If this award spurs others to emulate the architectural spirit, that would be great.

      This award also encourages me for other reasons: how it will trigger the imagination, how it will help in creating a diverse mind.

      I am hopeful the [Indian] government will start looking at architecture in a different light. Even [Indian] developers might start thinking on these lines.

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      Indian and Pakistani soldiers shell army posts, villages along Kashmir frontier

      SRINAGAR, India – Indian and Pakistani soldiers shelled military outposts and villages along their highly militarized frontier in disputed Kashmir on Wednesday, in an outbreak of new violence despite stepped-up diplomatic efforts by the rival countries to ease tensions.

      The two armies accused each other of initiating the artillery and mortar fire and small-arms gunfire. No casualties were immediately reported.

      Tensions have been high since Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan last week, carrying out what India called a pre-emptive strike against militants blamed for a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 Indian troops.

      Pakistan retaliated, shooting down two Indian planes and capturing a pilot, who was later returned to India in a peace gesture. The two countries have also resumed bus and train services that were stopped following the escalation of tensions, the most serious in the long-simmering conflict since 1999, when Pakistan’s military sent a ground force into Indian-controlled Kashmir.

      In another effort aimed at easing tension with India, Pakistan on Tuesday arrested dozens of people including the brother of the leader of the outlawed Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group, which claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in Kashmir.

      Among the detainees were Mufti Abdul Rauf and Hammad Azhar, two prominent members of the group who were on a list of suspects given by India to Pakistan over the weekend.

      Pakistan on Wednesday continued a crackdown on seminaries, mosques and hospitals belonging to outlawed groups, saying the actions were part of its efforts to fight terrorism, extremism and militancy. In Islamabad, authorities also took control of a mosque and dispensary run by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity run by an anti-India cleric, Hafiz Saeed, that is widely believed to serve as a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group blamed for attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people.

      In Pakistan, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said its ambassador to India was returning to New Delhi and a Pakistani delegation will also travel to India on March 14 for talks on opening the first visa-free border crossing between the nations, a corridor that will allow Sikh pilgrims to easily visit their shrines on each side of the border.

      India’s foreign ministry also confirmed the talks.

      “Tension has eased because of our successful diplomacy,” said Qureshi, who led diplomatic efforts in recent weeks to muster the support of the international community to prevent a possible war with India. He said Washington, Beijing, Moscow and several Muslim countries played a significant role in easing tensions.

      “We appreciate the role of the United States in de-escalating the situation,” he told reporters in the capital, Islamabad.

      However, border tensions continued.

      The new violence flared up at several places along the Line of Control that divides the Himalayan territory of Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Both of the nuclear-armed rivals claim the entire territory.

      Both sides accused the other of violating a 2003-cease-fire accord and said their soldiers retaliated “befittingly and effectively.”

      Tens of thousands of people live in rugged, mountainous and lush green-forested areas along the frontier on both sides of divided Kashmir despite a climate of constant fear. Each year cycles of border violence break out between the two countries. Hundreds of civilians have died in the skirmishes, which have also killed livestock and damaged property.

      The high tensions last week displaced hundreds of villagers on both sides. Many are still living in government-run shelters or with relatives and friends in safer places.

      Sitting outside one shelter in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Mohammad Lateef, 42, said he had to leave his village near the Line of Control when Indian mortar shells began landing. “Our homes were destroyed in a 2005 earthquake and since then we have been living in tin-roof sheds,” he said. “We are poor people. We don’t have enough money to run our kitchen. How can we build bunkers to protect ourselves from Indian firing?”

      Another resident, Rubina Bibi, 32, said she wants peace “so that we can live without leaving our own villages” in Kashmir. “Give us peace and we will want nothing else,” she said.

      In Indian-administered Kashmir, the situation was no different.

      “We have seen these cycles of violence. They grab each other to kill and then they grab each other to hug,” said Shafaat Ali, a resident of the Poonch frontier area. “Even if tensions between the two countries ease and they resume all relations as normal, our lives still remain under stress.”

      Nusrat Bano, a resident of the Mendhar area who has taken shelter with her relatives for about two weeks, said border residents know the real meaning of peace. “Peace is good, very good. Who would say it’s not. But let there be peace in our lives too, in our homes too.”

      India accuses Pakistan of training, arming and sheltering rebels who began fighting Indian forces in 1989. Pakistan denies the allegation, saying it only offers moral support to Kashmiris seeking the right to self-determination for the entire territory.

