In a surprise move, India has scrapped special constitutional status granted to the Muslim-majority Kashmir region. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government issued a presidential order on Monday revoking decades-old legislative provisions granting autonomy to the northern Indian state formally known as Jammu and Kashmir.

The move has been accompanied by a massive military build up. Ahead of the announcement, New Delhi dispatched 10,000 troops to the region, adding to estimated 210,000 army and para-military soldiers already deployed there.

Muslim separatists accuse India of seeking to alter the demography of the region. Qatar-based Al Jazeera wrote: “Critics of such a measure say that in doing away with Article 370 [Kashmir’s constitutional status], the government hopes to change India-administered Kashmir’s Muslim-majority demographics by allowing in a flood of new Hindu residents.”

Leading Islamic separatists have been placed under house arrest, and protests have been banned, local media reports said. The presidential decree also splits the state into two, placing Buddhist-majority Ladakh region under New Delhi’s direct rule.

The special status was granted to the Kashmir region in early 1950s, in hopes of placating the local Muslim population. The appeasement policy advocated by India’s subsequent socialist governments, however, failed to win over the militant Islamists. A series of jihadist terror campaigns have purged the region of its non-Muslim population. Some 95 percent of the native Hindus were forcefully evicted, making Kashmir 90 percent Muslim. India faces a sustained terrorist campaign in Kashmir. Since 1990, Jihadists have killed over 14,000 civilians and 5,000 soldiers, according to official Indian figures.

Indian news channel NDTV reported:

Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, has been abolished by a presidential order that would come into force “at once”, Home Minister Amit Shah said in parliament today, announcing the most far-reaching move on the state in nearly seven decades. (…)

In a proposed law introduced in parliament, Jammu and Kashmir will cease to be a state and become two union territories with two Lieutenant Governors. Ladakh will be a Union Territory without a legislature and Jammu and Kashmir will have a legislature. The bill is likely to clear parliament easily as a number of regional parties have come out in support of the government’s move.

The government’s huge step followed a massive build-up of troops in the sensitive Kashmir Valley and a night where senior leaders including former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti were placed under house arrest. (…)

Thousands of paramilitary troops were sent to Kashmir last week after the government said it was cancelling the Amarnath Yatra, an annual pilgrimage, and asked tourists and outsiders to leave the state.

Prime Minister Modi’s decision to reverse the appeasement policy in Kashmir was met with disapproval by the mainstream media. The move “advocated by Hindu nationalists for decades” is “likely to face major resistance in the Muslim-majority state and escalate tensions with Pakistan,” British newspaper The Guardian cautioned. “Kashmir announcement will add further fuel to tensions in the region,” CNN echoed.

The strongest criticism of the decision came from the neighboring country of Pakistan that stakes a claim to the Muslim-majority Indian state. “[T]his illegal move by India would deteriorate the peace and security of the region and would further undermine the relations between two neighbors with strategic capabilities,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said.

New Delhi’s decision could be linked to the proposed United State’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. India wants firm control over the region ahead of the U.S. military disengagement, a leading Indian commentators said. President  Donald Trump wants U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2020. India is worried about the resurgence of Islamic terrorism and China’s influence in the region once U.S. pulls out of the region.

[Cover image via YouTube]


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