On Monday, India’s government announced that the special, pseudo-autonomous status for the region of Kashmir would be removed. In preparation of the announcement, the government deployed thousands of troops to the region in the two weeks prior, arrested hundreds of local politicians, closed schools, banned public meetings, and “severed internet connections, mobile phone lines and even land lines,” attempting to prevent communication in or out in anticipation of unrest.
The provision allowing for Kashmir’s special status, now being revoked, is Article 370, which was added to India’s constitution in 1947 when British India was split into two nations, the Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. Jammu and Kashmir was a majority Muslim state ruled by a local prince lying between the two nations, with both countries sending in troops and India taking two-thirds. Article 370 was signed by the prince at the time, granting regional autonomy to the area in exchange for joining India. In the decades since, Pakistan and India have governed their parcels of Kashmir separately with hopes of one day having full control, fighting two major wars over it. Even today, troops on either side periodically fire shots against the other, and Muslim extremists have resorted to violence on many occasions trying to expel Indian forces, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that left 166 dead.
Contributing to the long-running disputes in Kashmir is the continued status of Article 370 being in question, because “(a)lthough it was intended to be temporary, Article 370 says that it can only be abrogated with the consent of the legislative body that drafted the state constitution. That body dissolved itself in 1957, and India's Supreme Court ruled last year that Article 370 is therefore a permanent part of the constitution.” The administration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi contests this ruling, believing that it should be up to the President, who is beholden to the ruling party, Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Indian Judiciary has been on shaky ground throughout Modi’s tenure, and Modi himself campaigned for re-election against Pakistan and promising to integrate Kashmir fully, a cornerstone of the BJP for decades, which resulted in his party’s landslide victory in May.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vehemently condemned the status revocation, warning that it could lead to war between the two rival nations, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Muslims, and an increase in terrorist attacks. A suicide bombing in Kashmir in February by a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, which left 40 Indian security forces dead and led to the first aerial skirmishes between the two countries in five decades, is largely believed to have been the catalyst for the government’s move for Kashmir. Pakistan, which is currently helping mediate a deal between the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan, is in favor of US mediation for negotiations with India over Kashmir, but India has rejected such requests in favor of direct talks with its rival. Some Pakistani officials have said that flareups in Kashmir could hinder the country’s ability to “support the U.S. mission in its mission in Afghanistan.” The Taliban promptly denounced this rhetoric, urging “both India and Pakistan to refrain from taking steps that could pave a way for violence and complications in the region,” and not to link the issues in Kashmir with Afghanistan, “because the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the theater of competition between other countries.”
Since the presidential decree on Monday, protests have been breaking out in Kashmir and soldiers and police have used violence against those demonstrators and civilians, though the communication blackout has prevented reports of violence from getting out. Elsewhere in India, several opposition parties, and some regional parties, came out in support of the administration’s decree, while celebratory demonstrations broke out in Mumbai, Delhi, and the Western state of Gujarat, where Modi is from. On Thursday night, Modi addressed the Indian people, defending the move to wrest control from Kashmir by claiming that it would “bring a cleaner, less corrupt government, more security and a stronger local economy.”
The sudden move by Modi and the BJP to fundamentally shift the power balance in Kashmir is not an entirely surprising move, by a Prime Minister and party centered around India as a Hindu nation. The Muslim-majority region of Kashmir holding a unique status in the country, as well as being a longstanding flashpoint and epicenter for the tense rivalry between India and Pakistan, has long made it a key prize for Hindu nationalists in the nation. With Modi’s seemingly overwhelming mandate in two straight election for his policies, pushback from within India against the move will almost certainly be minimal. Additionally, the idea that people in both Pakistan and India have wrapped parts of their national identities around the standoff in Kashmir makes conflict a distinct possibility. While the two nuclear states have narrowly avoided war in the decades following their acquisitions of nuclear weapons, the official status of Kashmir have never shifted as much as now. It is unclear what news will continue to come out of the region while India continues its communications blackout, and where the relationship between Pakistan and India will stand whenever the dust settles.
- By Michael Pappas, WACNH Events and Education Coordinator