Why Kashmir matters – analysis

Echoes of 1999 Kargil conflict amid recent tensions as India, which has warm relations with Israel, scraps Kashmir autonomy.

August 5, 2019 14:44
3 minute read.
Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans as they march in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, d

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans as they march in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, during a rally in Karachi. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Over the weekend, officials in Kashmir warned Hindu pilgrims of impending attacks in the area. This sent thousands of tourists and pilgrims, and even local workers, fleeing the region. Reports said that up to 220,000 workers had left, which appeared like a crisis that came out of the blue. Now the real story appears to be a much more wide ranging decision by India to change the status of Kashmir.

According to CNN, the area was on lockdown with tens of thousands of troops deployed and politicians under “house arrest.” The Indian government on Monday scrapped Article 370 that gave Kashmir a special status. It is actually more complex than that. The government of India wants to also “bifurcate” the state – previously known as Jammu and Kashmir – into two new areas, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, according to the Times of India.

Article 370 is a result of conflicts that broke out after India and Pakistan were created when British colonial India was divided in 1947. An Indian Constitution of 1950 included special status for Jammu and Kashmir. A Constituent Assembly elected in the state in 1951 created a local constitution and the article, which was initially thought to be temporary, remained. This has meant special status for Kashmir where several conflicts have been fought, particularly between India and Pakistan and between India and Pakistan-supported militants and Islamist extremists.

Unsurprisingly, this seemingly intractable conflict seems a lot like the kinds of conflicts Israel has had with its neighbors, which were also partly the result of a failed partition plan that came out of British colonial rule. Like some of the special status concepts that were once thought applicable to Jerusalem or other areas, the Kashmir conflict is one of those legacies of colonial rule in which ad hoc ideas about easily partitioning areas lead to endless tension and an inability of the sudden iron-clad notion of borders drawn long ago to be changed. What was thought temporary, becomes permanent. In this case, it relates to forms of autonomy in Kashmir, which is also a heavily militarized region. Bloomberg notes that India’s leading Bharatiya Janata Party wanted to change Article 370 years ago.

The problem is that tensions are already high with Pakistan. Clashes in February led to an Indian fighter jet being shot down. India had sought to carry out a precision airstrike against terrorists based in Pakistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan warned on Sunday that a crisis could erupt over Kashmir. He seemed to be predicting the Article 370 tensions that arrived 24 hours later. But his warning was directed at US President Donald Trump who he asked to mediate. He said that the situation on the Line of Control, the area Pakistan occupies in Kashmir, could blow up. He has accused India of new aggressive actions, according to The Hindu.

Now the actions seem to come into stark contrast. The tensions are about much more than Article 370. India and Pakistan have larger concerns, and the crisis may boil over. This comes as the US wants Pakistan to refrain from stoking tensions in Afghanistan where the US is seeking a deal with the Taliban. It also comes as India wants to assert itself and is concerned over another round, like happened in February when its jet was shot down. India, which has close relations with Israel, has been trying to modernize its army. The Kashmir tensions therefore have much wider regional and global links.

The larger picture is that with the US distracted by domestic politics and also dealing with a trade war with China, tensions in Syria and Iran and numerous other problems, both India and Pakistan want to assert themselves in Kashmir. This has happened before during the nuclear tests in the 1990s and the Kargil War in 1999. The question now is whether another Kargil-style conflict is upon us.

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