      Most Kashmiris support the rebels’ goal of uniting Kashmir either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control. About 70,000 people have died in the conflict since 1989.

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      Nearly five million in India's Assam at risk of citizenship loss

      Critics warn new citizens’ list could render Muslims and long-term refugees in border state of Assam stateless.

        Guhawati, India – Nearly five million people in India’s eastern state of Assam face the threat of deportation after a top government official said they have failed to provide documentation proving that their families lived there prior to 1971.

        The risk comes as the government of Assam prepares to publish a preliminary list of citizens to incorporate into its National Register of Citizens (NRC).

        Authorities say the updating process – carried out for the first time in six decades – is aimed at detecting and deporting undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh. 

        But critics have condemned the effort, saying it threatens to make Muslim citizens and long-term refugees of Bangladeshi origin stateless – similar to Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority.

        Assam is home to more than 32 million people, about a third of whom are Muslims.

        Prateek Hajela, the official tasked with updating Assam’s NRC, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that some 4.8 million people in Assam “have failed to provide appropriate legacy documents” in advance of the preliminary list’s publication on Saturday – the second time such a list is being published, the first being at the beginning of the year.

        Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which came to power in Assam in 2016, has vowed to expel people who are not listed on the NRC.

        “All those whose names do not figure in the NRC will have to be deported,” Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam’s finance and health minister, told reporters on Wednesday, without clarifying where those affected would be expelled to. 

        He said the local government has mobilised more than 40,000 police officers and paramilitary troops in the border state before the preliminary list’s publication.

        “We are taking no chances and hence, all security measures have been taken.”

        Hindu people of Bangladeshi origin will be allowed to stay in India, he said, in line with federal policy to shelter Hindus who face persecution in their home countries.

        Tens of thousands of refugees – both Muslims and Hindus – fled to Assam from Bangladesh during its war of independence from Pakistan in the early 1970s. 

        Anti-migrant sentiment has long festered in the border state.

        In the 1980s, hundreds of people were killed in anti-immigrant protests, resulting in a 1985 accord between the government and protesters, which declares anyone who entered the state without documents after March 24, 1971, to be a foreigner.

        In order to be recognised as Indian citizens for the latest update, all residents of Assam had to produce documents proving that they or their families lived in the country before that date.

        ‘No excuses’

        The process is being overseen by India’s Supreme Court, which has ordered the final register to be published by June 30. The top court also gave Assam’s government a June 30 deadline to complete the verification process.

        In February, the government requested an extension, saying it was “impossible” to meet that deadline. But the court turned down the request, saying its job was “to make possible the impossible”.

        Judges also refused to appoint a second coordinator to help with the verification process, while also ordering Assam’s government to hold local council elections – slated for April – without affecting the NRC update. 

        Abhijeet Sarma, president of the Assam Public Works, a group that petitioned the Supreme Court to expedite the NRC update in 2009, hailed the judges’ decision.

        “We welcome the Supreme Court’s unambiguous verdict that leaves the government with no options but to comply without making excuses,” he told Al Jazeera.

        The Supreme Court is helping to “fulfil the aspirations of ethnic Assamese, who have faced a demographic invasion from East Bengal which is now Bangladesh,” said Sammujal Bhattacharjee, chief adviser to the All Assam Students Union, another group that campaigned for the registration drive.

        Difficult process 

        Hajela, the state coordinator for the NRC, described the verification process – a task not carried out elsewhere in the country – as “difficult”.

        “During the verification process, discrepancies or mismatches have been noticed in the family trees and those persons are being called for on-the-spot verification. It is a difficult process, as all members of a family may not live in the same place,” he said.

        “We had to ensure that all the concerned persons receive notices to appear before the officers engaged for verification. Those who are staying outside the state, or even country, will have to be given adequate time to appear before the concerned officers.”

        Another official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera it was “unlikely” that most of the 4.8 million people identified as lacking proper documentation would make it to the NRC.

        Altaf Hossain was among those told he lacked the appropriate documents.

        “I am not in the first list of NRC and I have learned the authorities have found a mismatch in my family tree,” said the shopkeeper in Assam’s western district of Dhubri bordering Bangladesh.

        “My family has lived in Assam since 1942, but now I could be one of the millions of stateless persons here.”

        In Assam’s Barak Valley, a Hindu carpenter said his name was not on the list either. 

        “My great-grandfather came to Assam from what was then East Bengal in the 1930s,” said Anil Sutradhar, from Karimganj town. 

        “If I can’t get my name in the next list, it will be a disaster. Can I go back to Bangladesh now?”

