Crisis in Kashmir: What Does It Mean?
"Just one short week ago, you
could have been forgiven for thinking that the False Flags Over Kashmir that I wrote about in this very column in March had blown over, and that everything in the highly contentious Kashmir region connecting India, Pakistan and China was back to normal. Maybe it had all been political posturing in preparation for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reelection bid in this year's national elections, you may have thought.
But if that's what you were thinking last week, I bet you're not thinking that anymore. For you see, this past Monday all hell broke loose.
Specifically, the residents of the formerly semi-autonomous state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the northern tip of India now find themselves living in a state that has no special status. No constitutional provision for the region to pass its own laws. No more laws preventing Indians from outside the region to buy real estate or invest in J&K. In fact, Kashmiris no longer even reside in the state of Jammu and Kashmir; they now reside in one of two newly-created Union Territories, one called Jammu and Kashmir, and the other called Ladakh.
So what exactly happened this week? And what does it mean for the future of one of the most heavily-militarized and volatile geopolitical fault lines in the world?
Well, as I outlined in this week's edition of New World Next Week, there are three ways to examine what just took place in India this week.
1) The Legal Perspective
Fundamentally, this week's events center around a pair of major changes in the way the formerly semi-autonomous state of Jammu and Kashmir is governed, and the way it slots into the greater Indian state. The long story short is that Amit Shah, India's Home Minister and the right-hand man of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, presented a presidential special order to India's parliament on Monday that amends a section of the Indian constitution granting J&K its special status. This was immediately followed by the introduction (and subsequent passing) of The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, 2019 splitting the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, i.e., federally-administered territories under the ultimate control of the Indian government itself.
The short story long is a complex tale that requires knowledge of Indian history, politics and law. Essentially, up until 1947, Jammu and Kashmir was a princely state of the British Empire in India. When Britain withdrew from India, the ruler of J&K planned to remain independent from both India and Pakistan, but unrest within the state and attacks from outside the state pushed him to sign an Instrument of Accession to the Dominion of India. That Instrument of Accession has been shrouded in such mystery and so heavily guarded that some scholars even doubted its existence; it wasn't even seen by the general public until 2016 when The Wire published scans of the actual document online for the first time. That instrument vouchsafed a wide range of autonomy for J&K within the state of India, including an assurance that the Maharaja Hari Singh retained sovereignty over the territory and that the accession did not commit J&K "in any way to acceptance of any future constitution of India or to fetter my discretion to enter into arrangements with the Government of India under any such future constitution."
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution afforded J&K a special status within the Dominion of India, allowing the region its own constitution and allowing its constituent assembly to decide which sections of the Indian constitution it would adopt. A subsequent provision—Article 35A of the Indian constitution, adopted in 1954—further protected the state's special status, limiting who could become permanent residents of J&K and thus who could purchase land in the region. Further, Article 370 expressly stated that no changes to this special status of J&K could be made without the consent of the state's constituent assembly.
There was just one problem: J&K's constituent assembly was dissolved in 1956. Although hotly debated in various fora over the decades, it was widely presumed that the assembly's dissolution meant that J&K's special status was a permanent fixture of the Indian constitution. Until this past Monday, that is.
To get around the impasse, Modi's government simply issued an order replacing the words "Constituent Assembly" in Article 370 with the words "Legislative Assembly." And, since the Legislative Assembly of J&K was dissolved last year, its power has devolved to the Indian government, which is now abrogating Article 370.
Don't worry, it's clear as mud to everyone, and like all such massive politico-legal moves, it's open to debate, interpretation, and court challenge. The Associated Press for its part, is quoting Indian legal "experts" who assure us that "The process by which New Delhi has scrapped the preferential status accorded to (Jammu and Kashmir) by the constitution and split J&K into two union territories is constitutionally vulnerable."
In other words, don't expect this to be a done deal quite yet. We're going to see plenty of political and legal fireworks within the Indian legal system and the Indian parliament itself before the dust settles on this bold move.
But perhaps you're wondering why this matters at all. Surely this is just some internal Indian political squabble, isn't it?
Which brings us to . . .