Fanning the flames of hostility…
The region of Kashmir, occupied by both Indian and Pakistani forces since the partition of the two states in 1947, has a long history of conflict over who controls the area. The most recent incident in India’s assertion of dominance involved the September 16 house arrest of Farooq Abdullah, president of the Indian National Conference party. He was arrested under the Public Safety Act, which can keep a person imprisoned without a trial for two years. Abdullah was an Indian loyalist, but also a staunch supporter of Article 370, which gave autonomy to the state of Jammu and Kashmir (Goel). The repeal and subsequent efforts to put all of Jammu and Kashmir under direct Indian control has been deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, and Abdullah was vocal in his defense of Article 370, saying, “If it [India] does not pay heed to the wishes of the people, the consequences are grave” (Abdullah qtd. in Fareed). The arrest of Abdullah marks the takedown of another politician who, despite being a supporter of general Indian oversight of Kashmir, was just outspoken enough to be considered a threat to the central government’s plans.
Abdullah’s arrest is only the most recent event in a period of extreme tension in the Kashmir region. Since the abrogation of Article 370 in August, there has been civil unrest in both the Indian and Pakistani areas of Kashmir. (The Pakistani area of the Kashmir region is known as Gilgit-Baltistan.) Independence movements are gaining steam, and, at one march earlier this month, over 5,000 protesters in the Pakistani region gathered in an attempt to walk to the border, chanting, “We want freedom on this side and we want freedom on the other side” (Abi-Habib et al). Kashmiri freedom fighters living in the Pakistani region have also been lumped in with other terrorist groups by the government, which is only causing further pressure. Clearly, the arrest of Abdullah is only one small piece of the larger complexity of the conflict in the Kashmir region.
Even though Abdullah is loyal to India, his support of Article 370 and Kashmir home rule made him an enemy of the Indian state. Despite India not being a competitive authoritarian regime, this sidelining of a potential opponent exemplifies the skewing of the playing field. Many other political dissidents–Omar Abdullah, Farooq’s son, or Mehbooba Mufti, a prominent member of the People’s Democratic Party–found themselves under house arrest around the time that Article 370 was repealed in early August. These arrests are examples of part of a “series of human rights violations taking place in Kashmir,” according to Aakar Patel, leader of Amnesty International India (Patel qtd. in Fareed). Beyond these arrests lending themselves to a more authoritarian regime, the entire question over Kashmir independence brings up the issue of state legitimacy. Many Kashmiris do not feel that they belong in Pakistan or India, and they want to be able to govern themselves. This fervor has given rise to many protests and forms of violence, which shows that Indian and Pakistani troops no longer have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. India would be considered quite weak in Kashmir at this point, considering there is no longer widespread popular support for staying under Indian control. The issue of Kashmir is similar to that of Kurdistan’s becoming its own sovereign country, considering that in both cases territory from multiple countries would be needed to create a self-governing state.
A more critical look at the situation…
If India wants to be considered a democracy, it must rule all territory it controls in accordance to democratic values. The crackdown in Kashmir and blatant lack of respect for the ruling of the Constitutional Court are examples of how the current Indian government is not living up to democratic ideals. It is also apparent that stripping Kashmir of its autonomy will not bring the territory closer to India, as it has instead incited more rebellion. The strain on Indian-controlled Kashmir, as highlighted by this most recent arrest, will also have considerable implications for the Pakistani territory. Conflict between Kashmiri independence fighters and Pakistani troops is likely in the future, as well. After one march in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, phone and internet services were temporarily shut off in the region where the protest occurred (Abi-Habib et al). This denial of club goods is an example of how Kashmiris on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control are also extorted in a form of clientelism in the name of maintaining order.
The Indian government’s arrest of one of its few collaborators in Kashmir is another surprise, and it underscores the commitment the government has to taking full control of Kashmir. Abdullah represented the Indian state for many Kashmiris, which did not make him a popular figure, and yet his modest criticism of the government through the support of some modicum of Kashmiri autonomy made him an enemy of the state. This sharp repression of any sort of dissonance within political dialogue marks a distinct trend toward a more closed and coercive state.
If the Kashmiri conflict escalates, there are a myriad of outcomes that could arise, including an increase in fighting between Pakistani and Indian troops, a heightened program to eliminate independence supporters, or even the successful creation of a sovereign Kashmiri state. Which outcome seems most likely, and what is the most likely timeline for how long it will take for any resolution to be reached?
Abi-Habib, Maria, et al. “In Pakistan-Held Kashmir, Growing Calls for Independence.” The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2019. Accessed 21 Sept. 2019.
Fareed, Rifat. “Farooq Abdullah’s Arrest Leaves India with Few Allies in Kashmir.” Al Jazeera, 19 Sept. 2019. Accessed 21 Sept. 2019.
Goel, Vindu. “What Is Article 370, and Why Does It Matter in Kashmir?” The New York Times, 5 Aug. 2019. Accessed 21 Sept. 2019.
Mahapatra, Dhananjay. “Article 370 Has Acquired Permanent Status: Supreme Court.” The Times of India, 3 Apr. 2018. Accessed 21 Sept. 2019.