        Will Assam be the next Rakhine?

        Local politicians have said that all undocumented migrants must be sent to Bangladesh.

        But Asaduzaman Khan Kamal, Bangladesh’s home minister, denied any knowledge of Indian plans to deport anyone to his country from Assam.

        “We have no intimation of such a possibility,” he said last week.

        Critics fear such a move would trigger a crisis similar to that in Myanmar’s Rakhine State where members of the Rohingya minority, who are mostly Muslim, were stripped of their citizenship in 1982.

        Last year, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine State amid a brutal military crackdown.

        “Will Assam be the next Rakhine?” Utpal Bordolo, a local political commentator, asked in an article for the South Asian Monitor in February.

        Sanjoy Hazarika, an author, told Al Jazeera he opposed any possible deportation.

        “We cannot rewrite history and such an exercise in the hands and minds of prejudiced, petty-minded and discriminatory groups will destroy Assam’s social fabric, which has been bleeding for decades,” he said.

        “The dangers in labelling a community and individuals as ‘Bangladeshi’ on the basis of a general feeling of animosity can’t be stressed beyond a point.”

        Source: Read Full Article

        Downed Indian pilot to be returned later on Friday: Pakistan minister

        ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said a downed Indian pilot will be handed over to Indian authorities later on Friday in an effort to de-escalate a crisis between the nuclear armed neighbours.

        “As a gesture of peace and to de-escalate matters, the Indian pilot who is under arrest with us will be released today in the afternoon at the Wagah border,” Qureshi told parliament, referring to the border crossing near Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore.

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        Pakistan accuses India of ‘eco-terrorism’ for airstrike that hit trees, not militants

        Pakistan plans to lodge a complaint against India at the United Nations, accusing it of “eco-terrorism” over air strikes that damaged pine trees and brought the nuclear-armed nations to blows, a government minister said on Friday.

        India and Pakistan are amidst their biggest stand-off in many years, with the United States and other global powers mediating to de-escalate tensions between arch-foes who have fought three wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

        Indian warplanes on Tuesday bombed a hilly forest area near the northern Pakistani town of Balakot, about 40 kilometres from India’s border in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. New Delhi said it had destroyed a militant training camp and killed hundreds of “terrorists.”

        Pakistan denied there were any such camps in the area and locals said only one elderly villager was hurt.

        Climate Change Minister Malik Amin Aslam said Indian jets bombed a “forest reserve” and the government was undertaking an environmental impact assessment, which will be the basis a complaint at the United Nations and other forums.

        “What happened over there is environmental terrorism,” Aslam told Reuters, adding that dozens of pine trees had been felled.

        “There has been serious environmental damage,” the climate change minister said.

        Two Reuters reporters who visited the site of the bombings, where four large craters could be seen, said up to 15 pine trees had been brought down by the blasts. Villagers dismissed Indian claims that hundreds of militants were killed.

        The United Nations states that “destruction of the environment, not justified by military necessity and carried out wantonly, is clearly contrary to existing international law,” according to the UN General Assembly resolution 47/37.

        India and Pakistan are also engaged in a diplomatic tussle, with New Delhi vowing to isolate Pakistan over its alleged links to militant groups.

        Islamabad is currently putting pressure on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to uninvite India’s foreign minister from their next meeting.

         

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        Jaish-e-Mohammed: Why India wants to strike at militants in Pakistan

        The rapidly-escalating tensions between India and Pakistan can be traced back to a suicide attack against Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir on Feb. 14, which has been claimed by a group called Jaish-e-Mohammed.

        Jaish said the attack was carried out by one of its members from the Indian-ruled, Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir. The attack left 40 people dead, making it the worst insurgent attack in Kashmir since 1989.

        India responded to the attack by launching an airstrike against a suspected Jaish target inside Pakistan on Tuesday, venturing far into its arch-rival’s territory in search of retribution. It also rounded up at least 300 activists in Kashmir as part of what it called a “jaw-breaking response” to the Jaish attack.

        An Indian Air Force Mirage jet fighter is shown at Kalaikunda Air Base in Midnapore West district, India, on Dec. 10, 2018.

        India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj says the limited objective of the pre-emptive strike inside Pakistan was to act decisively against Jaish to prevent another attack in India.

        Pakistan claimed to have shot down two Indian warplanes on Wednesday, and declared that it had captured one of the Indian pilots.

        India says Jaish enjoys free rein in Pakistan. The Indian government has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan act to stop militant groups such as Jaish from operating on its soil.

