Kashmir crisis mars independence celebrations in Pakistan and India | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 15.08.2019
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Kashmir crisis mars independence celebrations in Pakistan and India

As Pakistan and India mark over seven decades of independence from British colonial rule, critics say the Kashmir problem has overshadowed basic development concerns in Pakistan and alienated minorities in India.

Pakistan is celebrating its 73rd year of independence following the end of British rule on the Indian subcontinent in 1947 by dedicating independence day to the people of India-administered Kashmir.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Pakistan-administered Kashmir to mark the occasion.

"Independence Day is an opportunity for great happiness, but today we are saddened by the plight of our Kashmiri brothers in occupied Jammu and Kashmir who are victims of Indian oppression," Khan said in a statement ahead of the trip, adding that he assured the people of Kashmir support from Pakistan.

Khan visited the region a day after Islamabad called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the recent decision by New Delhi to revoke India-administered Kashmir's status as an semi-autonomous state.

Read more: Pakistan asks UN Security Council to meet over Kashmir

The state is divided by the so-called Line of Control (LoC) into zones governed by India and Pakistan, although both countries claim Kashmir in its entirety.

Watch video 07:18

Tinderbox Kashmir

Defense trumps basic needs

Kashmir is a matter of national pride for many Pakistanis, but critics believe the issue has hampered Pakistan's development. Tensions over Kashmir have sparked two wars between India and Pakistan.  

Critics believe that the issue of Kashmir has forced Pakistan to spend a major part of its budget on defense, leaving little for health, education and other basic amenities.

Pakistan has the 17th strongest military in the world and is thought to posses more than 100 nuclear warheads. However, out of 189 countries, it ranks 150 in human development.

A recent government report revealed that more than 50% of families in Pakistan could not afford two meals a day. Four out of every 10 children suffered chronic malnutrition, and a similar number of children under the age of five have stunted growth.

According to analyst Zia Uddin, the issue of Kashmir has prompted the ruling elite to "follow imprudent policies that proved to be catastrophic for the economy."

Read more: India's foreign minister visits China amid Kashmir crisis

"In 1947-48, our economy was very weak, but we sent tribal warriors into Kashmir," he told DW, referring to Pakistan's attempt to send Pathan leaders to annex Kashmir, a former kingdom that had ceded to India.

"The economy improved in the 1960s, but the 1965 war with India affected it badly. During the 1990s, we got involved in Kargil, carried out nuclear detonations and imposed martial law," said Uddin, adding that Pakistan's actions caused it to become the second-most sanctioned country after Libya.

"Most of the policies stemmed from our security doctrine that views everything through the prism of India and Kashmir," he said.

Regional threats

Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir offered prayers during the festival of Eid-ul-Adha

Muslims in Indian-administered Kashmir offered prayers amid the communications clampdown during the festival of Eid-ul-Adha

Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a Karachi-based analyst, said that the issue of Kashmir has militarized all of Pakistani society.

"In the modern world, you cannot progress without democracy, but the army is using this [Kashmir] issue to strengthen itself, undermining democracy and creating proxies which have offended three neighbors in the region," Khan told DW. 

"This policy has boomeranged, leading to the creation of Pakistani Taliban, who have killed over 40,000 Pakistanis and cost the country $200 billion," the analyst said, adding that the militarization policy has also opened rifts in Pakistani society.

Read more: Cut-off Kashmir resorts to primitive communication methods

However, experts like Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan believe that Pakistan is entitled to have a strong defense to deter neighbors like China and India, who are nuclear-armed states. But he also admits that the issue of Kashmir has hampered the development of Pakistan and the entire region.

"Once the issue of Kashmir is resolved, all of South Asia could move towards the formation of a regional bloc following the pattern of the EU, which could herald an era of progress and prosperity, but until then, the Kashmir issue cannot be ignored."

New Delhi flexes its muscles

Meanwhile, India is preparing to celebrate independence day on August 15, a day after Pakistan. Nearly two weeks ago, the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir.

The region was divided into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, which will be directly administered by New Delhi.

Experts in India feel Modi's decision on Kashmir is yet another example of marginalizing minorities

Experts in India feel Modi's decision on Kashmir is yet another example of marginalizing minorities

In a rare interview ahead of independence day celebrations, Modi told the IANS news agency that the re-election of his political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had given his government a strong mandate. 

"What we were able to achieve in the first 75 days was the outcome of the robust base we were able to build in the last 5 years," Modi said. 

"Hundreds of reforms in the last 5 years have ensured the country is now ready to take off, powered by the aspirations of the people."

A threat to minorities

Activists like Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, said she is worried that Modi's Kashmir policy could further marginalize Muslims living in India.

"This move could mark the government's larger game plan to implement its Hindu nation-building agenda and snuff out voices of dissent and opposition," she told DW. "The game plan is to erase differences, dissent and the rights of minorities."

Krishnan was also part of a fact-finding team that went to Kashmir to document the hardships suffered by Kashmiris during the government's clampdown on communication and free movement.

Harsh Mander, a former bureaucrat and now an activist working with survivors of mass violence, said he believed the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir was part of several steps currently being taken to alienate Muslims.

"I think war has been declared against Indian Muslims in many different ways," he told DW. "What is happening with the National Register of Citizens in Assam is the beginning, and it is spreading to the rest of the country." 

Mander added that there is an agenda being pursued by the BJP's far-right wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), seeking to reduce India's Muslims to "second class citizens."

Modi's party has used its majority in the parliament to pass controversial laws like the one revoking Kashmir's autonomy

Modi's party has used it's parliamentary majority to pass controversial laws like the one revoking Kashmir's autonomy

Is Modi's policy good for Kashmir? 

According to G Parthasarathy, a former Indian diplomat and ambassador to Pakistan, Kashmir will continue to be a focal point for India in the foreseeable future, and with the "good governance" that has been promised by New Delhi, the state could witness a change.

Parthasarathy added that there could be a higher risk of conflict with Pakistan, "but nothing that should give the government sleepless nights."

"Pakistan will continue to be a thorn in India's side but then we will also have to see how the geopolitics of the region shapes up and how the US, China and Russia will play their cards," he said. 

However, Happymon Jacob, a professor in international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told DW that the BJP's radical steps in Kashmir would not resolve the Kashmir issue any time soon.

"While the BJP will politically benefit from this bold move, one will have to wait and see whether it will be able to implement its twin decisions to scrap Article 370 and undo Jammu and Kashmir's statehood without acrimony, bloodshed and further alienation within the Kashmir Valley."

An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Pakistan gained independence from India. Both India and Pakistan became independent following the end of British rule on the Indian subcontinent in 1947. We apologize for the error.

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