SRINAGAR, May 19 (AP): Separatist leaders called for a shutdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Saturday as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a daylong visit to review development work and inaugurate road projects.
The visit came a day after archrivals India and Pakistan shelled each other’s security posts and villages, killing four civilians on each side and an Indian soldier.
Shops, businesses and schools were shut while thousands of paramilitary troops and police in flak jackets spread out across Kashmir and closed off roads with razor wire and iron barricades in anticipation of anti-India protests and clashes.
Separatist groups that challenge India’s sovereignty over Kashmir called for the strike as well as a march to the commercial hub in the main city of Srinagar to protest Modi’s visit.
Government forces enforced a security lockdown in downtown Srinagar, the urban heart of anti-India protests, as they warned residents to stay home.
Road traffic was sparse, with buses staying off the roads and few cars venturing out.
Authorities detained dozens of activists overnight and put separatist leaders under house arrest to stop them from staging the protest march. They also ordered schools and colleges to be closed for the day.
Modi arrived in the remote mountainous Ladakh region bordering China and Pakistan, where he inaugurated work on a strategic 14-kilometer (9-mile) -long tunnel connecting the cold desert region with the Kashmir Valley.
Later in Srinagar, Modi inaugurated remotely a controversial hydroelectric power project built in the Gurez Valley, just a few hundred meters (yards) from the highly militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. He dedicated the power station to the nation at a lakeside venue.
Soldiers and commandos patrolled the roads leading to the venue and laid razor wire and erected road checkpoints to prevent protests and rebel attacks.
“Every stone, every weapon picked up by misguided youths destabilizes their own Jammu-Kashmir,” Modi said in his speech, referring to anti-India protesters. “Every issue, every problem has one solution: development, development and development.”
Pakistan has objected to the design of the power project, invoking the Indus Water Treaty. The neighboring countries signed the treaty in 1960, brokered by the World Bank, to share the vast water resources from the Indus River system, which supplies water to both.
On Friday, Pakistan expressed serious concerns over the project’s inauguration.
The country’s foreign ministry said in a statement that “the inauguration of the project without the resolution of the dispute is tantamount to violation of the Indus Waters Treaty.”
It said India continued with the construction of the project despite several rounds of bilateral negotiations as well mediation under the auspices of the World Bank.
“This intransigence on part of India clearly threatens the sanctity of the Treaty,” the statement said.
India has said in the past that the project design is within the parameters of the treaty and urged the bank to appoint a neutral expert.
Meanwhile, dozens of Kashmiris tried to march to the main commercial center in Srinagar after defying security restrictions imposed on the assembly of more than four people in the city. Scores were also detained after shouting slogans demanding end of an Indian rule over Kashmir.
Separatist leaders said India was using its might to crush the aspirations of Kashmiris. They said the Kashmir issue was not about inaugurating tunnels and trains or announcing economic packages in the name of development.
“Such things have been done since 1947, but these measures couldn’t change or alter the basic nature of the Kashmir dispute,” they said in a statement. “People of Kashmir have been offering priceless sacrifices since the past seven decades solely for the resolution of the Kashmir issue.”
India and Pakistan each administer part of Kashmir, but both claim it in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989, demanding Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause while also participating in civilian street protests against Indian control.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, a charge Pakistan denies. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.