        Pakistan has condemned the Feb. 14 bomb attack but denied any complicity.

        India has blamed Jaish for a series of attacks including a 2001 raid on its parliament in New Delhi that led to India mobilizing its military on the border, bringing the foes to the brink of a fourth war.

        Who are the Jaish-e-Mohammed?

        Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), or Army of Mohammed, has ties to other Sunni militant groups in Pakistan such as Lashka-e-Taiba (LeT) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. It was banned in Pakistan in 2002 but U.S. authorities say it still operates there openly.

        Jaish has been classified as a terrorist group in many countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

        The group was founded in 2000 after the release of its leader, Masood Azhar, from an Indian prison in exchange for 155 hostages from a hijacked Indian Airlines plane. Jaish has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

        The group, which aims to unite Kashmir with Pakistan, has repeatedly caused tension between India and Pakistan. Along with LeT, it was involved in attacks in 2001 on the Indian parliament and the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly building.

        Pakistan rejects Indian accusations that it harbours and sustains the group. Pakistani authorities have linked JeM with two assassination attempts on former President Pervez Musharraf in 2003 as well as the kidnap and murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

        Where do they operate?

        While Kashmir is the focus of Jaish operations, the group was based in Bhawalpur, a dust-blown Pakistani town on the border with India in the south of Punjab province. Media reports and Indian intelligence sources have suggested that a walled headquarters, as well as another large premises on the outskirts of the city, are used to recruit and train youngsters from the impoverished region.

        India says it struck at a Jaish camp outside the town of Balakot, near the border with Jammu and Kashmir, on Tuesday. The Pakistani military says the attack did not cause any damage or loss of life.

        Jaish is listed as one of 33 banned organizations by Pakistan’s National Counter-Terrorism Authority, which states on its website that the ban came on Jan. 14, 2002. But the group has never hidden its existence, frequently issuing videos threatening India, and also the United States.

        After a period of silence, the portly Azhar surfaced in a video in 2014, boasting of 300 suicide bombers at his command and threatening to kill Narendra Modi if he became India’s prime minister.

        Despite many rumours, his whereabouts have been officially unknown since a 2016 attack on an Indian air force base in Pathankot in Indian Punjab.

        Blacklisted by the United Nations

        In 2001, the UN Security Council blacklisted the Jaish, tying it to al Qaeda, and accusing it of participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing or perpetrating of al Qaeda acts.

        But the group has floated in and out of the shadows and a U.S. State Department report last year said Pakistan had not cracked down on the activities of JeM and other groups that aim mainly to operate outside its territory.

        “The government failed to significantly limit LeT and JeM from openly raising money, recruiting, and training in Pakistan,” it said.

        While Jaish was blacklisted by the UN Security Council, India’s efforts to get Azhar sanctioned have been blocked by China, it says. China has put a technical hold each time India has pushed the issue in the council.

        China said earlier this month that it condemned the latest attack in Kashmir, and noted that Jaish, which claimed the attack, was already on a UN sanctions list. As for its leader is concerned, the relevant committee had rules and processes for listing people, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

        With files from The Associated Press

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        India builds bunkers to protect families along Pakistan border

        CHACHWAL VILLAGE, India (Reuters) – India is building more than 14,000 bunkers suitable for families living along its border with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir state, hoping to keep them safe near their homes instead of evacuating them as artillery shells scream over.

        On Tuesday evening, Pakistan used heavy caliber weapons to shell 12 to 15 places along the Indian side of the de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the disputed Kashmir region, a spokesman for the Indian defense forces said. The Indian army retaliated with its own shelling of the Pakistani side, he said.

        That had created “panic among people”, said Rahul Yadav, the deputy commissioner of the Poonch district, a remote area of the Indian state that faced some of the attacks.

        The new shelters, which were planned before this week’s spike in tensions, are supposed to reduce that fear and prevent people from having to flee when the shelling begins.

        There have been frequent exchanges of fire along the actual and de facto borders in recent months, but Tuesday’s firing marked a major escalation after India carried out an air strike on what it said was a training camp run by an Islamist militant group in Pakistan. India was responding to a suicide car bombing claimed by a member of the group that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir almost two weeks ago.

        As well as the shelling, Pakistan retaliated on Wednesday by carrying out airstrikes on the Indian side of the border and, according to officials in Islamabad, shot down two Indian jets over Pakistan.

        India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring militancy in Kashmir, Hindu-majority India’s only Muslim-dominated region.

