Fears of violence as India ends Kashmir autonomy after seven decades
India’s decree to revoke Kashmir’s automomy after seven decades was met with outcry in neighbouring Pakistan and fears the restive, disputed territory would now spiral further into violence.
Islamabad said it would "exercise all possible options" to reject an “illegal” act by Delhi, while the president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir warned that the two countries could "go to war".
Narendra Modi’s decision to abolish the special status of Indian-controlled Kashmir and make it a union territory ends self-rule while giving his federal government complete control over local police.
The decision will also allow Indians from outside the territory to settle, buy land and hold local government jobs. Opponents fear his ruling BJP Hindu nationalist party intends now to change the demographics of the Muslim-majority region with a wave of Hindu migration.
Mr Modi’s move to tighten control represented a far-reaching political change in a dispute which has destabilised the region for decades and three times triggered war between India and Pakistan.
Communications were blocked on Monday, troops patrolled the capital of Srinagar, public movement was heavily restricted, and local leaders were put under house arrest.
"All Kashmiris are under surveillance, even the police, which is why no-one will speak directly,” said one lawyer from Kishtwar in Kashmir. “We have been told to stay inside and we are worried that if we leave our house that we will be labelled as secessionists."
Mr Modi’s move completes a campaign promise in the 2014 and 2019 general elections and appeared to burnish his image as a nationalist strongman. Kashmir weighed heavily on this year’s election after Mr Modi ordered an air strike inside Pakistan to avenge the death of more than 40 troops in a suicide bombing claimed by Pakistan-based militants.
BJP leaders praised the removal of autonomy enshrined in article 370 of the Indian constitution. Arun Jaitley said: "What was a temporary and transient provision cannot be treated as permanent. It had to go. Separate status led to separatism. No dynamic nation can allow this situation to continue. A historical wrong has been undone today."
But Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of the region, who was one of those placed under house arrest, described it as the “darkest day in Indian democracy”.
"It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent," she added. “They want to change the demography of the only Muslim majority state in India, and disempower Muslims to the extent where they become second class citizens in their own state," she said.
Tushar Arun Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma and President of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation said his forebear would view the removal of Article 370 as “an abortion of democracy”.
"This is like a dictatorship trying to grab something. There could have been a much better manner to resolve this… a much more transparent manner, which would have been much better for democracy."
"I think it will make the people of Kashmir more suspicious of the government of India. I hope and pray it doesn’t [cause more violence] but it is a desperate prayer."
Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety, and their dispute has poisoned relations since Independence. They currently divide it along a heavily militarised line of control where they trade artillery fire almost daily. India has long accused Pakistan of fomenting armed insurrection in its part of the territory and harbouring militants fighting Indian troops. Islamabad says it gives only moral support.
Pakistan on Monday night told India it unequivocally rejected “these illegal actions as they are in breach of international law and several UN Security Council resolutions”.
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