Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first major visit to Indian-administered Kashmir on 24th April 2022 to preside over a ceremony to mark Panchayati Raj — a day that commemorates so-called grassroots democracy. It was almost three years since India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had stripped Kashmiris of the special autonomy they had enjoyed for seven decades through a rushed presidential order on 5th August 2019.
Just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the disputed region, six suspected rebels and an Indian paramilitary officer were killed in two separate clashes in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Security had been tightened across the region with hundreds of additional troops deployed on the roads and highways. The trip came as the region had been rattled with multiple gun battles over the last week killing nine suspected rebels and a police official. This has been an on-going chain of events since the operationalization of the presidential order.
Thousands of Kashmiris, including prominent Kashmiri leaders, were detained and crippling months-long physical lockdowns and internet blackouts were imposed. Article 370 of the constitution was revoked with an indefinite security lockdown and elected representatives under house arrest. The only Muslim majority state was split into two federally administered territories – Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir. Kashmiris have long demanded the restoration of their autonomous status and for elections to be held, but their demands have fallen on the deaf ears of Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels, and government forces have been killed in the conflict. Jammu and Kashmir is the most militarized region and the largest open prison on the face of Earth, with nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers and paramilitaries deployed across the region. It surpassed Gaza ages ago; Kashmir is spoken of as a second Palestine in the making. The government has crushed any form of dissent with Indian police carrying out crackdowns on social media users for “provocative” online posts that are critical of Modi or the right-wing government. The only quantifiable achievement Modi has gained from this move, is splitting India across political, religious, cultural, and sectarian lines like never before.
Pakistan has rejected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s staged visit to Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir as yet another ploy to project fake ‘normalcy’ in the occupied territory. Foreign Office spokesperson, Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, reiterated Pakistan’s call for investigation of extra-judicial killings in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir by the Commission of Inquiry as recommended by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in its Kashmir reports of 2018 and 2019.
Pakistan has also strongly condemned the laying of foundation stones for the construction of the Rattle and Kwar Hydroelectric Projects on Chenab River in the occupied region. The construction of these hydroelectric plants has been disputed by Pakistan, as India has so far not fulfilled its treaty obligations. Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Iftikhar said Pakistan views such laying of foundation stones of the two projects by the Indian Prime Minister as direct contravention of the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960.
A “black day” was observed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir last Sunday, and anti-India demonstrations were held as the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Addressing the participants on the occasion, Khawaja Farooq Ahmed said the protesters wanted to convince the international community through demonstrations that Kashmiris never recognised the Indian occupation and the arrival of a person like Modi — whose “hands are stained with the blood of innocent Kashmiris” — in any part of the territory was a “highly undesirable” thing for them. He called on the international community, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, to sever their relations with India, as they had done with Russia over the war in Ukraine. He lamented the “double standards” of the international community in the case of Kashmiris. Mushaal Hussein Malik, the wife of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chairman Yasin Malik, said that Modi’s visit was “nothing but a cruel joke with the Kashmiri people”.
India rejects and counters any objective commentary on the situation, be it from the United Nations, international forums of human rights and humanitarian law, European Union, or the United States. U.S Congresswoman Ilham Omar’s trip to Azad Jammu and Kashmir also was objected upon, in fact it landed her in a controversy with India, which has called her travelling to the Line of Control (LOC) as “condemnable’’. Omar had said at a press conference that the U.S administration and the Congress is not talking enough about human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir and the effects of the Modi administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. “The condemnations and concerns of those who fight for human rights and the question of Kashmir will be included in future hearings within the USA,’’ she said.
This drive to legitimize the disenfranchisement of Kashmiris through the assembly is also a part of a multi-pronged strategy which aims to completely change the demographics of the valley. Many large groups of Hindu pandits have been relocated to Kashmir in a bid to change the religious balance of the region in the long run and deprive the Muslims of their majority.
Regardless of Article 370, the region of Jammu and Kashmir remains a disputed territory whose status must be resolved according to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 47 (1948) and 80 (1950). India cannot unilaterally alter its status without taking Pakistan and the people of Jammu and Kashmir on-board. Modi’s actions are not only an affront to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but are also in clear violation of India’s international and bilateral obligations under United Nations charter and the Simla Accord.
What happened on 5th August 2019 in Kashmir is the completion of a decades-old Indian settler-colonial project to “legally” annex the state. The constitutional impediment to this was removed through deceit and manipulation. This allowed the Modi government to impose outright colonial policies on long-suffering Kashmiris with impunity and erase their identities. Many Kashmiris rightfully perceive this policy as an effort to alter the demographic makeup of the state and decry it as “demographic terrorism”. I will end by quoting Arundhati Roy who famously said “India needs azadi (freedom) from Kashmir as much as Kashmir needs azadi from India.”
The writer is an Associate Professor of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, IBA Karachi