A decree issued on 5 August 2019 revoked Article 370 of India’s constitution that guaranteed relative autonomy to the region of Kashmir.

The legislation, which had been extant since 1949, permitted the Muslim-majority state to amend its own constitution and allowed for legislative autonomy on all domestic matters excluding defence, communications, and foreign affairs. India’s parliament voted to reclassify the state of Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory, therefore allowing the Indian government greater authority over the region. Following the revocation, the former state of Jammu and Kashmir has been subjected to an effective lockdown; key political leaders in the region have been detained, there has been a media blackout enforced. The postal service, along with internet and mobile coverage have also been suspended. Tens of thousands of additional Indian troops have been deployed to the already heavily militarised region, in an attempt to discourage unrest amongst Kashmiri citizens. In response to the action taken by India, Pakistan has reduced diplomatic relations and suspended trade.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed in a televised address that the reason for revoking Article 370 was to free the region of ‘terrorism’ and to bring ‘stability’ to the area. Prior to the Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has stated that, “Pakistan is going to remain vigilant… the first line of defence is the diplomatic route and that is what Pakistan is engaged in right now. We are not looking at military options.” Despite apparent restraint from Pakistan, India has said it regrets Pakistan’s decision to suspend diplomatic channels of communication. Prior to India’s revocation of Article 370, the government ordered all tourists that were in Kashmir to leave the state due to an “imminent security threat”.

Since the announcement of Article 370’s revocation, residents of Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar have been guarding and blocking off entrances to areas within the city. Groups of youths have used bricks and wooden slabs to block entrances to their neighbourhoods. There appears to be little support from Kashmiri residents who believe that the recent constitutional change will cause the Muslim population of Kashmir to be pushed out by the dominant Indian Hindu population. Since the announcement, despite gatherings of more than four people being prohibited, residents have fended off security forces by sounding alarms from mosques to alert people in the area who then block access. The Indian government has denied the amount of protests that have occurred in recent weeks in Kashmir, however television footage broadcast by the BBC and Al Jazeera has contradicted this. Protests have also taken place internationally in solidarity with the Kashmiri people, with demonstrators targeting Indian embassies in major cities such as London.

Analyst Comment

The revocation of Article 370 took many observers by surprise. There had, however, been indications of a military build up in the region for some days previous, community leaders had been targeted for arrest and there were indications a people extracting from the area in the face of increased tensions. Modi secured a majority in elections earlier this year by campaigning on a Hindu-nationalist platform, which included appealing to his conservative political base through indications that he would seek to revoke Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status. In reality, this status was effectively symbolic, with previous administrations having eroded the autonomy that the region was afforded. However, appealing to an increasingly Hindu-nationalist polity has invoked fears that this latest development is a bid to alter the demographics of the majority Muslim Kashmir region. These concerns have implications at a range of scales.

Since the partition and independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the two nations have endured on-going conflicts over the Kashmir region. Both countries have attempted to claim ownership of the region, whilst many inhabitants wish to be entirely autonomous. Incidents of violence along the contested borders have occurred frequently in recent years. Pro- separatist violence has previously flared prompting fire fights, curfews, and evacuations of some residents along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. In February 2019, a suicide bomber associated with a militant separatist group killed 40 members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force. Days later, India sent fighter jets into Kashmir territory and claimed to carry out airstrikes against the militant group’s training camp, a claim that Pakistan denied. The following day, Pakistan reportedly shot down two Indian fighter jets in its airspace. Despite this increase in aggravation between the two powers, rhetoric from both India and Pakistan suggested an intention to avoid further escalation, with Pakistan cracking down on militants in the area. The move to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its autonomy could prompt further unrest and invoke violent repercussion from Kashmir based militant groups.

Since 5 August, there have been crowds gathering in Kashmir, with reported incidents of low-level violence between protestors and security forces. The potential for militant violence presents a particular concern, with India asserting that many of these groups have the tacit backing of Pakistani authorities. Kashmiri businesses have been impacted and hold the Indian government accountable for the military attacks and communication blockades. It is possible that Modi may be anticipating regional militias to retaliate against the oppressive measures imposed in order to solicit justification for an increased Indian military force posture. Paramilitary forces have set up barricades to limit movement and several journalists have claimed that they have been beaten or detained during restrictions. Those who do not reside in Kashmir are unable to travel to the area. Any up-tick in militia activity in the region is likely to be met by an increased military force posture by India, further antagonising Pakistan and paving the way for an escalation of tensions between the nuclear capable nations.

At the international scale, there has been widespread consternation. US President Donald Trump reportedly spoke to both Modi of India and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan 20 August, suggesting that progress was being made and that there was a need for bilateral dialogue. However, the US also reaffirmed that the issue remained a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan themselves. On 16 August, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a meeting to discuss the situation in Kashmir, although a statement has not yet been released, it is likely they will encourage for the issue to be de-escalated. China in particular will be seeking a resolution that aligns with their own interests in the region, and may veto any imposition form other nations through as a permanent member of the UNSC.

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