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INDIA REVOKES THE SPECIAL STATUS OF JAMMU AND KASHMIR STATE

Kashmir 2

  • On 5 August, India announced that it was revoking Article 370 of the constitution, which guaranteed special rights to the country’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir

  • India’s parliament then passed a bill on 6 August to separate Jammu and Kashmir state into two union territories

  • Amid concerns over unrest, the Indian-administered Kashmir has been on lockdown since the announcement, with the majority of communication means suspended

  • Despite the blackout, there have been reports of protests and clashes in Kashmir, resulting in casualties

  • Security has been heightened in India, including in major cities and at airports and other transportation hubs, particularly ahead of Independence Day on 15 August

  • The move has heightened tensions with Pakistan, which also claims sovereignty over Kashmir, prompting the neighbour to downgrade diplomatic ties, suspend bilateral trade and partially close its airspace

  • Protests have been experienced across Pakistan in response to the announcement, placing pressure on Pakistan’s government to take action


Situation

On 5 August, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah announced measures to revoke Article 370, which grants a special status to Jammu and Kashmir state. The following day, India’s parliament approved the move and also cleared a bill separating the state into two union territories. The Hindu-majority Jammu and Muslim-majority Kashmir will form one union territory, which will have a legislature with limited powers, while the heavily Buddhist Ladakh will form a second union territory, governed directly by New Delhi and without a legislature of its own.

Notably, Article 370 allowed Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India, to have its own constitution, a separate flag, and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications. This meant that Jammu and Kashmir could make its own rules around permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. It was the basis of Jammu and Kashmir’s agreement to join the Indian union in 1947 following British rule.

In the days leading up to the 5 August announcement, a series of measures had prompted fears that India was planning to scrap Article 35A of the constitution, which would allow non-Kashmiris to buy land in the Muslim-majority region, essentially changing the demographics of the region. On 2 August, Indian security officials said that they had found evidence that Pakistan-based groups were planning to attack a major Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir, prompting an unprecedented advisory cancelling the Hindu pilgrimage and asking tourists to leave. This had followed the deployment of tens of thousands of additional Indian troops to the already heavily militarised region the week before. The Indian government also suspended internet services, imposed a curfew on parts of the region, and placed regional political leaders under house arrest.

Analysis

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have long sought to revoke Article 370, but it was notably promised in the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto. Modi’s landslide win in the April-May elections suggested that the move had the backing of many Indians, not just BJP supporters. The government has attempted to justify its move, which is its most far-reaching political move on Kashmir in seven decades, by saying that it wants to focus on development in the region; however, the move also aligns with Modi’s desire to present the BJP as being tough on Kashmir, and Pakistan. Nevertheless, Modi is expected to address the nation on 8 August to provide further details on the government’s decision.

Although there had been speculation that Article 35A of the Indian constitution would be revoked amid an intense deployment of troops, the announcement on 5 August to revoke Article 370, which 35A is a part of, came as a shock to most Indians. The controversial and unprecedented move is expected to spark unrest in the region as many Kashmiris believe that the BJP seeks to change the demographics of the Muslim-majority state by allowing non-Kashmiris to buy land there.

There has also been speculation that the announcement is a political move, providing a much-needed distraction for the government at a time when India is experiencing an economic slowdown. Modi’s attempts at economic reform in recent years have largely failed to come to fruition, and in an attempt to win political popularity, Modi appears to have resorted back to Hindu nationalism.

The move is likely to face legal challenges, although it is unclear if attempts will be successful. Technically, Article 370 can only be modified with the agreement of the state government. However, the state has been under presidential rule for the past year after the government of the then chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, was reduced to a minority when the BJP split from its alliance with a regional party.

 
Implications

The decision means that the Kashmir region will no longer have a separate constitution and Kashmiris will need to abide by the Indian constitution and Indian laws. Individuals outside of Kashmir will also be able to buy property in the region. While the Indian government has claimed the move will prompt investment in the region, a sudden influx of outside business and non-Kashmiris is likely to provoke resentment and paranoia, fuelling the already deep tensions.

Despite a blackout and carefully planned measures aimed at preventing violence, the unprecedented move is expected to trigger unrest in the Indian-administered Kashmir. As of 8 August there have been reports of protests that have led to a number of casualties and arrests, although reports are limited due to the restrictions imposed. The region is already restive, experiencing a low-intensity rebellion against Indian rule for the past three decades, which has killed tens of thousands. Violence particularly surged in 2016 following the death of a young militant leader, and last year was reported as having the highest death toll in a decade, with more than 500 people killed.

The move comes at a time of elevated tensions between Pakistan and India following an attack by Pakistan-based militants against Indian soldiers on 14 February, which subsequently led to a major standoff between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, including aerial clashes. However, the tensions are longstanding. Since independence from British rule in 1947 when Kashmir was divided in two, India and Pakistan have fought two of its three wars over Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan claim sovereignty over the whole of Kashmir but only control parts, with India accusing Pakistan of inciting unrest, including funding armed groups opposed to Indian rule in its part of Kashmir. However, Pakistan denies the claims and says it only provides diplomatic and moral support to separatists.

Pakistan, which has assumed the role of protector of the region’s Muslims, immediately condemned the decision to revoke Article 370 and protests erupted across the country, placing pressure on Pakistan’s government to take a tough stance against India. On 7 August, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the move illegal and hinted at military action, saying “They may strike us again, and we will strike back … Who will win that war? No one will win it, and it will have grievous consequences for the entire world.” He also directed the army to remain vigilant. In response, the Indian army has reportedly deployed additional soldiers to the Line of Control (LoC), which separates the Pakistani- and Indian-administered areas, in order to respond to any reaction by the Pakistani military. While an outright outbreak of war between the two nations remains a last resort, violations of the LoC are likely to continue and will garner more media coverage than normal.

Diplomatically, Pakistan has downgraded its relations, expelled India’s high commissioner from Islamabad and its newly-appointed envoy, who was yet to start his role, will now not move to Delhi. Pakistan also announced that it was suspending all trade between the two countries and partially closed its airspace. Additionally, it was announced that Pakistan’s Independence Day on 14 August will be dedicated to the "brave Kashmiris and their struggle for their right of self-determination."

In India, heightened security is expected in major cities across the country in light of terrorism concerns stemming from the decision, as well as ahead of Independence Day celebrations on 15 August. On 5 August, the Delhi Metro issued a “red alert” across the metro network and put additional security checks in place. Meanwhile, airports in the country have also been put on high alert, and travellers have been urged to allow additional time for travel.