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India to allow Hindu settlers to buy property in Muslim-majority Kashmir for first time, sparking massive protests

Revocation of Article 370 of India’s constitution is biggest shake-up of fragile situation in Kashmir for 70 years

Adam Withnall,Tim Wyatt
Monday 05 August 2019 09:00 BST
New Delhi protest over India's revocation of Kashmir status

India has revoked the special constitutional protections that have maintained Kashmir’s status as the country’s only Muslim-majority state, a move which is expected to prompt widespread unrest.

Thousands of extra soldiers have been deployed in the past week to what is already the most highly-militarised region in the world, as the government pre-empted an angry reaction to Monday’s move. Protests have already taken place across Pakistan, while in Delhi, demonstrators marched shouting slogans such as, “We will not tolerate murder of democracy” and holding signs that read, “We stand with Kashmir”.

Announced in parliament by India’s home minister Amit Shah and then rubber-stamped by the president, the revocation of Article 370 of the country’s constitution is the biggest shake-up of the fragile situation in Kashmir for 70 years.

It will allow people from outside the state to buy property in the Kashmir valley, remove Kashmir’s autonomy over its laws and end policies which set aside most government jobs and higher education spots for local Kashmiris.

Supporters of India’s Hindu nationalist government say the move will improve integration of the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir, of which the Kashmir valley is a part, into the rest of the country.

But it will be deeply unpopular among Kashmiris themselves, who fear what they see as a government plan to fill the Muslim-majority valley with Hindu settlers and engineer permanent demographic change.

Despite a blackout on internet services and communication services imposed by India, Jammu and Kashmir’s former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that the government’s decision was “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.

“Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy,” she said.

The move has also been condemned by Pakistan, which claims Kashmir is part of its territory and has fought several wars over the province with India.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the country’s foreign minister, said his government would immediately launch a diplomatic campaign to prevent the revocation of Article 370 coming into force, which he claimed violated UN resolutions on Kashmir. He said he would raise the issue with Washington.

The US embassy in Delhi issued a security alert, urging Americans to leave the region immediately, citing the “potential for terrorist incidents, as well as violent public unrest”.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it would “exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps” taken by India. There was no statement from Pakistan’s powerful military by Monday evening.

Sardar Masood Khan, who runs the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir, has gone further and said India can “go to war” with Pakistan over the attempt to undermine the region’s Muslim majority status.

In Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir around 30 miles from the contested border, dozens of protesters held black flags and burnt car tyres, chanting “Down with India”.

“The abolition of the special status of Kashmir will not serve its purpose,” said Zahid Iqbal, 35, a migrant from Indian-administered Kashmir. “We will fight, and we will fight with more vigour.”

There were also protests in Islamabad, the capital, and Pakistan’s commercial hub of Karachi.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has urged India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, with spokesperson Stephane Dujarric saying that UN peacekeepers observing a ceasefire in the state of Jammu and Kashmir “has observed and reported an increase in military activity along the line of control”.

Two of the three wars fought between Pakistan and India have been over the restive Himalayan province.

Tensions in the heavily-militarised region most recently spilled over earlier this year when sporadic shelling and shooting across the border killed dozens of civilians and soldiers.

Pakistan had earlier shot down an Indian fighter jet and briefly detained its pilot while India conducted airstrikes in Pakistani territory against what it claimed was a terrorist training camp.

The latest outbreak of conflict was sparked by a car bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir which killed 44 police officers.

Trump offers to mediate Kashmir crisis between India and Pakistan

A Pakistani Islamist militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed responsibility for the atrocity.

Although the standoff over Kashmir has now rumbled on for more than 70 years, last month Donald Trump said he could help mediate an end to the simmering conflict.

India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promised in its 2019 election manifesto to revoke Kashmir’s special status.

Since the BJP, a historically a Hindu nationalist force, first came to power in 2014, India has seen a rise in sectarian attacks on the country’s Muslim minority.

Agencies contributed to this report

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