August 8, 2019 | Policy Brief

India Ends Special Status for Only Muslim-Majority Territory

August 8, 2019 | Policy Brief

India Ends Special Status for Only Muslim-Majority Territory

The President of India issued an Order on Monday effectively repealing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, a move supported by the Indian Parliament. The Order fundamentally changes the relationship between terrorist hotbed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the rest of India, potentially allowing for the long-term normalization of conditions in the area.

J&K is in northwest India, where it borders both Pakistan and China. It is India’s only Muslim-majority territory. During the turbulent years after India became independent in 1947, Article 370 was enacted as a ‘temporary’ measure ostensibly to reassure J&K’s Muslim population. It gave substantial autonomy to J&K, including writing its own laws and barring non-Permanent Residents from owning land.

Regardless, J&K has been a focal point of multiple wars between India and Pakistan, as well as clashes between India and China. Beijing backs its ally Pakistan to advance Chinese interests such as access to Gwadar Port on Pakistan’s southern coast.

Several Islamist terrorist groups, some backed by Pakistan, seek to ethnically cleanse J&K, join it to Pakistan, and then use it as a base for further incursions into the rest of India. In late 1989 and early 1990, in targeted attacks, Islamists murdered, raped and kidnapped Kashmiri Hindus, driving hundreds of thousands from their homes. In February 2019, a suicide bomber killed 40 police in Pulwama, J&K. Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility. In response, the Indian Air Force crossed into Pakistan to bomb what it claimed was a terrorist training camp.

Article 370 inadvertently legitimized part of the Islamist agenda by implying a Muslim-majority region should be separate from the main body politic. Since Article 370 allows only Permanent Residents of J&K to own land, Islamists were incentivized to expel non-Muslims, who could not be replaced, thereby changing J&K’s demography by force. Article 370 also enabled discrimination against women, limited investment from the rest of India, and made it difficult to use land as collateral for loans, stifling economic growth and making residents more dependent on local power structures.

India’s home minister has called Article 370 “the root of terror” in the region. Both advocates of J&K independence from India and terrorist elements stand to lose substantially from the repeal and are likely to increase pressure. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “[I]ncidents like Pulwama are bound to happen again. I can already predict this will happen.” Pakistan’s army chief said its military “stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end.”

For its part, India has put regional political leaders under house arrest, called on Hindu pilgrims to avoid the region, put a curfew in effect, increased military presence, and restricted communications. There may be operations involving summary execution of terror suspects, with the attendant civilian casualties causing unrest, as happened in the past. The security situation may worsen in the short term, and human rights organizations are likely to highlight abuses.

Over the longer-term, as residents of J&K see more opportunities for economic development, as women have more rights, and as there is more integration and identification with the rest of India, there is hope the appeal of extremism will wane and the lives of the people of J&K will normalize.

For Delhi, the repeal of Article 370 is a core issue of national identity and security. India is saying the people of the region, whatever their faith, are Indian citizens and should have the same rights and responsibilities as all other citizens. Washington should consider the repeal of Article 370 to be an internal Indian decision based on a reasonable approach to citizenship, rather than seeking to interpose itself between India and Pakistan.

Cleo Paskal is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). Follow Cleo on Twitter @CleoPaskal. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Issues:

China Jihadism Military and Political Power Pakistan The Long War