The conflict in Kashmir is one of the oldest running “frozen conflicts” in the world that has now been ongoing since 1947. It has led to two major wars, played a major role in a third, and been involved in constant clashes and near conflicts between two nuclear armed countries of India and Pakistan.
The tensions were at their highest in the 1950s,1960s and 1990s but have cooled down in the 21st century after the Musharraf regime’s overtures for peace and reconciliation with India. However, since the arrival of the Modi regime in India, tensions over the issue escalated again and reached a dangerous level after the Indian government abrogated the special status of Kashmir and made it a part of the union of India as a federally administered territory.
It seems as if the BJP leadership has realized that the international community has given up on the Kashmir cause and that the Pakistani government is unable to do much, hence it can continue to act with complete impunity with no external or internal pressure. As another 5th of February has passed, marking the Kashmir solidarity day, it can only be hoped that a miracle happens and the situation reverts at the very least back to what it was before the abrogation of Article 370
The current BJP administration fosters a desire to turn India away from its secular republic roots into a Hindu nationalist one, and Kashmir being the only Muslim majority state in the union, was always a target for the Modi government. The 2014 and 2019 election manifesto of his party included the abrogation of special status for Kashmir, and that promise was fulfilled on 5 August 2019. The move abolished Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution, which granted Kashmir autonomy and special rights, and also split the region into two federally administered territories called Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir. Unlike states which have their own assemblies union territories are federally governed meaning what little autonomy Kashmiris had was also taken away altogether.
Pakistan has strongly protested against this blatant violation of UNSC resolutions. The Foreign Minister has written around 27 letters to the UN Secretary General, President UNGA, OHCHR and High Representative of European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy regarding the alarming human rights situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir which warrant investigation by a UN Commission of Inquiry as recommended by the OHCHR in its reports of 2018 and 2019. Since 2019, the Indian government has proceeded to take several steps to strengthen its grip on the region.
It has followed a strategy of land occupation in two steps in order to dilute the ethnic mix of the region. Firstly it has allowed the Indian army to declare any region as of strategic value and acquire it from the government in the Kashmir region for utilization against Kashmiri rebels. Secondly it has allowed nonresidents to purchase land in the region which they could not earlier as well, as issuing 4.2 million domiciles to non-Kashmiri residents in a bid to change the demography of the region. The justification given for these changes is to increase industrial productivity of the region by encouraging Indian companies to buy land and open factories in the region as well as benefit landowners by increasing property prices but the large- scale shifting of people shows that the real intentions are political rather than economic.
The Modi administration has also deployed hundreds of thousands of troops and declared emergency in the region. The initial crackdown by the government led to 519 people killed at the hands of security forces, mostly in extra judicial operations and fake encounters as well as during detention and interrogation. More than 210 people were killed during “cordon and search” operations carried out by the military on the pretext of anti-terrorism operations. Over 1400 people were illegally detained, tortured and forced to confess as reported by international and local media. The use of pellet guns against protesters has been especially well documented.
Journalists, especially those from Kashmir, were also targeted and suffered detentions and torture. The entire Kashmiri leadership as well was imprisoned and the death of Syed Ali Shah Gillani in prison highlights the brutal repression carried out by the Indian government to achieve its goals. The lockdown also had devastating effects on the region’s economy leading to losses of $9.5 billion due to restrictions on movement, businesses and the closure of the internet.
With the freedom movement brutally suppressed and the Indian government now seemingly in control of the region, it seems as if the future of Kashmir and its people depends on internal politics of India rather than on any external factors. The reinstatement of Kashmir’s special status requires the BJP to lose its government in India and for Congress to regain power in the 2024 elections since the latter has always been more accommodating of the Kashmiris’ right to autonomy and of Muslims in general in India, compared to the Hindu extremists that dominate the BJP. The existing setup has no intention of stopping its drive to change the ethnic and political makeup of the region.
By 2024 it may be too late to reverse the changes even if the government in the centre changes since those who have bought lands and received domiciles will remain in the region and ensure that any future assembly formed through elections in Kashmir is more representative of the BJP’s desires. The reopening of economy and tourism has allowed some sense of normalcy to return and for people to earn a livelihood. Massive increase in economic investment has also been witnessed after the end of the state of emergency.
The people of Kashmir have shown great valour in continuing to resist despite the brutal repression of the state and have refused to give up their struggle be it unarmed or armed, but at the moment there appears little space in an increasingly aggressive Indian regime for any note of dissent from the region.
It seems as if the BJP leadership has realized that the international community has given up on the Kashmir cause and that the Pakistani government is unable to do much, hence it can continue to act with complete impunity with no external or internal pressure. As another 5th of February has passed, marking the Kashmir solidarity day, it can only be hoped that a miracle happens and the situation reverts at the very least back to what it was before the abrogation of Article 370.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]