Ever since the Partition of 1947, India and Pakistan have been locking horns over establishing a permanent foothold in the Kashmir region. Both countries have control over certain specific territories with a ceasefire agreement in place. Up until 2019, the state of Jammu and Kashmir had special status, i.e., the state had a separate set of laws governing the people, wherein most parts of the Indian constitution were not applicable to the state. This was under Article 370 of the Indian constitution. All of this changed, however, when the government passed a new law in August 2019, scrapping this controversial Article.
What is Article 370 of the Indian Constitution?
Article 370 of the Indian constitution gave Jammu and Kashmir special status, which meant that the state had a separate constitution of their own, a state flag as well as regional autonomy in daily governance except in matters pertaining to defense, foreign affairs and communications. This meant that permanent residents of the state were eligible for privileges like the purchase and ownership of immovable property, applying for government jobs and voting in state-level elections. Article 370 came into effect in 1954 and was enforced until its abrogation in 2019. Article 35A of the Indian constitution enabled the state of Jammu and Kashmir to define permanent residency of the citizens residing here. This article was ratified and became a part of the constitution in 1954.
A brief history of the conflict over Kashmir – what happened, why it started, how it escalated
Kashmir is a strategically important area located in the northern-most reaches of India. It is a mountainous region covering approximately 86,000 square miles of area. Often called the Switzerland of India, this region is famed for its scenic beauty – dotted by lush meadows, beautiful lakes and snow-capped mountains. However, it’s not all idyllic settings and natural beauty. Kashmir has been marred by decades of conflict, human rights violations and massive loss of civilian life due to insurgency.
The contention between India and Pakistan over Kashmir started in 1947. Under the Indian Independence Act, Kashmir was free to join either India or Pakistan or remain independent. The British government was no longer the ruling power. Both countries wanted the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh to sign Kashmir over to their side. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah campaigned hard for Kashmir to join Pakistan, once the Maharaja dismissed his Prime Minister Ram Chandra Kak, who advocated independent rule for Kashmir. Jinnah argued that Kashmir belonged to Pakistan by virtue of its demographics – a predominantly Muslim population. He promised Hari Singh favorable treatments and opportunities and members of the Muslim League lobbied the State Prime Minister’s Office. When the Maharaja was still undecided, Muslim League agents covertly organized an armed Muslim revolt in Poonch, now a part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The Pakistani government in Punjab stonewalled supply of fuel and other commodities. During this period, Hindu-Muslim tensions were at an all time high with communal riots erupting everywhere. Tensions escalated between the two newly formed independent nations, until war finally broke out in 1947. The Pakistani armed forces offered weapons and logistical support to armed Pathan rebels, dubbed the “Azad Army” and Pakistani army officers were conveniently on leaves of absence. The Azad Army led an invasion into Kashmir. It was due to this invasion that the Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to India, to protect the Kashmiri people.
Since the situation had become untenable, then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decided to take this issue to the UN security council. The UN proposed a plan of action that involved an immediate cease-fire followed by a multi-step process of demilitarizing this region. This was to be followed by holding a plebiscite to decide whether Kashmir would be joining India or Pakistan. However, this plebiscite never happened because the Pakistani government refused to accept the terms of the demilitarization and remove their troops from this region. All subsequent efforts at holding a referendum and finding a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dilemma proved to be unsuccessful over the course of the next few years, as both countries had one reason or the other for backing out.
There were three more full-scale conflicts between India and Pakistan – in 1965 and then in 1971 and finally in 1999 in the district of Kargil. Operation Gibraltar was a brainchild of the Pakistani government, with the objective of covertly infiltrating the Indian-held territories of Kashmir and inciting an armed rebellion against Indian rule. This operation was a huge failure, however, due to poor planning, lack of coordination and clumsy execution. It led to the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, which lasted for seventeen days and ended in a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities at the urging of the international community. A significant result of this war was the formation of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in 1968, which is the foreign intelligence arm of the Indian government.
