Tensions are on the rise in Jammu and Kashmir, an Indian state situated mostly in the Himalayas. For decades, it has had constitutional autonomy from India.
The region is an area of major territorial conflict between India and Pakistan. Parts of the Kashmir valley have been under Pakistan’s control since the 1948 Indo-Pakistani war and both India and Pakistan have since fought two more wars claiming title to Jammu and the whole of Kashmir.
But yesterday, the Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced the government’s decision to take away Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. This status gave it the independence to have its own constitution, flag and the ability to make its own laws for its residents.
To do this, the government has abolished Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution, and announced a plan to divide the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.
In recent weeks, India has discharged some 35,000 troops to the Indian parts of Kashmir, adding to the 500,000 troops already stationed in the territory. India also cancelled a major Hindu pilgrimage, asked tourists to leave and imposed curfews in parts of the state.
India cites the threat of militancy in the territory emanating from Pakistan as the reason for recent lockdown and security measures.
From now on, Jammu and Kashmir will be considered a part of India, the same as other Indian states. It will be subject to the Indian constitution in its entirety.
The Indian government, following its election promises, claims that removing the special status will provide better economic and political opportunities in Jammu and Kashmir, the same as those available in mainland India.
India Tomorrow part 3: Kashmir
But skeptics believe that such a rushed move is merely a cover for changing the demographics of the Muslim-majority Kashmir to make it more Hindu, in the same way Israel expanded into Palestinian territories.
The abolition of Article 35A removes a constitutional hurdle for foreigners to buy land, settle in Jammu and Kashmir and increase the non-Muslim population there.
Until now, the expansion of the non-Muslim population was restricted due to strict property, political and entrepreneurial state laws for non-residents.
Adopted in 1949, Article 370 grants Jammu and Kashmir an autonomous status under the Indian constitution.
The article exempts the state from the terms of the constitution and limits the Indian Parliament in making laws for Jammu and Kashmir, except on matters of defence, external affairs and communications.
The Jammu and Kashmir legislature must approve any other law the Indian Parliament passes before it takes effect.
The article states that specific provisions in the Indian constitution can be extended to Jammu and Kashmir through presidential orders. But this can only happen with the agreement of the state government.
One such provision is Article 35A, which was passed through a presidential order in 1954. It allowed the Jammu and Kashmir legislature to define rights and privileges for the permanent residents of the territory.
Article 370 was first adopted as a temporary term under the “Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions” section of India’s constitution when India had committed to holding a plebiscite in the territory to let the residents decide their political future.
According to India’s constitution, Article 370 could only be modified or revoked at the recommendation of Jammu and Kashmir’s constituent assembly. The constituent assembly, however, dissolved itself in the 1950s, arguably entrenching Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in the Indian constitution permanently.
This means that abolishing Article 370 through yesterday’s presidential notification may be unconstitutional. And if this is the case, revoking the existing constitutional authority means India would be ruling Jammu and Kashmir by force.
The predominantly Muslim Kashmiri population has strong reservations about an influx of Indians into their homelands, particularly since 2008. Then, the Jammu and Kashmir government agreed to grant 40 hectares of forestland to a Hindu pilgrimage site to provide for housing facilities for pilgrims, but was met with strong public protests against the idea.
Over the years, despite the Kashmiris’ concerns, the Indian right-wing groups, with the help of central government, have been encouraging Hindus to undertake the pilgrimage in big numbers.
Recently, US President Donald Trump offered to mediate the territorial conflict between Pakistan and India for a solution to the decades-old crises.
India has always maintained the dispute to be a bilateral issue between the two countries and refused to accept any third party’s involvement. Pakistan, on the other hand, regards it an international issue which, similar to the Israel-Palestine conflict, requires the UN and other international players to play their parts.
But bringing Jammu and Kashmir under India’s rule means this dispute will become more internalised between the two countries. This is concerning to Pakistan and could, once again, reignite border tensions between the two countries.
More than 40 Indian security staff lost their lives in a suicide attack on February 14, 2019 in the Pulwama region of Indian-administered Kashmir. The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
Twelve days later, India launched air strikes against JeM training camps in Balakot, Pakistan. India claimed the strikes inflicted significant damage on infrastructure and killed militant commanders, while avoiding civilians.
