World

India government revokes disputed Kashmir's special status

The Indian government has used a presidential order to revoke the special constitutional status of Kashmir, in a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country.

State remains on edge with security buildup; tourists and Hindu pilgrims told to leave

Indian security personnel stand guard along a deserted street during restrictions in Jammu on Monday. (Mukesh Gupta/Reuters)

The Indian government has used a presidential order to revoke the special constitutional status of Kashmir, in a bid to fully integrate its only Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country, the most far-reaching political move on the troubled Himalayan territory in nearly seven decades.

Some political leaders in Kashmir warned in recent days that any such move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration — through the repeal of the constitution's Article 370 — will trigger major unrest as it would amount to aggression against the region's people.

Authorities, meanwhile, have launched a new clampdown in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by suspending telephone and internet services, and putting some leaders under house arrest.

The security measures include thousands of newly deployed soldiers, who are camping in police stations and government buildings in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The deployment in recent days adds at least 10,000 troops in Kashmir, already one of the world's most militarized regions.

India also has ordered thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave.

Security personnel stand guard outside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's house in New Delhi on Monday. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters )

The decision to repeal Article 370 will mean an end to restrictions on property purchases by people from outside the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and state government jobs and some college places will no longer be reserved for state residents.

The Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been at the heart of more than 70 years of animosity, since the partition of the British colony of India into the separate countries of Muslim Pakistan and majority Hindu India.

Demonstrators hold signs and chant slogans as they march in solidarity with the people of Kashmir, during a rally in Karachi, Pakistan, on Monday. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters )

Two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since their independence from British rule were over Kashmir.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has rejected the revocation of a special status for the portion of disputed Kashmir that it controls. The ministry said in a statement Monday that under UN Security Council resolutions, India cannot change the status of Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The ministry said the people of Pakistan and Kashmir will not accept the Indian action, and Pakistan will "exercise all possible options" to block it.

The scenic mountain region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city — Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west — and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.

Here are some facts about the region and the constitutional change:

Partition

After partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Kashmir was expected to go to Pakistan, as other Muslim majority regions did. Its Hindu ruler wanted to stay independent, but, faced with an invasion by Muslim tribesmen from Pakistan, acceded to India in October 1947 in return for help against the invaders.

Article 370

This provision of the Indian constitution that provided for Jammu and Kashmir's autonomy — except for matters of defence, finance, communications and foreign affairs — was drafted in 1947 by the then prime minister of the state, Sheikh Abdullah, and accepted by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It was, though, only classified as a temporary provision, and in October 1949 was included in the Indian constitution by the constituent assembly.

Article 35A

This was added to the constitution in 1954 under Article 370, and empowers the Jammu and Kashmir state parliament to provide special rights and privileges to permanent residents of the state. It will die with the repeal of 370, which means outsiders will likely be allowed to buy property in the region and state residents will likely lose their control of state government jobs and college places.

Wars

The dispute over the former princely state sparked the first two of three wars between India and Pakistan after independence 1947. They fought the second in 1965, and a third, largely over what become Bangladesh, in 1971.

Divisions

A UN-monitored ceasefire line agreed in 1972, called the Line of Control (LOC), splits Kashmir into two areas — one administered by India, the other by Pakistan. Their armies have for decades faced off over the LOC. In 1999, the two were involved in a battle along the LOC that some analysts called an undeclared war. Their forces exchanged regular gunfire over the LOC until a truce in late 2003, which has largely held since.

The insurgency

Many Muslims in Indian Kashmir have long resented what they see as heavy-handed New Delhi rule. In 1989, an insurgency by Muslim separatists began. Some fought to join Pakistan, some called for independence for Kashmir. India responded by pouring troops into the region. India also accused Pakistan of backing the separatists, in particular by arming and training fighters in its part of Kashmir and sending them into Indian Kashmir. Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Kashmiri people.

Indian Kashmir

Governed as the northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir. It has two capitals, Jammu in winter (November-April), Srinagar in summer (May-October).

New Delhi claims the whole of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India.

Pakistani Kashmir

Consists of the smaller Azad Kashmir ("Free Kashmir") and the Northern Areas, which also formed part of the state before independence. Pakistan says a UN-mandated referendum should take place to settle the dispute over the region, expecting that the majority of Kashmiris would opt to join Pakistan.

Geography

Parts of Kashmir are strikingly beautiful, with forest-clad mountains, rivers running through lush valleys and lakes ringed by willow trees. The western Himalayan region is bounded by Pakistan to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, China to the northeast, and India to the south.

Population and area

Ten million in Indian Kashmir and more than three million in Pakistani Kashmir. About 70 per cent are Muslims and the rest Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists. With an area of 222,236 square kilometres, it is slightly bigger than the U.S. state of Utah and almost as big as Britain.

Economy

About 80 per cent agriculture based. Crops include rice, maize, apples and saffron. The area is also known for handicrafts such as carpets, woodcarving, woolens and silk. Tourism, once flourishing, has been badly hit by the conflict.

With files from The Associated Press

now