        STEEL AND CONCRETE

        Villagers on the Indian side of the border said they were tired of fleeing their homes when outbreaks of firing erupt. Some have seen family members killed, and the cost of leaving behind their cattle and crops is too heavy for many poor farmers.

        Tanattar Singh, a frail 75-year-old man from Chachwal village, said his daughter was killed in 2002 when she was hit by a bullet just outside their house, which is surrounded by wheat fields near a watch tower.

        “Firing could happen again and we know there are risks of living so close to the border,” Singh said, as he and other elders watched earth being dug out for the construction of a bunker for one of the village’s 400 families.

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        “But what can we do? We can’t leave the village for good like some rich people do.”

        Government engineers said work on the underground steel and concrete structures, which could cost a total of $60 million, began in June last year as relations between the nuclear-armed rivals worsened.

        State government officials and contractors said hundreds of underground bunkers, with their walls and roofs three times the thickness of a regular house and consuming 10 times as much steel, have already been built.

        Reuters visited nearly a dozen such bunkers, some waterlogged and constructed on farm land or next to people’s houses.

        “These can withstand simple shelling,” said an engineer with the Jammu and Kashmir public works department tasked with building the bunkers. The engineer declined to be named citing government rules.

        ON THE OTHER SIDE

        On the Pakistani side of the border, most houses built after a ceasefire in 2003 do not have bunkers, though the Pakistani government does have a program to build more.

        A number of people have been killed and injured by Indian shelling in recent days, and many have fled away from the border areas, said local officials.

        Muhammad Din, a resident of Chakothi, a border town, said most of the residents had moved to safer areas.

        “The only families still here are those who have concrete bunkers built within or along their homes,” he said.  

        Thousands of people have either relocated or are planning to do so, said Umer Azam, senior administration official in Kotli, who has ordered the closure of schools in the most dangerous areas.

        Back in India, men rode motorbikes along the road between the sleepy Jammu villages of Suchetgarh and Gulabgarh, close to the border fence, despite a warning by security forces to exercise caution and stay indoors as much as possible.

        Shravan Kumar, whose wheat and mustard fields run along the barbed wire, urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to do more to end the frequent shelling, saying only a tough crackdown on militancy in Kashmir could “break Pakistan’s back”.

        “I had to flee my house four times in December alone,” said Kumar, a 60-year-old father-of-three. “Can you imagine the toll it takes on our families? Bunkers are not a solution, neither is this ‘one strike here, one strike there’ policy. Finish militancy in Kashmir, and this will end.”

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        Moment Indian pilot is savagely beaten by locals after Pakistan shoots down jet

        This is the moment an Indian pilot who’s jet was shot down appears to be brutally attacked by villagers in Kashmir.

        Members of the Pakistani military can be seen trying to stop the locals from attacking the man, wearing a flight suit, who is now being held as a prisoner and has been paraded in public.

        The brief clip shows the cameraman approach a group of people huddled around the stricken pilot in what appears to be a small creek.

        The pilot, whose arms are being held above his head, is struck in the face twice before being kicked in the back of the head, with someone behind him appearing to attempt to knee him. 

        The footage has not been independently verified, however, the man looks very similar to captured pilot Commander Abhinandan – with a bloody face – publicised in Pakistan earlier today.

        India has confirmed the loss of one MiG21 fighter and said its pilot was missing in action.


        Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian jets and has not mentioned the loss of any of its planes. 

        Both India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir as their territory, but each control only parts of it.

        Pakistan’s information ministry published but subsequently deleted a video purporting to show one of the Indian pilots that the Pakistani military says it has captured.

        In the video, the pilot – who is blindfolded and appears to have blood on his face – identifies himself as Wing-Commander Abhinandan.

        In India, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar acknowledged the loss of a jet and its pilot.

        Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday called for talks with India and hoped "better sense" would prevail to de-escalate the dispute.


        "History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that given the weapons we have can we afford miscalculation," Khan said during a brief televised broadcast to the nation. "We should sit down and talk."

        Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has also said that her country will act "with responsibility and restraint".

        "India does not wish to see further escalation of the situation," she said, speaking from a meeting with Russian and Chinese foreign ministers in China.


        Both countries are nuclear powers.

        Pakistan has closed its entire airspace, its civil aviation authority said. International flights are also avoiding the area.

        Indian and Pakistani troops have been shelling across the LoC (Line of Control).

        Four Pakistani civilians were killed and 10 others were injured in shelling yesterday.

