Kashmir has been a political flashpoint for well over half a century. Contested between India, Pakistan and China, all nuclear powers, hundreds of thousands have died in conflicts over this region. A recent move by the Indian government to repeal the special status of the region has further ratcheted up tensions.
On Aug. 5, against the ruling of the Indian Supreme Court, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Indian government would repeal Article 370 of the Constitution which guaranteed the province of Kashmir semi-autonomous status. Shortly after this announcement, the Indian government instituted martial law in Kashmir.
Under martial law, Kashmiris could no longer access the internet, cell phone service and can no longer gather publicly. Yahoo News reports that the Indian military presence in the region has swelled after India dissolved Kashmir’s local government and arrested hundreds of local politicians and activists. The government can hold these prisoners for up to two years without a trial under India’s Public Safety Act, which has drawn international criticism.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has justified the repeal by claiming that Kashmir is an indivisible part of India. In response to criticism of human rights abuses in Kashmir, leader of the BJP, Shahnawaz Hussain stated that India would release the Kashmiri officials if they “support peace in [Kashmir].” The Indian government has also blamed its militarization of Kashmir on Pakistani interference in the region. Indian general S. S. Deswal claimed that India’s intention to establish two more special forces bases in Kashmir is unrelated to the events of Aug. 5, and he went on to state that “Pakistan is always up to mischief” according to News 18.
After two months of martial law, the situation in Kashmir is still unstable. On Oct. 14, India lifted the block on cell phone service providers in Kashmir, although the 60% of Kashmiris with prepaid phones still can’t call their loved ones. The next day the Indian government rolled back this concession and blocked text messages after insurgents killed an apple truck driver and set her vehicle alight.
Apples are at the center of this conflict because 20% of Kashmir’s economy is reliant on apple exports to India, but after the repeal of Article 370, many farmers have refused to sell their produce to India. India’s government claims that terrorists are pressuring the farmers to hold their produce while Pakistani officials and Kashmiri activists claim that this is a legitimate boycott.
The international response to India’s crackdown in Kashmir is mixed. Pakistan has denounced India’s actions harshly, criticizing human rights abuses in Kashmir and accusing the Indian government of overtly anti-muslim policies. China has generally backed its ally, Pakistan. President Xi Jinping of China and Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan have met three times this year to reaffirm their military and economic cooperation. Xi has stated that “China supports the Pakistani side in safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and hopes that the parties will resolve the dispute through peaceful dialogue.” Conversely, News Week reports that the United States has been relatively quiet on the Kashmiri conflict and on occasion has echoed Indian talking points that Pakistan is supporting terrorists in the region. Currently, no side in the conflict is gesturing toward diplomacy. India is currently ruled by the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, headed by Modi who is accused of sitting by idly in the face of an anti-muslim pogrom in Gujarat according to The Washington Post. Pakistan has broken ties with India, supports insurgents. The two South Asian nations have engaged in border skirmishes that kill several soldiers and civilians a week earlier this year, Pakistan downed an Indian jet that it claimed violated Pakistani airspace. Without negotiations, the already volatile situation in Kashmir could escalate to war.