Is Kashmir About to Blow?
How the repeal of Article 370 happened—and what comes next.
On Aug. 5, India announced plans to revoke Article 370, a clause in its constitution that had given the state of Jammu and Kashmir limited autonomy, including the right to craft some of its own policies and to deny outsiders the right to acquire land. In practice, as one of the most militarized places in the world, Jammu and Kashmir had been under the tight control of the central government, but the symbolic power of revoking the article cannot be understated. Presumably expecting a massive public outcry, in the days before the announcement New Delhi deployed thousands more troops to the region, shuttered its schools, and cut off internet access.
As the story continues to unfold, we’ve collected our top reads on how the region got here—and what comes next.
After a period of relative calm in the 2000s, as hopes rose for a peaceful settlement between New Delhi and pro-independence insurgents, things took a turn for the worse this decade. “[A] civilian uprising in 2010 and India’s brutal response signaled a shift in the political climate,” writes Ikram Ullah, a journalist who was in Kashmir. “In the subsequent years, there has been a new surge in Kashmiri youth taking up arms against the Indian establishment.”
Indeed, Indiana University’s Sumit Ganguly points out, “According to statistics that India’s Multi-Agency Centre, the body responsible for collecting intelligence on terrorist activity, has compiled, the number of Kashmiri youth turning to terrorism has grown substantially between 2014 and 2017.” In February this year, tensions came to a head when an SUV carrying a 300-kilogram improvised explosive device ran into an Indian police convoy and killed at least 40 security personnel. A Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility, although Pakistan denied any involvement. Days later, the two countries conducted airstrikes across the Line of Control that separates their holdings in Kashmir.
“There is a deep legacy of Pakistan fomenting insurgency in Kashmir, through militant proxies, as part of its long-standing goal of wresting the region away from India,” explains Michael Kugelman, the deputy director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. At the same time, though, “the nature of the insurgency has shifted and become more locally driven in recent years.” The 2016 killing of Burhan Wani, a Kashmiri militant, “provoked angry protests in Kashmir that led to violent crackdowns, exacerbating long-standing local grievances against Indian security forces that galvanize many Kashmiris today and make them ripe for radicalization.”
Ganguly concurs, pointing to the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which, he says, “has steadfastly refused to recognize that an entire generation of young Kashmiris feel deeply alienated from the Indian state and that they constitute an enormous reservoir of discontent. This disaffection, in turn, stems from their experience of growing up in a highly militarized milieu where they have experienced routine harassment and intimidation at the hands of security forces.”
The dispute over Kashmir returned to the spotlight in July, when U.S. President Donald Trump decided to wade in during a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. After vague promises of billions of dollars in aid in return for Pakistan’s help with the peace process in Afghanistan, Trump offered to help mediate between Pakistan and India in Kashmir, insisting that Modi had asked him to. As Foreign Policy’s Elias Groll reports, New Delhi quickly dismissed that claim.
“Indian diplomats have long made clear to their counterparts that they don’t want international interference in Kashmir,” notes an FP Explainer on the topic. “Part of the reason why New Delhi prefers to contain Kashmir as a local issue is that international mediation could lead to adverse outcomes for India, including a potential Kashmiri plebiscite, which could in turn set a precedent in other parts of the country.”
Mere weeks after Trump and Khan’s sit-down in Washington, New Delhi began its extraordinary crackdown in Kashmir, including cutting off internet access before announcing the cancellation of Article 370. As Foreign Policy’s C.K. Hickey shows in an infographic, “[t]here is precedent for the government’s move: Internet service was suspended 53 times in the Jammu and Kashmir region so far this year.” In fact, “India recorded more internet shutdowns between January 2016 and June 2018 than Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, and Iran combined.”
As for why Modi is acting now, Georgetown University’s Irfan Nooruddin, speaking with Groll, notes that the move “burnishes Mr. Modi’s strongman image and moves the conversation about an economic slowdown and problems with the budget off the front page. For the foreseeable future, the news cycle will be all about Kashmir.”
Further, Kugelman argues, by dispensing with the article, New Delhi can finally formally integrate the state and “deliver a definitive blow to the region’s separatist impulses.” Also pushing things along was Trump’s offer to mediate and “a rapidly progressing Afghanistan peace process, facilitated to an extent by Islamabad, which could lead to an eventual political settlement that gives the Taliban a prominent role in government.”
“So long as New Delhi maintains its security lockdown in Kashmir,” he continues, “unrest is unlikely. But if that grip is loosened, violence could ensue—suggesting that the lockdown could remain in place for an extended period.” Add in Pakistan, and you’ve got a recipe for instability: “Islamabad’s immediate priority will be to step up its long-standing campaign to get the Kashmir issue on the global agenda and to get the world to condemn India’s policies.”
He concludes that “[w]hile India may regard the repeal of Article 370 as an internal matter that will remove many headaches and should be of limited concern to its neighbors, the reality is quite different. The Kashmir problem has not been solved, as some Indians have suggested. On the contrary, it’s just gotten a lot more complicated—and potentially a lot more destabilizing.”
Want to read more on this story? Subscribe to Foreign Policy’s new weekly newsletter, South Asia Brief.