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A Governments Guide to Revoking Autonomy: The Curious Case of Kashmir

Source: Kashmir Global

In the days leading up to August 5th the inhabitants of Indian-administered Kashmir would experience a series of foreboding events. The telephone networks and internet access were cut off, public gatherings were banned, tens of thousands of troops were sent in, tourist were instructed to leave Kashmir due to a terror threat, and two former chief ministers of Kashmir were placed under house arrest. When August 5th came around the purpose of the governmental power play became evident; they were stripping Kashmir of its autonomy – a special status that Kashmir had held for over seven decades.

Kashmir has a long history that stretches all the way from its creation in 1846, it is a tumultuous history telling the story of one of the most fought over territories in history. Ever since 1949 between India and Pakistan. Wars and conflicts have followed since then, especially in 1965 and 1999. As of now both Delhi and Islamabad claim Kashmir as fully theirs, but continue to only control their respective parts, specifically “Indian-administered Kashmir” and “Pakistan-administered Kashmir”.

 

Timeline of Kashmir’s history. Source of information: BBC

Nonetheless, Indian-administered Kashmir continues to be an area of unrest. Because of Article 370 there exist a clause in the constitution granting Indian-administered Kashmir autonomy, meaning they have their own constitution, a separate flag and general independence over their matters, except on foreign affairs, defense and communications.

However, now there has been a sudden change Kashmir’s status in India that has created further unease and trepidation.  On August 5th, 2019, India revoked the privileged status that had been granting the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir autonomy for seven decades.

The Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised in its 2019 election manifesto to revoke Kashmir’s special autonomous status, and promptly followed through, seizing control of the territory.

Source: Kahmir Global

However, Pakistan fiercely condemned the Indian government’s move in Kashmir. Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, has vowed to fight India’s decision to remove Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomy. Khan has been talking to the UN Security Council arguing that the Indian government’s recent decisions are illegal. When Khan went before the UN General Assembly on September 27th, he furthermore argued that India’s move of sending military troops into Kashmir and implementing a curfew would lead to a “bloodbath”. Khan also argued fervently that the move was a breach of international law and that he feared it might lead to an ethnic cleansing in India.

Due to the fact that Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state, there is rising concern from both Pakistan and China that India will attempt to remove the local inhabitants and bring in others who will then constitute a majority, leaving the local Kashmiris to be nothing but slaves.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also addressed the UN General Assembly where he spoke of peace and India’s development achievements. Moreover, Modi spent a large part of his speech discussing India’s environmental sustainability and explaining a campaign to stop using single-use plastic in the country. Modi did not mention Kashmir in his speech, deliberately creating a stark contrast to Khan’s speech.

In Indian-administered Kashmir mobile services was restored after 72 days, but with internet access still closed off. There might be a very good reason internet access remains to be restored as it gives the Indian government a chance to control the media in Kashmir. In Indian Kashmir the media is split between pro- & anti secessionists. The Kashmiri journalist’s normally work under curfews and threats from militant groups. This is in contrast to the Pakistan-administered Kashmir where the media is mainly used to solicit stories that highlight alleged human rights violations in India.

Source: Kashmir Global

In fact, after August 5th only five newspapers in Indian-administered Kashmir were allowed to publish their stories due to restrictions imposed by the Indian government. Moreover, with the phone lines and internet services suspended there was no way for the editors of the  active newspaper to get any outside news in. Indian Kashmir has a grand total of 180 newspapers in both English and Urdu manned by Kashmiri journalists who are accustomed to writing and working under curfews – several Kashmiri journalist have later in expressed what a frustration it has been to be unable to report on the biggest event of their generation and on a subject they are so familiar with; unease within Kashmir.

The unease indeed continued as on October 16th, 2019, Indian security forces killed three separatists in a gun battle. The Indian soldiers received a tip-off saying the three separatists were hiding in a Kashmiri village.  The police said that “three terrorists were killed and the bodies retrieved from the site of the encounter”, but also that they found “incriminating material, including arms and ammunition”.

In also recent, but separate incidents, firstly a migrant worker was killed execution style while walking along a railway track in Kakapora, and secondly one fruit vendor was killed, another seriously injured, when gunmen fired at them in the Shopian district of South Kashmir.

The future of Kashmir is uncertain. With Article 370 revoked the people of Kashmir no longer see a reason to put up with the treatment of the Indian government and more and more inhabitants are vocally calling for a secession. Pakistan is eager to condemn India’s actions and PM Imran Khan is already vowing protection and justice for the people of Indian Kashmir – but is it out of the goodness of his heart, or is Khan seeing an opportunity to seize control of a region that has eluded Pakistan for decades? There are many questions that remain unanswered in this conflict, with so many possible outcomes, that we will have to wait and remain vigilant while the future of Kashmir is being negotiated.

Lærke Vinther Christiansen

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