The next war that took place in 1971, lasted for thirteen days and ended with a flawless victory for the Indian army and the liberation of East Pakistan, with the formation of Bangladesh. This war decimated the Pakistani army and crushed national morale. Apart from a military victory, India cemented its status as a formidable power on the Asian sub-continent, signaling a global shift in the geopolitics of this region. Western powers recognized India as a key player. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi lobbied the international community and blocked all pro-Pakistan resolutions in the UN, isolating Pakistan and limiting support for Pakistan by leading a successful diplomatic campaign. There was another important outcome of this war – the Simla Agreement, that defined and implemented the Line of Control (LoC) in 1972. The LoC is the de facto border between the Pakistani-held and Indian-held territories of Jammu and Kashmir.
The third and final major conflict was in 1999 in Kargil. This war is known as Operation Vijay in India. Pakistani insurgents as well as armed forces had infiltrated and occupied the district of Kargil in Kashmir. The conflict started when local shepherds reported a Pakistani invasion into this region, followed by the capture and execution of five Indian soldiers. The Indian Air Force and the Indian Army jointly engaged Pakistani forces and flushed them out of the district, regaining control of Kargil. This war served to further degrade Pakistan’s reputation in the international community, branding them as a warmongering nation. It was a diplomatic and military defeat for Pakistan. Several countries criticized Pakistan for inciting this war, especially when Pakistani claims that the conflict was carried out by non-state sponsored freedom fighters did not hold up under scrutiny. This was the last full-scale war between India and Pakistan.
The abrogation of Article 370
In the first week of August, 2019, it was becoming apparent that something major was afoot. Thousands of Indian Army troops were deployed in this region, a strict curfew was imposed, schools and colleges were shut and communication lines were severed. Tourists were ordered to leave and a major Hindu pilgrimage was canceled as well, and regional political leaders were placed under house arrest. This was all done under the pretense of protection against an imminent insurgent uprising. There was a lot of speculation that this had something to do with scrapping Article 35A, which gave Jammu and Kashmir special status. Then on August 5, 2019, the government announced that it was not just the abolition of Article 35A, but almost the entirety of Article 370, of which Article 35A is a part. The nation was stunned by this sudden move, especially since almost everyone was caught off-guard. This was a major move by the Modi government, which has a history of springing controversial policies on the nation with only a moment’s notice. It happened with demonitization in 2016 and it happened again last year.
The new law brought the Indian-administered region of Jammu and Kashmir under the direct administration of the federal government. The state was divided into two union territories – Hindu-majority Jammu and Muslim-majority Kashmir (which were combined), and the remote region of Ladakh (which is a Buddhist-majority region and closer to Tibet both geographically and culturally). The Kashmiri people will now be able to enjoy the same Fundamental Rights as any other citizen of India, as the state constitution is no more. They will be held accountable before the Supreme Court of India, and will be governed by the federal government. The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir now has to adopt the Indian national anthem as their own, and forfeit their state national anthem as well as their state flag. The Indian flag will be flown in the newly formed union territories. The laws that are in place with respect to taxes, foreign policy, owning property, nuclear power would be under the purview of the Indian central government, effective from August 5, 2019.
The government has claimed that this will allow proper development to take place in this region, with better facilities and services for the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
What has happened in the state in the past year
As soon as the law negating Article 370 was announced, protests broke out not only on the streets of Kashmir, but throughout the country. Sporadic violence erupted in Kashmir, backed rebel militant forces. Attacks were launched against Indian army personnel. A record high number of cases of stone-pelting incidents were recorded – almost 2000 cases, which is high as compared to around 1500 cases in 2018 and 2017. A communications blackout was imposed, along with the imposition of a state-wide curfew as a pre-emptive measure against rioting in the streets.
