Ilford, United Kingdom
VIJAY SHAH with SARA ALTAF KHAN (contributor) and news sources
The Kashmir situation is one of the Asian continent’s, and possibly the world’s most complex and divisive geopolitical issues since the past seventy years. Nestled in the Himalayas, the region is split between the countries of India, Pakistan and China, all of which claim the entirety of the territory. There is also a strong separatist movement in the area, favouring independence for Kashmir over aligning with any of the three neighbours.
Until the great Partition and independence of both India and Pakistan in 1947, Kashmir was a princely state with its own monarchy, a Hindu king ruling over a largely Muslim population. The king favoured joining India at the end of British colonial rule, but most of his then subjects wished to join Pakistan. What followed was the old kingdom becoming a flashpoint, with two-thirds of the erstwhile state becoming the Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir, and the rest annexed by Pakistan as their ‘Azad Kashmir’ with parts later going to China.
India, China and Pakistan have fought no less than four wars over Kashmir, along with numerous border incursions and skirmishes. Meanwhile, in Jammu and Kashmir up until last week, the state was guaranteed a special degree of greater autonomy compared with India’s other states. It had its own laws and even a state flag, privileges granted under Article 370 of the country’s constitution.
Last week, the government of India voted to strike down Article 370 and fully integrate Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian political landscape, a move condemned by many pro-separatist and pro-Pakistan Kashmiris, and also by Pakistan. Media reports suggest that around 500 politicians and activists have been arrested, and both Indians from outside Kashmir as well as foreign tourists have begun leaving the Kashmir Valley in droves, fearful of a worsening situation. Kashmir has seen several decades of terrorist attacks, bombings and riots, with an entire community, the Kashmiri Hindus, or Pandits, being forced out and made refugees in northern India, while Kashmir’s Muslim-majority population have felt under siege in a political tug-of-war they have little say in. Anti-Indian riots and flag burnings have convulsed the state and an internet blackout has been put in place by New Delhi.
The Indian government under prime minister Narendra Modi removed Article 370 for the cause of national unity, with the Times of India newspaper stating that the move would help end terrorism in the region, according to minister of home affairs Amit Shah. New Delhi in some quarters said that the article was helping to encourage terrorism and bolster the region’s separatists. They also argued that the article was only ever a ‘temporary provision’ and was not set in stone, therefore revoking it would not be a serious legal or political issue.
While many of the public in India have supported the abrogation of the article, and India’s decision has received backing from Russia, the Maldives and the UAE, riots and protests have greeted it within the Kashmir region itself. Thousands of people took to the streets in the Jammu and Kashmir capital of Srinagar after Friday prayers last week with local police using gunfire and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Disgruntled Kashmiris who say they feel trapped by the loss of their homeland’s autonomy vented their frustrations by hurling stones at Indian special forces. The magazine India Today reported that there was an increase in incursions from the Pakistani part of Kashmir across the contentious ‘Line of Control’ which separates the two parts of the region, with attempts by Pakistan-backed militias to infiltrate the Valley.
Restrictions on public activities have been eased this weekend as the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Adha begins this Sunday. Some world powers, most notably America, have offered to mediate in the ongoing situation but India and Pakistan have said it is a purely bilateral affair. India have said it will now split its part of Kashmir into two new states, Jammu and Kashmir proper, with the Buddhist region of Ladakh in Kashmir’s north becoming a new state. Pakistan has lodged a disagreement with the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) who planned to debate the revoking of Article 370 last week. The country’s media have described the removal of Article 370 as a dark moment for Kashmiris and warned of increasing violence. Nobel Prize winner and girls’ rights activist Malala Yousafzai urged for a peaceful resolution to the Kashmir debacle.
It is too early to say what the final outcome of the ending of Article 370 and autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir will be, whether for the Kashmiri and Jammu people themselves, or relations between India and Pakistan. It may lead to a fourth war between the nuclear regional heavyweights, a civil war in Kashmir, or possibly a new era of peace and understanding between all parties.
The above article was suggested by Sara Altaf Khan (Mannu Gill), a US-based blogger and storyteller who chronicles life and love in the Kashmir Valley in her blog ‘Reality and Reality‘. You can visit her blog at mannugill.com