In Depth

What is happening in Kashmir?

Pakistan PM says India’s crackdown in the disputed region could spark nuclear conflict

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned that his country’s ongoing dispute with India over Kashmir could escalate into nuclear war.

Speaking to journalists at the UN General Assembly in New York this week, Khan said he feared there would be a “massacre” in the Muslim-dominated state and that “things will start to go out of control”.

The region, which has been torn by conflict for three decades, has been under a rigid curfew and communications blackout since India withdrew its special autonomous status on 5 August - much to the ire of neighbouring Pakistan.

In what were described as “precautionary measures” to prevent violent unrest, the Indian government “deployed additional paramilitary police, banned public gatherings and cut cellular and internet links to prevent large-scale protests”, reports Reuters.

So what is going on?

What is Article 370?

In 1947, when British control of the Indian subcontinent came to an end, the territory was divided into two countries - India and Pakistan - along hastily drawn borders loosely based on religion.

Many experts at the time expected Jammu and Kashmir, which was a Muslim-majority region, to go to Pakistan. But instead, the ruler of the state “joined India in return for help against an invasion of tribesmen from Pakistan”, says the BBC.

Jammu and Kashmir was carved into three regions - Hindu-majority Jammu, Muslim-majority Kashmir and Buddhist-majority Ladakh - but when war then broke out between India and Pakistan, Kashmir effectively became partitioned. In the decades since, it has become one of the most heavily militarised regions in the world.

In 1949, a special provision known as Article 370 was added to India’s Constitution providing autonomy to the region and allowing the state to have its own constitution, a separate flag and independence over all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications.

The BBC reports that the clause was seen as a way of “protecting the state’s distinct demographic character as the only Muslim-majority state in India”.

However, as Al Jazeera notes, the law was controversial as it prohibited Indians from outside the state from permanently settling, buying land, holding local government jobs and securing education scholarships within Jammu and Kashmir.

Why did India revoke this special status?

India said it hoped that a withdrawal of special privileges for Kashmir, such as exclusive rights to land, government jobs and college places, would help integrate the territory into the rest of the country, currently governed by the controversial hard-line Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party had long pushed for an end to Kashmir’s special constitutional status. Applauding the move after it was announced in August, India’s former finance minister and BJP member Arun Jaitley said: “A historical wrong has been undone today.”

Jaitley added that Article 370 had come “through the back door without following the procedure” back in 1949.

What does it mean for Kashmir?

Now that Kashmir’s special status is gone, “people from anywhere in India [are] able to buy property and permanently settle in the state”, says The Economic Times, a news agency based in India.

“This has fuelled fear in the mind of Kashmiris – they think it would lead to the state’s demographic transformation from majority Muslim to majority Hindu,” the site adds.

Opposition leaders have been highly critical of the move. Mehbooba Mufti, Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister, said it would “make India an occupational force in Jammu and Kashmir” and called it “the darkest day in Indian democracy”.

Now, “nearly two months into the crisis, many restrictions are still in place”, writes Salman Soz in the Financial Times.

“People are cut off from their loved ones, schools and colleges remain shut, and healthcare services have taken a hit,”, he continues.

“Tourism has ground to a halt, small traders can’t conduct business and those who eke out a living on a day-to-day basis are at the mercy of charitable neighbours.”

Soz suggests that if Kashmiris “were able to express themselves freely, the number of street protesters would probably rival or even exceed those we are seeing in Hong Kong”.

Pakistan, which lays claim to the Muslim-majority region, has pledged to fight Modi’s decision. And Khan is also predicting a popular backlash once the heightened security measures are lifted, reports The Guardian.

“They’ll come out on the streets. What happens then?” the Pakistani PM said this week, pointing to the presence of the 900,000-strong Indian force in the region. I fear there will be a massacre and things will start to go out of control.”

He continued: “We are heading for a potential disaster of proportions that no one here realises. It is the only time since the Cuban crisis that two nuclear-armed countries are coming face to face.

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