The union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been in lockdown for the past year. Indian armed forces have been patrolling the streets to deter violence in any form. Political leaders who have been deemed as threats to regional peace have been placed under arrest. Internet and telephone services have been disabled as part of a state-wide communications blackout to prevent militant uprisings. Army bunkers have been set up throughout the region. Civilians have been arrested and detained without trial. There have been thousands of complaints about civilians being denied basic amenities, being harassed by army personnel and people getting caught in the crossfire between militants and government armed forces. The last year has been a tumultuous period for the average Kashmiri citizen, fraught with peril at every moment. The ever-present threat of militant attacks in the form of firefights or bombing has made life very difficult. Reports of army personnel seizing people’s homes are abundant. Insurgency has been a disruptive factor in the lives of the Kashmiri people for the last seven decades but these attacks have increased in intensity and frequency over the new law in the past year. However, life is slowly returning to normalcy for the people of Kashmir. People have been gradually resuming their daily activities, going to work and shopping in the markets. The curfew has been eased, with post-paid telecommunication providers resuming their services in Jammu and Kashmir, even though there is still a ban on internet service here. Region-wide peace and widespread cessation of militant activities may still be way off in the future, but it’s getting there eventually.
Reaction of the rest of the country as well as the international community
The abrogation of Article 370 invited huge controversy and people were quick to take sides on this contentious issue. This had been in the works for a while now – it was part of the BJP’s 2019 election manifesto. It would be fair to say that we knew this was going to happen, but what we did not know or expect was how suddenly it would all happen. This move was consistent with the Hindu nationalist ideals and the party line of the BJP of adopting a tougher stance against Pakistan. The Congress Party has been very vocal in criticizing the abrogation of Article 370, calling it a blunder on the part of the government, and that future generations will suffer for it. Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, alleged that this is an effort by the Hindu nationalist government to skew the demographics of the predominantly Muslim state by letting people from other regions settle here. There were protests throughout the country in the form of marches, social media posts and rants on news interviews. The people have been vocal in voicing their dissatisfaction with the Indian government.
Whether the Indian government wanted to or not, the abrogation of Article 370 has brought the Kashmir issue into the international limelight. Pakistan was quick to heavily criticize this move – calling it undemocratic and illegal, stating that they will challenge the Indian government in the International Criminal Court. China called out the Indian government as well, claiming this move has undermined their regional sovereignty. The Indian government maintained the stance that this is an internal move and will in no way affect China or Pakistan, since the national border has not changed in any capacity.
The USA also made their stance clear on this issue – they passed two House resolutions condemning this move by the Indian government. Emissaries from the European Union visited the region last year. They were representatives of the far-right conservative parties from the UK, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Poland. These emissaries are lawmakers in the EU, who were invited for a fact-finding mission. Another group of diplomats from countries like the USA, Nigeria, Norway and Bangladesh among others took an official trip to this region. Apart from diplomats undertaking in-person visits to Kashmir, the United Nations Security Council has held two closed door sessions to discuss the implications of the Kashmir issue on the international community.
5th August- a black day or a ray of hope for the people of Kashmir
The abrogation of Article 370 was met with a lot of hostility and criticism, both from within the country and without, but there was a need to implement this law in order to make Jammu and Kashmir a legitimate part of India. One might argue that the implementation was not exactly up to the mark and it could have been done more peacefully. It’s not possible to prevent violence entirely. There have been a lot of cases of stone-pelting, looting, bombing and periodic firefights between insurgents and security forces. Innocent people have suffered. There has been collateral damage due to the war between the armed forces and insurgents. However, the pre-emptive deployment of troops and a communications blackout ensured no rioting and managed to contain the imminent violence to a minimum. In the short term this may have caused a lot of bad blood in the nation, but it will go a long way in ensuring everlasting peace and stability in a region that has historically been plagued by violence and insurgency, fueled by religious and political radicalism.
Even though a lot of people may not see it that way, this was a bold and necessary move. Kashmir is, after all, a part of India and should be governed by the same set of laws that are applicable to other Indian citizens. It can be expected that terrorist attacks and rallies flying Pakistani flags inside Indian territory will soon become things of the past. Pakistani state-sponsored terrorist forces will now be forced to face the full might of the Indian army and will no longer be able to operate with impunity. With more freedom to operate in Jammu and Kashmir, the government now has the ability to hunt down and root out militant forces with extreme prejudice. On the anniversary of this revolutionary move by the Indian government, the long-suffering people of Kashmir can finally look forward to a bright and prosperous future – one that is free from the senseless violence and constant fear of the past. The Kashmiri people can dare to hope, as a new age of peace and prosperity dawns on this beautiful state.