As featured in Edition 38, available here.
BY HANNA BAJWA (3rd year - PAIS and Sociology - High Wycombe, England)
Kashmir is one of the world’s most volatile regions, with two nuclear power countries, India and Pakistan, fighting over it, both of which believe Kashmir rightfully belongs to them. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED) project has recently reported that violence within Kashmir is expected to continue without any resolution. Despite its historical past, the issue in Kashmir today is a communalised Hindu-Muslim problem, an internal and external security threat, and an international issue with at least three sovereign stakeholders.
To understand this conflict, it is essential to look into the history of the area. In August of 1947, India and Pakistan were divided into their two nations, with Pakistan generally getting the Muslim-majority states, and India getting the Hindu-majority states. Kashmir was a peculiar case, as while the majority of the population was Muslim, the ruler was Hindu, so originally Kashmir was thought to go to India. Kashmir holds great geographical and strategic importance to both nations. Without Kashmir India does not have access to Central Asian and European countries directly through land. Kashmir is also important to Pakistan, since Indian control over Kashmir could potentially paralyze Pakistani agriculture and induce droughts, due to the Indus River flowing through it, which is crucial to Pakistani agriculture. Kashmir is also the only direct link between Pakistan and China, making it an important area militarily for Pakistan, and detrimental for India if Pakistan controls it.
Both nations claim the territory in its entirety, but control only parts of the region, leading to the nuclear-armed neighbours having gone to war twice over it. Relations between the two countries have always been tense, but reached an all-time low when Delhi unilaterally revoked the region's special status in 2019.
On August 5th, 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked Article 370, which stripped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and statehood, dividing it into two centrally ruled territories. This decision by Modi repudiated legislation that had previously allowed Jammu and Kashmir to have a separate constitution, allowing them to make laws independently from the Indian parliament.
When India first made its move in 2019, it startled the world and led to fears of a rise in violence in the valley and a potential open conflict with Pakistan. New Delhi also worried about the diplomatic fallout with the West, as Pakistan joined China in pressuring India through the United Nations Security Council. But there has neither been a war with Pakistan, nor an eruption of large-scale violence in the valley.
Since August 5th, 2019, fundamental freedoms and liberties have been seized from Kashmir’s citizens, over 10,000 Kashmiris have vanished, been arrested, or sent to prison in India, and the political leadership in Kashmir was either placed under house arrest or imprisoned. All modes of communication were cut off, and even two years later high-speed internet has only been partially restored.
At the time, Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP-led government argued that the revoking of Article 370 was necessary to restore stability and bring economic prosperity to the region, yet over half a million Kashmiris have lost their jobs, and the region’s economy has suffered losses worth $7 billion in the last two years.
Yet peace is still possible. Between November and December 2020 multi-phase local elections were held to elect 280 district development councillors. As of June 2021, Prime Minister Modi has promised elections in Kashmir after the first meeting since 2019 with regional leaders of Delhi and Kashmir. Former chief ministers of the region and several other leaders attended the meeting, many of whom were placed under house arrest or incarcerated two years prior. Kashmiri leaders have long demanded a restoration of their semi-autonomy and for elections to be held, but India has been working to readjust some assembly and parliamentary constituencies in the region under a process known as delimitation, which involves drawing the boundaries of political constituencies.
Many Kashmiris have voiced their criticism of delimitation, fearing it will tilt the balance of power in the region toward Hindu leaders, yet Amit Shah, the country’s Minister of Home Affairs, said the delimitation measures and elections would be important milestones in restoring statehood to the region.
Due to the sudden decisions made by Modi in 2019, there is a growing sense of alienation and distrust toward New Delhi among Kashmiris. For Kashmir's future, it’s crucial for the central government to reach out to the people, for example, through fair and credible elections. The delimitation process will be critical. Additionally, the Indian Government must rescind the Domicile law, which was enacted last year to change the demography of Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, all talks must be tripartite, as the dispute primarily involves three parties: India, Pakistan, and most importantly, the people of Kashmir, as it is ultimately their future at stake.
IMAGE: Unsplash/ Hamid Roshaan and Unsplash/ Naveed Ahmed