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Modi took control of Kashmir 2 years ago – and got away with it

Two years after the Indian parliament revoked the autonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have succeeded in bringing the region under its direct authority. When India took its step, it terrified the world and led to fears of an increase in violence in the valley and possible open conflict with Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state that claims sovereignty over Kashmir as a whole. New Delhi also worried about the diplomatic ramifications with the West when Pakistan joined China in pressuring India through the United Nations Security Council.

But there has not been a war with Pakistan or an outbreak of large-scale violence in the valley. Even condemnation by the international community is cautious and limited. When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited India last week, Kashmir was not a big issue, even if it was discussed behind closed doors. For the first time in a long time, the de facto border between India and Pakistan is at peace, cross-border infiltration has paused and militancy has fallen. According to the latest data from the Indian government, the number of terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir decreased by 59% last year compared to the previous year and by June this year by 32% compared to the same period last year.

Two years after the Indian parliament revoked the autonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have succeeded in bringing the region under its direct authority. When India took its step, it terrified the world and led to fears of an increase in violence in the valley and possible open conflict with Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state that claims sovereignty over Kashmir as a whole. New Delhi also worried about the diplomatic ramifications with the West when Pakistan joined China in pressuring India through the United Nations Security Council.

But there has not been a war with Pakistan or an outbreak of large-scale violence in the valley. Even condemnation by the international community is cautious and limited. When US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited India last week, Kashmir was not a big issue, even if it was discussed behind closed doors. For the first time in a long time, the de facto border between India and Pakistan is at peace, cross-border infiltration has paused and militancy has fallen. According to the latest data from the Indian government, the number of terrorist incidents in Jammu and Kashmir decreased by 59% last year compared to the previous year and by June this year by 32% compared to the same period last year.

Indian tourists, meanwhile, flocked to the lakes and breezy mountains as the country grappled with one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks. They were prevented from traveling abroad and they encouraged them to look to Kashmir. While tourism was spiking even before Kashmir's special status was lifted, the crowds this year showed a return to a kind of business – if not political – normalcy. It reflects the growing belief among Indian tourists that Kashmir is calm and that they shouldn't fear for their safety while on vacation.

The above successes are not good news for the average Kashmiri who feel politically disenfranchised and silenced. Most Kashmiris welcomed peace dividends but were not forced to surrender to New Delhi's wishes.

On August 5, 2019, Modi's Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not only repealed Article 370, which allowed local lawmakers to pass its own laws other than finance, defense, foreign policy and communications, but also repealed Article 35A which empowered the Legislative Assembly to define permanent residents and offer them special privileges such as exclusive land rights. Modi also divided the three different divisions of the former state – Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh – into two union territories. While a state has its own government and powers to pass laws, Union Territories are much smaller administrative units ruled by a representative of the central government.

The changes were welcomed by Indians who saw Kashmir as an integral part of India and felt that it should be treated equally, not special treatment. However, the Kashmiris saw it as a threat to change the valley's demographics from a Muslim majority to non-Kashmiri and non-Muslim. They saw it as a violation of their rights, which gave them a degree of political autonomy pending the final settlement of the dispute over whether to remain with India, join Pakistan, or remain independent of both.

The Indian government used a variety of repressive measures to prevent Kashmiris from expressing their will publicly. It dispatched masses of troops, intimidated dozens of journalists and carried out large-scale arrests of politicians, secessionists and others from Kashmir who had enough influence to stir popular discontent into sustained agitation. While mainstream politicians were later released, it is believed that thousands of Kashmiris are still languishing in prisons in Kashmir and across the country.

India has reportedly even refused to hand over the bodies of dead militants, ostensibly to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But such funerals in the past have developed into large processions that pooled support for militancy and fueled anti-Indian sentiment. Maintaining calm in Kashmir has been a priority for the Indian government.

“Our biggest challenge was to make sure that no violence broke out in the valley. If there had been losses, we would have lost international support, ”said a former Indian diplomat who allied directly with the United States to secure support for India's position. "Fortunately, our containment efforts have been successful." India reassured the international community by refusing to allow protests that could have turned violent and made it difficult for India to retain Western support. India also tossed its economic weight as a counterweight to China, tangled investment opportunities in front of some countries, and threatened to withdraw lucrative business deals from the last two protesters, Turkey and Malaysia, who openly criticized India of Kashmir. "In the end, US support was most needed, and they backed India because of major geopolitical concerns about China," added the former Indian diplomat.

