The future of the Indian subcontinent is being written in Kashmir

The revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian government is stoking tensions with Pakistan and China in one of the most complex international conflicts

The future of the Indian subcontinent is being written in Kashmir
A Kashmiri man covers his mouth during a protest against the scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the government, in New Delhi, India - Photo: Danish Siddiqui/REUTERS
English 16/08/2019 16:00 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 16:55
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The revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by the Indian government on August 5 is stoking tensions with Pakistan and China in one of the most complex international conflicts, where future scenarios range from war and economic development to a new paradigm regarding the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.

Less than seven months after New Delhi and Islamabad fought air and artillery battles following the worst separatist attack against Indian troops in the disputed region that killed 44 men, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah surprised the world by unilaterally declaring the end of the semi-autonomous status of J&K in the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), the upper house of the Indian Parliament.

The only Muslim-majority Indian state was also split and downgraded into two union territories ruled directly by the central government, Jammu and Kashmir, which will have a local legislature while its smallest region of Ladakh, disputed between New Delhi and Beijing, will resemble other union territories with no local legislature.

Re-elected in May with a full majority in Parliament, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi fulfilled his campaign promises to the Hindutva nationalists in the first 75 days of the new administration, in reaction to national and international developments affecting the conflict in J&K which has provoked three wars between India and Pakistan (1947,1965, and 1999) since the end of the British colony and the creation of both countries in 1947.

On Tuesday, Modi addressed some of these developments, insisting on the need to abrogate two constitutional articles which granted the special status of J&K, in order to promote economic growth and universal education, as well as to fight corruption and nepotism fostered by the two dynastic families and the Muslim priests (ulema) who dominate Kashmiri politics.

“It is now clear to everyone how Articles 370 and 35 (A) fully isolated Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. The status quo of seven long decades clearly could not fulfill people’s aspirations. Citizens were kept away from the fruits of development. The greatest casualty was the lack of any proper economic avenues to increase earnings,” Modi said. 

He added that “our approach is different—instead of the vicious cycle of poverty, people need more economic opportunities. For years, intimidation ruled the roost. Let us now give development a chance” (Prior to the revocation of both articles outsiders could not settle, purchase, nor develop land in J&K).

However, given the closeness of Modi to the Hindutva extremists, the Muslim and Indian opposition consider the “temporaldowngrading of J&K as a signal that the Modi regime—under pressure of the corporate sector and its own right-wing in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to accelerate neoliberal restructuring and assert its interests in the world stagecan not trust Muslims.

In the long-term, Muslims fear the mass migration of Indians; as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “the removal of special status would allow India to change the demographic make-up of the Muslim-majority state.”

The expulsion of Pandits

They forget, nevertheless, that the Muslim predominance in J&K (12.5 million inhabitants) was achieved by expulsion of the native non-Muslims, the Kashmiri Pandits—between 100,000 and 190,000 people,—as a result of the Islamic insurgency organized and funded by the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia against the Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan.

The jihadist victory in 1989 sparked a rebellion in J&K. Last year’s death toll was the highest since 2009, with nearly 300 killed; the fate of the Kashmiri Pandits was similar to that of the native Kashmiris in Pakistan-controlled Azad Jammu and Kashmir, displaced by Punjabi and Pashtun settlers since 1947.

During the partition of British India, Maharaja Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler of J&K, preferred to become independent; however, the armed pressure from nascent Pakistan ended up dividing the region, while in 1962 India and China went to war over their territorial dispute in Aksai Chin, part of Buddhist-majority Ladakh, and Arunachal Pradesh.

Renowned by its beautiful chain of mountain valleys and lakes, J&K has strategic importance as the headwaters of Pakistan’s main water source, the Indus river system.

Islamabad has sought to manipulate anger and disaffection with Indian rule in the region by funneling logistic support to separatists; New Delhi’s response has been a “dirty war” with disappearances and summary executions, deploying between 500,000 and 700,000 soldiers in the territory.

Following Modi’s decision to cancel J&K’s special status, likely to come into effect in October, India ordered all tourists to leave the region. All communication lines were cut, local leaders were put under house arrest, and all schools and public institutions were closed. Some 35,000 additional troops were sent by New Delhi.

The move was also motivated by the possibility of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan before the 2020 U.S. election, as President Donald Trump has promised to end his country’s longest war.

In exchange for key Pakistani support, Khan linked peace in Kashmir to peace in Kabul, where the Taliban guerrilla, ideological heir of the “freedom fighters” from the 80s and 90s, would assume power.

Yet, India has deeper motivations. Facing international turbulence, the BJP government fears the “window of opportunity” for New Delhi to emerge as a rival to China and lay claim to great power status is rapidly closing.

Building on the “global strategic partnership with the U.S., is determined to change the rules of the game with Pakistan, transforming India into a vital element of Trump’s offensive against Beijing.

Kashmir borders China’s autonomous Tibet and Xinjiang provinces, and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CEPEC)—part of the Belt and Road Initiative,—which Beijing prizes as a means of circumventing Washington’s plans to blockade Chinese ports in a crisis, passes through Pakistan-held Kashmir.

This week, Global Times, a pro-China Communist Party newspaper edited in Beijing, remarked that J&K is a United Nations-recognized disputed region. “India’s move also damaged China’s territorial sovereignty. China must guard against India taking advantage of improving bilateral relations to infringe on China’s territorial sovereignty,” it said.

“Before former Premier Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988, New Delhi declared China’s South Tibet to be part of its state of Arunachal Pradesh. Such a situation must not be repeated,” stressed Global Times adding that the violation of UN Security Council resolutions shows that India is unqualified for a permanent seat” in the organ.

Ultimately, as the Indian media has stated, the objective of creating “new facts on the ground” is “to get the rest of the world to live with the new reality in Kashmir, if not accept it.”

It is a move inspired by a changing global environment, where Modi’s friend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for instance, has unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights and plans to do so in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Modi’s sycophants underscore that 60 years ago China had to suppress the Tibetan autonomy and point out that the autonomy of Hong Kong and Xinjiang would be next in line.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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