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        Pakistan says it shot down Indian jets, carried out air strikes in Kashmir

        ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Pakistan carried out air strikes and shot down two Indian jets on Wednesday, Pakistani officials said, a day after Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistan for the first time since a war in 1971, prompting leading powers to urge both sides to show restraint.

        Both countries have ordered air strikes over the last two days, the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have done so, while ground forces have exchanged fire in more than a dozen locations.

        Tension has been elevated since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb. 14, but the risk of conflict rose dramatically on Tuesday when India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base.

        Both countries claim the mountainous Himalayan region of Kashmir in full but rule in part.

        The attack targeted the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group that claimed credit for the suicide attack. India said a large number of JeM fighters had been killed, but Pakistani officials said the strike was a failure and inflicted no casualties.

        Indian air force planes entered Pakistani airspace on Wednesday after Pakistan carried out six air strikes in Indian-occupied Kashmir, said Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Pakistan armed forces.

        “This was not a retaliation in true sense, but to tell Pakistan has capability, we can do it, but we want to be responsible, we don’t want an escalation, we don’t want a war,” he told a news conference.

        One of the aircraft fell on India’s side of Kashmir, while the second came down in Pakistani-held territory with two pilots captured, he added.

        At the briefing, Ghafoor produced weapons and identity documents he alleged were carried by the Indian pilots.

        The Pakistan government’s official Twitter account released a video of what it claimed was one of the Indian pilots who had been shot down.

        The man, whose face is bloodied and blindfolded, gives his name and service number, before telling a man questioning him: “I’m sorry sir, that’s all I’m supposed to tell you.”

        In a separate statement, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it had hit “non-military” targets inside Indian-controlled Kashmir, but that it had avoided human loss and collateral damage.

        “If India is striking at so called terrorist backers without a shred of evidence, we also retain reciprocal rights to retaliate against elements that enjoy Indian patronage while carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan,” the statement said.

        “We are ascertaining and putting out something. You have to give me some time,” a spokesman for India’s air force said, without taking any questions, when contacted by Reuters.

        Indian officials said three Pakistani jets had also entered Indian airspace, before being intercepted and forced turned back.

        The Indian air force has ordered Kashmir’s main airport in Srinagar along with at least three others in neighboring states to close because of the two incidents, an official said.

        Pakistan shut its airspace, with flights in the country also canceled. Flights from the Middle East and India were also affected.

        In a separate incident, police officials in Indian-occupied Kashmir said that two Indian pilots and a civilian had died after an Indian aircraft crashed in Kashmir. The craft was initially reported by officials to be a plane, but a partial tail number from the craft seen by a Reuters witness showed it to be an Mi17 military helicopter.

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        The cause of the crash is unknown.

        The latest exchanges hit stock markets in both countries.

        Pakistani stocks fell sharply during morning trade with the benchmark KSE 100 Index down 3.34 percent and the narrower KMI 30 index down 3.6 percent in Karachi. The Indian stock market was down around 0.5 percent.

        CIVILIAN FRIGHT

        On Tuesday evening, Pakistan began shelling using heavy caliber weapons in 12 to 15 places along the de facto border in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC), a spokesman for the Indian defense forces said.

        “The Indian Army retaliated for effect and our focused fire resulted in severe destruction to five posts and number of casualties,” the spokesman said.

        Five Indian soldiers suffered minor wounds in the shelling that ended on Wednesday morning, he added.

        “So far there are no (civilian) casualties but there is panic among people,” said Rahul Yadav, the deputy commissioner of the Poonch district on the Indian side where some of the shelling took place.

        “We have an evacuation plan in place and if need arises we will evacuate people to safer areas,” he said.

        Officials on the Pakistani side said at least four people had been killed and seven wounded, including civilians, with thousands evacuated and schools closed in border areas.

        “Only those families are still here which have concrete bunkers built within or along their homes,” said Muhammad Din, a resident of Chakothi, a village in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir near the de facto border.

        India has also continued its crackdown on suspected militants operating in Kashmir.

        On Wednesday, security forces killed two Jaish militants in a gun battle, Indian police said.

        HEIGHTENED SECURITY

        Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and went to the brink a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India’s parliament.

        In Mumbai, India’s financial capital, there was a visible increase in security levels for a city that has suffered numerous militant attacks in the past.

        U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to avoid “further military activity” following Tuesday’s air strike.

        “I expressed to both ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost,” Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday.

        “I also encouraged both ministers to prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity,” he said.

        Both China and the European Union have also called for restraint. On Wednesday New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters also voiced concern over the escalation in tension.

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