Newly appointed Home Minister Amit Shah
File photo of India's newly appointed Home Minister Amit Shah. Photo: AFP / Prakash Singh

The Indian government has abolished the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir that it had held since independence. But this is not simply an internal issue, as the regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have it. The time is right for the international community to take notice – and take action.

Indian Home Minister Amit Shah told Parliament last Monday that Article 370 of the Indian constitution had been canceled and that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had undone a historical wrong. He explained that the move was to “modernize and fully integrate” the people of Kashmir into India.

Article 370 permitted J&K to have self-rule in all issues except foreign affairs, defense and communications. The new law removes restrictions on Indians from permanently moving to the area, buying land and holding local government jobs.

Considering the reaction, before the announcement, a curfew was imposed and prominent Kashmiri leaders were put under house arrest in all 26 districts. The Congress party and local Kashmiri leaders strongly protested the amendment. Omar Abdullah, head of National Conference, called the decision “aggression against people of J&K.” Elderly Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Gilani predicted genocide against Kashmiri people because of unprecedented Indian troop deployment. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram remarked that the BJP had legally dismembered Jammu and Kashmir from India. Another senior Congress party leader, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, reminded the Indian Parliament that Jammu and Kashmir is not an internal matter of India. It was being monitored by the United Nations, and at best is a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India.

The princely states

According to Lord Mountbatten’s plan for the partition of the subcontinent announced on June 3, 1947, around 500 princely states would accede to India, while 12 states consented to join Pakistan. Five coastal states, the peninsular region adjacent to the present-day Indian state of Gujarat, which each had a Muslim ruler but a Hindu majority, namely Dasuda, Vanod, Jainabad, Bajuna and Radhanpur, in close proximity to Sindh, were to join Pakistan, but because of Indian coercion and threats were not able to become part of Pakistan.

Two states on the Kathiawar peninsula, Junagadh and Manavadar, had formally acceded to Pakistan. They had Muslim rulers but Hindu majorities. These were forcibly occupied by India in 1948. The state of Hyderabad Deccan, with a sizable Muslim population and a Muslim ruler, not contiguous to Pakistan but on the banks of the Arabian Sea, opted for Pakistan. It was brutally invaded, occupied and later annexed to India.

The Pakistani leadership did not see any problem with the accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which had an overwhelmingly Muslim majority population and was contiguous to Pakistan but ruled by a Hindu rajah. However, the Indian military occupied J&K; only one-fifth of it could be freed by Pakistan, later named Azad Kashmir and administrated by Pakistan.

Indian security forces successfully subdued the people of all occupied states except for the people of Kashmir, who did not give in. During 1948 Indo-Pakistani War, when India saw the tide in favor of Pakistan and Kashmir, it took the matter to the UN Security Council. The Security Council ordered a ceasefire and declared the state of Kashmir a disputed territory that was to be resolved through a referendum. Both India and Pakistan pledged to resolve the issue peacefully through a referendum.

What are Articles 370 and 35A?

The Indian political leadership, instead of attending to United Nations resolutions over Kashmir, tried to calm Kashmiris through various legal deceptions. In 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru struck a deal with Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, an influential political figure in Kashmir, and inserted Article 370 into the Indian constitution. The article defines Kashmir’s political relationship with New Delhi by granting special status to J&K. It restricts New Delhi’s legislative jurisdiction to defense, foreign affairs and communications.

In 1954, through a presidential order, Article 35A was passed under Article 370 (1) (d) of the Indian constitution. The article accords special rights and privileges of the permanent residents of Kashmir in government jobs, land acquisition and other public projects.

Last year, the BJP government encouraged a petition asking the Indian Supreme Court to annul the special status of Kashmir granted by Articles 370 and 35A. Many people expected a historic decision by the high court binding the government to resolve the issue with all stakeholders in a certain time frame. However, on September 14, 2018, the Supreme Court adjourned the hearing on the petitions to the following year because of the ongoing law-and-order situation in the Kashmir Valley, and to this day, the hearing is not consider urgent by the top Indian court.

Article 370 and Article 35A have been a contentious issue, ever since the state of Jammu and Kashmir was annexed to the Republic of India. India has avoided resolution of the Kashmir question through UN resolutions and has concocted many political and legal strategies to portray settlement of the issue unilaterally.

Local Kashmiri politicians have warned against the scrapping of Article 370. They have pledged to protect the territory’s identity. They fear that opening up Kashmir to people from other parts of India could change the demography of India’s only Muslim-majority area. More than two-thirds of Kashmir’s population is Muslim.

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Kashmir, said the government’s decision would make India’s troops an occupying force. She tweeted, “Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy.”

Kashmir is shut down. Internet services stopped, and schools and shops closed. She also said the results would be catastrophic.

India’s abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A will most likely be turned down by the Supreme Court, but that does not satisfy Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Pakistan has sensitized diplomacy against Indian brutalities. The timing to take the issue to UN Security Council is also just right.

Meaningful intervention by the US may also help resolve the Kashmir issue. Prime Minister Imran Khan is reforming Pakistan in many ways and making utmost efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan is also aspiring to provide peaceful connectivity to the region for collective economic benefits through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is time for the US and the world community to bridle the warmongering Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and help achieve a comprehensive peace in South Asia by resolving the Kashmir issue. The UN Security Council might rise to its mandate to resolve the longest dispute in its history.

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