Kashmir has a long history of political instability which has made the region highly susceptible to terrorist activity and an ongoing separatist movement. India and Pakistan’s territorial dispute over Kashmir has involved horrific wars between the nations since 1948. Furthermore, the complexity of the issue coupled with ongoing mistrust has worsened bilateral relations over the years and stalled any chance of constructive talks.
Given the recent overthrow of the Afghan government by the Taliban, insurgents in Kashmir may likely feel a renewed sense of ambition, resulting in waves of terrorist uprisings and insurgency around the world. Almost 70% of the population in Kashmir are Muslim, and at a time when the Indian Prime Minister is pro-Hindu and populist, the nationalist politics surrounding the Kashmir issue are heightened. The abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian Constitution two years earlier, removed the semi-autonomous status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and brought the region directly under the control of New Delhi. The unconstitutional move made by New Delhi was defended by Prime Minister Modi as a means to end separatist terrorism within the region. However, the nationalist sentiment of the political move and the will to strongarm Pakistan were also clear motivators for the decision. While Modi claimed the unilateral move would bring peace and development to Kashmir, the effective annexation of the state was overwhelmingly rejected by Kashmiri Muslims and, not surprisingly, opposed by Pakistan.
The ongoing conflict that today is intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to an angered and frustrated civil society. Under Modi’s government, the people of Kashmir are facing draconian policing and interrupted internet access. Additionally, foreign journalists have been blocked, strict curfews have been imposed and schools and universities are closed. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in social uprisings, police brutality, human rights abuses, media censorship and a humanitarian crisis.
India’s problem is that today, the region is still not free of terrorists and the current situation in Kabul foreshadows a big challenge in quashing insurgency in the near future. Pakistan has a history of state-sponsored terrorism and the groups that are currently active in Kashmir have ties to ISIS. This threat to India and the people of Kashmir remains prevalent despite the revocation of the region’s semi-autonomous status and Modi’s efforts in bringing the state directly under Indian control. Furthermore, the irregularity of open discussion between India and Pakistan has left the people of Kashmir, and their leaders, feeling helpless and doubtful that either state will act in the interest of Kashmiris. With Jihadi terrorists still active in the region and an angered population in a political climate that has a strong history of civil unrest, it is clear that Modi’s proclaimed counterinsurgency efforts have not brought stability to Kashmiris.
But Kashmir is not only under threat from terrorism. For two years the harsh curfews and increased military presence, not just around the Line of Control, but in public spaces and citizens homes, have been the direct action of the Indian government. Many political leaders of Kashmir have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Crackdowns on free speech have led to many journalists being silenced. One look at the current climate indicates a human rights situation on the brink of crisis.
The polarisation of the Hindu and Muslim populations in India, and the disparity in the treatment of Kashmiris and Hindu citizens more broadly, are evident of Modi’s nationalist agenda. Armed clashes, demonstrations, and frequent arrests are legal under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which continues to suppress the freedom of the media and hold many Kashmiri political figures in detention.
Currently, Kashmir is still politically suppressed by the Hindu government. India needs to take action to protect the people of Kashmir, negotiate with Pakistan and begin to seriously improve the security issues that have threatened the lives of innocent people for years. If Kashmir is to stay under the control of India as tensions grow in the global climate, leaving the Kashmiri people vulnerable and unprotected under Indian rule will be a dangerous risk to take, now, more than ever.
Niki Beri is a fourth-year student at the University of Sydney, studying a Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Politics and International Relations, Music). She is currently a Parliamentary Liaison at Jasiri Australia, facilitating the NSW Girls Takeover Parliament program and Secretary of the Sutherland Shire Chuo Sister City Association. Niki has also volunteered in numerous roles with non-profit organisations and had the opportunity to teach English for 2 months in Sri Lanka. Through her studies she has developed a keen interest in human rights, ethnic conflict and women’s issues and rights.
Niki is an intern with the Australian Institute of International Affairs NSW.