What′s next for Kashmir 2 years after losing semi-autonomy? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 05.08.2021

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What's next for Kashmir 2 years after losing semi-autonomy?

India-administered Kashmir was once a state with its own constitution and special rights. Now, many Kashmiris fear a permanent loss of the region's special status as the Indian government faces no pressure to turn back.

A man sits in front of a closed shop in Srinagar

Kashmir's largest city, Srinagar, was locked down by Indian authorities during unrest in August 2019

On August 5, 2019, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its semi-autonomous status after India's federal government revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which gave the state special rights, including its own constitution and flag. 

The Muslim-majority region, which has a strong sense of tradition and identity separate from India, was divided into two federally controlled Union Territories — Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh. 

The controversial move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government unleashed widespread unrest, and was followed by an increased deployment of troops in India-administered Kashmir, which was already heavily militarized.

A strict security lockdown was imposed that lasted over a year, along with a communications blackout and monthslong internet shutdown. During the crackdown, more than 100 Kashmiri politicians were arrested, while thousands of pro-autonomy activists were detained. 

What's next for people in Kashmir?

Two years later, analysts say Muslims living in India-administered Kashmir continue to fear being disempowered and reduced to "second-class" citizens.

Watch video 11:28

How India reshaped Kashmir

"There is a systematic disempowerment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir that is continuing to happen, through the bureaucratic rule," Khalid Shah, associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in Delhi, told DW. 

"This is important to stress because the very nature of the decisions taken on August 5 was aimed at political disempowerment of one dominant community. That's the primary concern of people here."

Historian Siddiq Wahid said the 2019 abrogation has confirmed for many Kashmiris a suspicion that New Delhi wants to erase the region's history and identity.

He added that people in Jammu and Kashmir also fear that the loss of exclusive land rights under the revocation of 370 will lead to an "inundation" of outsiders into the region, which could alter the political demography.

Will the changes in Kashmir be permanent?

However, with virtually no internal or external pressure, analysts have said the decision to revoke India-administered Kashmir's special status will likely be permanent.

"We have to live with the fact that it is something that has happened. It's unlikely in the extreme that the clock will be turned back," said Amitabh Mattoo, a former adviser to an ex-chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti.

"With the fact that Article 370 has been abrogated, integration of Jammu and Kashmir within India is something that is unlikely to change, no matter what pressure is brought from outside. There isn't any great pressure internally. There is disquiet, but very little overt dissent," he told DW.

Watch video 03:40

A woman's perspective of the Kashmir conflict

"There is not going to be any power on Earth which can make the Modi government undo its decision," said Shah from the Observer Research Foundation. 

"Unless there is tremendous international pressure from the United Nations Security Council, from India's allies in Europe, the UK and the US, I don't think that the new status quo is going to change," he added.

What is the security situation in Kashmir?

Economic development and improved security in Jammu and Kashmir were touted by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party as the objective behind scrapping Article 370. However, two years later, experts say development has been minimal.

"The larger developmental agenda, the idea that the region would be transformed because the central government will have direct control over it, that promise to Kashmir just remains a promise," former government adviser Mattoo said. 

"It hasn't translated into any real direct investment and it hasn't led to better governance," he added.

There is, however, a debate over whether the security situation in Kashmir has improved.

"As far as security situation goes, all you need to ask is how less than a year after the revocation, suddenly you see the entire Himalaya being made a zone of conflict by Chinese incursions in 2020," Wahid said. "You have to pay attention to the fact that the Chinese themselves have said that they made these incursions because of the decision on August 5, 2019."

Last year, a report by a Beijing think tank — believed to have close ties with Chinese intelligence — had linked the June 2020 clash between China and India in Ladakh to the abrogation of Article 370.

"I don't think security conditions have improved, in fact they have devolved," Wahid added. 

However, some observers said that while there are signs of homegrown militancy in the south of Kashmir, the level of violence in India-administered Kashmir seems to have decreased over the last two years.

"The number of incidents is much less and there isn't any sense of deep insecurity when you walk the streets of Kashmir," Mattoo said. "We have to wait and see if the security or the stability is sustained."

Watch video 26:00

Senior BJP figure on 'Conflict Zone'

Analyst Shah, however, said the ostensible improvement in Kashmir's internal security may be an illusion.

"There are massive bulletproof vehicles to guard the squares and that tells you a lot. Why is it that in the heart of Srinagar, you need such increased security deployment?" he said.

"The statistics show there is less violence. But in the last 30 years since militancy broke out, we have seen highs and lows in the graph of violence. It, in no way, gives an assurance that the situation is going to remain like that," he added.

How can the Indian government build trust in Kashmir?

From the sudden decision to revoke Article 370 and the introduction of the new domicile law — which triggered concerns of a demographic change — to the fears of disempowering Muslims with a delimitation exercise that is currently being planned, there is a growing sense of alienation and distrust toward New Delhi among the people of Kashmir. 

"The alienation is complete now. It is the mistrust of the Kashmiris that is the greatest indicator of New Delhi's inability to integrate," Wahid said. 

For Kashmir's future, experts say it is crucial for the central government to reach out to the people, for example, through fair and credible elections. The delimitation process, which involves drawing the boundaries of political constituencies, will be critical.

"New Delhi needs to see that the delimitation process is fair, transparent and credible. They need to address grievances of small minorities like the Kashmiri Pandits, who have had to leave the valley. It's time now that there is a process of reaching out, reconciliation and reconstruction," Mattoo said.

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