India said the strikes were “pre-emptive”, based on intelligence that JeM were planning more suicide attacks in Indian territory. Pakistan denied India’s claims, both about the damage done by their airstrikes and that Pakistan was planning further attacks.
But Pakistan retaliated with an airstrike on what it termed a “non-military installation” in the Indian controlled region of Kashmir. In the ensuing skirmish with the Indian Air Force, an Indian jet was downed and a pilot captured.
These events, in the disputed territory of Kashmir, have brought international attention to the prospect of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan. But why is the decades-long conflict heating up again, and why now?
India and Pakistan have been involved in a territorial dispute over Kashmir for decades. The roots of the conflict lie in the partition of British India in 1947, which created the secular state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan.
The idea behind the partition was for Muslim-majority regions to become a part of Pakistan. But Kashmir was complicated. Although a Muslim-majority state, it was ruled by a Hindu king.
He decided to accede to India in October 1947. This was unacceptable to Pakistan, which launched a war in 1948 to capture Kashmir by force.
A result of the war was a UN-mediated ceasefire line. This divided Kashmir into Indian-administered “Jammu and Kashmir” (J&K) – which constituted two-thirds of the territory – and Pakistan-administered “Azad (free) Kashmir”, which was one-third of the territory.
While the 1948 ceasefire brought an end to the fighting, Kashmir’s status remained unresolved and Pakistan continued to contest the territorial boundaries. India granted J&K constitutional autonomy, while the Pakistan-administered region was a self-governing entity.
Kashmir is central to Pakistan’s national identity as a Muslim state, and therefore it represents unfinished business after the 1947 partition.
Pakistan launched another war against India in 1965, which caused thousands of casualties on both sides. Hostilities between the two countries ended after a diplomatic intervention by the Soviet Union and the United States and a UN-mandated ceasefire.
The 1965 war, the 1971 Indian intervention in Pakistan’s civil war, and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh led to more changes to the territorial borders in Kashmir. The ceasefire line is now designated as the Line of Control (LoC).
Since the 1990s, Pakistan has supported militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) to attack Indian security forces and civilians.
Kashmir has also been central to India’s national narrative of unity in diversity propagated by leaders of the independence movement, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. Indian leaders have often projected the accommodation of a Muslim majority state in the J&K region as proof of Indian secular democracy.
India’s official position considers the whole of undivided Kashmir as a part of India. And India has not consistently upheld J&K’s constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy. Political instability in the state has been compounded by interference from the Indian government. Indian armed forces in the area have often used force against civilians.
In the 1990s, this led to a mass uprising and insurgency among the Kashmiri population in India. Pakistan exploited this discontent, offering arms, training and funds to both Pakistan-based and local Kashmiri militants.
The insurgency in Indian Kashmir eased in 2003, with a ceasefire and the initiation of an India-Pakistan peace process that led to a relative period of calm.
The peace process came to an end after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, carried out by the LeT. But India’s policy of strategic restraint and pressure on Pakistan by the United States to address militancy prevented a worsening of hostilities.
A new government came to power in India in 2014, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. The leadership’s approach to Pakistan and Kashmir has been significantly different from the previous administration, with more emphasis on curbing dissent in J&K and using pre-emptive strikes across the LoC against militant groups in Pakistan’s territory.
Local discontent in Indian Kashmir has also led to an increase in militancy since 2014 with more Pakistani support and a combination of rising local recruitment and an influx of foreign militants.
The rules of engagement between India and Pakistan are changing. India’s “pre-emptive” air strikes in February were a significant shift away from the previous policy of strategic restraint. This is the first time since the dispute emerged that India has targeted militants inside Pakistani territory.
Pakistan chose to escalate tensions further, a move that had previously been prevented by the US. Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has reiterated his desire for dialogue with India. But ceasefire violations across the LoC and the international border have continued unabated since February 14k, with both sides reporting civilian casualties.
Diplomatic pressure from the UN and the rest of the international community has forced the Pakistani government to ban some militant groups. Yet, it continues to deny that JeM is active in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, tensions with Pakistan are playing well into Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promotion of being a “strong leader”, capable of protecting the country from its enemies. This is all part of the strategy leading up to the coming elections.
The escalatory responses by both governments have shown the actions of the two countries are becoming more difficult to control, particularly with the United States’ lack of involvement in defusing tensions as it disengages from the region.