WASHINGTON - India’s recent decision to revoke the special status of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state, has some experts concerned that the action could raise the stakes for militancy among several active terror groups in the region.
The presidential order to revoke Article 370 of the Indian constitution, ending Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy in administrative matters, was preceded by massive troop movement and a lockdown in the state. Internet, cellphones and landline telephones reportedly were cut off.
“Indian Kashmir has been a very volatile region for a very long time,” said Ajai Sahni, a New Delhi-based political analyst at the Indian Institute for Conflict Management.
India has resorted to an “essentially repressive arrangement, in which the resistance will not go away,” Sahni told VOA.
Sahni said Indian authorities have so far managed to prevent any significant terror incident or backlash as a result of the recent move.
Several terror and militant groups operate in Jammu and Kashmir, including Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The latter has two other front organizations — Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falah-e-Insaniyat (FIF) — both of which allegedly collect charities under the pretext of helping the poor but instead fund the Kashmir cause.
LeT, JuD and FIF are led by Hafez Saeed, a U.S.-designated global terrorist who was allegedly the mastermind of Mumbai’s 2008 terror attacks in which 166 people were killed, including six Americans.
Some of these groups, like the LeT, are alleged to have links to Pakistan’s military and receive its support. Pakistan, however, denies supporting militant groups inside Kashmir.
Tauqir Gilani, chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a Pakistan-based political party that believes in the unification of Kashmiris, said the situation is a cause for concern in the region and could be exploited by Pakistan.
“The situation is so volatile that Pakistan can easily exploit it and use Kashmiris as cannon fodder,” Gilani said. “Thousands of people have moved to the cease-fire line from Pakistan’s side, knowing that it is a case of now or never.”
Sahni downplayed the threat and maintains that “India’s intelligence agencies are well-aware of Pakistan’s backing of terrorist groups, and the Jammu and Kashmir police are equipped to handle the situation.”
“The international pressure has shifted in favor of stopping Pakistani support for terrorism. That has increased India’s expectations that Pakistan will not support militants in Kashmir,” he added.
India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) returned to power earlier this year with a pledge to revoke Article 370.
The BJP, which allegedly has a nationalist Hindu base, also removed Article 35A — paving the way for non-Kashmiris to buy property inside Kashmir, which some analysts believe is a move to change the local demographics and undermine the Muslim-majority status of the region. The legislation gave the Jammu and Kashmir state legislature the power to define the term “permanent resident,” and provide those residents with special rights and privileges.
Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir who has reportedly been under house arrest since protesting against the Indian government’s move, agreed, saying India wants to change the local demographics.
“They just want to occupy our land and want to make this Muslim-majority state like any other state, and reduce us to a minority and disempower us totally,” she told the BBC.
Sahni does not deny that India’s move will change the state’s demographics, but he argued that Pakistan has done the same thing on its side of Kashmir in the past.
“The Kashmiri movement (local resistance) is not sustainable, because Pakistan has already undertaken the demographic re-engineering of Gilgit-Baltistan,” Sahni said, referring to how Pakistan had settled non-Kashmiris in the Kashmiri territory.
Claims over Kashmir
Kashmir has been a disputed territory between India and Pakistan since 1947, when Muslim-majority Pakistan was partitioned from predominantly Hindu India, and British rule ended in the region.
Both nuclear nations have fought two major wars over Kashmir, which they each claim as an integral part of their territories.
In recent days, Indian politicians reiterated their long-standing position that their claim over Kashmir includes Pakistan-administered Kashmir, as well as the Chinese-administered Kashmiri territory of Aksai Chin.
IS and al-Qaida
There are fears that the indigenous Kashmiri groups operating within Indian-administered Kashmir could build ties with transnational terror groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Malik Nadeem Abid, the New York-based executive director of Kashmir Mission USA, charges that Kashmiri groups are aware of Islamist extremists’ attempts to take over their movement.
“We have our eyes open to prevent infiltration of the Kashmiri cause by pro-Islamist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida,” he told VOA. “Our movement is 100% indigenous and in the hands of nationalist Kashmiri leaders.”
Communication lines in Jammu and Kashmir have reportedly been cut off since India revoked the state’s special status, leaving local residents unable to communicate with the outside world.
Yusuf Jameel, a VOA reporter in Indian-administered Srinagar, described the situation as uncertain and volatile, which is forcing many people to leave.
“There is an extraordinary level of fear and apprehension among locals. Hundreds of Indian citizens and pilgrims, local workers, craftsmen and traders are leaving the valley,” he said.