India sure has created Kashmir into an even hotter spot after remaining stuck for many years due to lack of agreements and due to particular geostrategic interests.
However, Kashmir has always been an explosive hot spot since partition in 1947. Kashmir, disputed by India, Pakistan, and in part also China, not only brings together rivals who are all armed with nuclear bombs, but it can also set off a religious war between Muslims and Hindus. Therefore, the decision taken by the Indian Prime Minister to revoke the autonomy of the Jammu and Kashmir region, under direct Indian control, is a political and diplomatic bomb that returns to focus international to a conflict that has never been resolved since the British ended their colonial rule over the subcontinent.
As of 1989, clashes between Indian forces and independence groups of the only Muslim-majority state in India have killed more than 50,000 people. The power acquired by Narendra Modi in India after two elections in which he completely dominated the opposition has comforted him in his ultra-nationalism to make the decision that made the world nervous in what could potentially emerge.
Modi has masterfully managed to exploit the nationalist spirit and decided to eliminate at a stroke the special status enjoyed by the Kashmir region under his control. That certain political autonomy was also embodied in the Indian Constitution, in article 370 for 70 years. Modi has not been arrested for defying the Supreme Court who opposed the move. But it is not an accomplished whim overnight. For the Indian nationalists, Kashmir must be integrated into its territory like any other state in the country, and Modi does nothing but fulfils the plan he had announced for some time.
The coalition that the Modi party had built with the Democratic People’s Party (PDP), the main force of Kashmir, was dissolved precisely because the PDP opposed the revocation of the constitutional article that deprived them of autonomy. In addition, already in 2018, the local rebel group Hizbul Mujahidin warned that “every Indian will become a legitimate target” if New Delhi eliminated the special status of the region.
Indian settlers, as a democratic weapon
The new status not only limits the local autonomous power but also divides that state in two and allows citizens from outside the territory, that is to say, Hindus, to settle in the area. Until now, the sale of Kashmir land was controlled by local authorities. Modi’s decision is aimed at altering local demography to a Hindu majority as it is now composed of a Muslim majority.
Modi has said that the region will have the possibility of holding elections in full transparency, but that chamber will now be under the control of New Delhi, which will send Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, to a kind of delegate of the central government. The Indian head of government justifies his measure by arguing that the changes “will help free the region from terrorism and separatism, as well as lead to development.” Among his promises, he said that in a short time the area “will be the subject of filming from foreign films.”
For the political leaders of Kashmir, the day of the revocation of article 370 of the Constitution was baptized as “the blackest day in the history of Indian democracy” and judged Modi’s accusations, according to whom, the region is directed by local mafias that have imposed corruption.
The central government ordered a blockade of the territory that also entailed the suspension of all road, telephone and internet communications. More than 500 local politicians were arrested in the first days after Modi’s announcement, in the curfew. As expected, Pakistan expelled the Indian ambassador, severed commercial and cultural relations with its neighbour and rival, and began to seek international support. The Chinese authorities were the ones who most wanted to get involved in their diplomatic support for Islamabad, which meant a dry response from New Delhi.
The role of China
For his part, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan asked for the mediation of Donald Trump during his visit to the White House. Washington’s fluctuating diplomacy is more interested in putting pressure on Pakistan to reach an agreement with the Afghan Taliban, and, for now, its spokesmen have only uttered words without much content about the Kashmir conflict. On the other hand, Washington considers Pakistan an ally of its new commercial enemy, China, who also controls a part of the former principality of Kashmir, the region called Aksai Chin. For Indian nationalists, Aksai Chin is illegally occupied by Beijing.
The outbreak of a new armed conflict seems ruled out by all parties, among other reasons, because of Pakistan’s current economic weakness. But the resumption of terrorist actions by separatist and jihadist groups is less disposable. The last attack against Indian paramilitary forces took place on February 14, which prompted the response of Indian aerial attacks against the training camp of the Jaís-e-Muhamed group, in Pakistani territory. In India, the attacks of 1999 and 2001 that killed more than 200 people in several cities in the country have not been forgotten.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.