India managed to stop the disaffected, frightened and leaderless Kashmiris from holding mass protests, but in doing so it failed to live by its own democratic ideals. Kashmir's mainstream pro-India politicians have met with Modi since then. But they are so weakened and frightened that they no longer expect the special status of the region to return. You have challenged the constitutionality of the repeal of Articles 370 and 35A in India's highest court, yet few believe the verdict would be positive. These political parties are so desperate that they are struggling to give Jammu and Kashmir a statehood with the same and no more powers as other Indian states or federal entities.

"The government went so hard on us that we are now advocating statehood, not for a special status, for a political resolution or for a referendum," said one of the leaders who was detained for seven months at the Centaur Hotel in Srinagar – one Luxury property in a makeshift prison for the Kashmiri political elite. He did not want to reveal his name because he feared that he might be imprisoned again.

Under previous Indian governments, even the secessionists had relative freedom, but they were made obsolete by the BJP. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Yasin Malik, and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq – the troika that ruled the troubled parts of the valley that even Kashmiri politicians dared to penetrate – are practically no longer there today. While Geelani is 91 years old and allegedly suffers from dementia, Malik is behind bars. Farooq is out there in Srinagar, but he is considered lightweight and under the constant vigilance of the Indian security forces.

While Kashmiri politicians avoid going directly against the central government, they have loudly questioned the government's development narrative. Tanvir Sadiq, a member of the National Conference political party, whose founder supported the idea of ​​a secular India as opposed to joining a theocratic Pakistan, was among those arrested by Indian security services in 2019. He said the Modi government cannot provide tourism figures as a sign of the success of its policies. “We had tourists in 2015 as well,” said Sadiq. “The Indian government told the Kashmiris that once the special status is lifted, they will have development, money, jobs and everything. Has the average cashmere's lifespan improved in two years? I do not think so."

Junaid Mattu, the mayor of Srinagar – the capital of India-administered Kashmir – comes from a Kashmiri political party close to the BJP. He said the era of violence was over. "The era of redrawing borders is also long gone," said Mattu. “A Kashmiri does not get up in the morning thinking only about political aspirations, but how to put bread on the table. I think the development promise has yet to be delivered, but it's too early to say. We should give him more time. "

Major development projects have not yet arrived to make a comparatively large commercial difference to the economic well-being of Kashmiris, and their political aspirations have been undermined by New Delhi junk even in restoring Kashmiri statehood. Indian ministers said the government was waiting for "a reasonable time" to return to normal.

However, Kashmiri experts say the government cannot take credit for the reduced militancy and still say it is waiting for normalcy. They say the delay is intentional to ensure that the legislature is split equally between representatives of Muslim-dominated Kashmir and Hindu-dominated Jammu before the next elections by delimiting constituencies, although the number of seats is based on demographics and Non-Muslims in a minority.

India has undoubtedly defeated Pakistan in this long and persistent conflict. Islamabad fumbled while New Delhi garnered silent support from the western world and even led the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to dampen Pakistan's expectations. The UAE has recognized that it played a role in getting the two rivals to agree to a ceasefire. In the past two years, it has also become clear that Indian diplomats have dashed Pakistan's hopes for a UN-led referendum to settle the Kashmiri dispute. But that doesn't mean India has removed all challenges.

Syed Akbaruddin, currently dean of the Kautilya School of Public Policy, was India's ambassador to the United Nations in 2019, recalling how most western capitals supported India when China called for Article 370 to be repealed in the Security Council. “Most of them said it didn't belong here. For a long time none of the world powers interfered in Kashmir and no one supports Pakistan's demands for the dispute to be resolved by the United Nations, ”Akbaruddin said. “But what they didn't know was that China was not a bipartisan party. Indeed, she led the proceedings before the (Council) for asserting claims on Ladakh. ”China lost diplomatically in the Security Council, but increased militarily a year later by killing over a dozen Indian soldiers in Ladakh. The main threat to India did not come from Pakistan or the militants, but from China. Galwan in Ladakh remains an active focus.

Meanwhile, India is building the world's largest rail bridge to connect Kashmir in the Himalayas with Kanyakumari at its southernmost tip. However, Modi and his government are still a long way from reducing the distance between New Delhi and the Kashmiris. India's promises of economic development are not enough to win them over if it is not accompanied by the freedoms of a democracy. The Modi government demonstrated masterly statecraft in its crackdown on the valley, but it also revealed its authoritarian streak.

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