Pakistan stunned, worried as India retracts Kashmir's autonomous rights

By PAMELA CONSTABLE | The Washington Post | Published: August 6, 2019

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan reacted with shock and anger Tuesday to India's sudden decree revoking a 65-year-old law that had granted limited political autonomy to the disputed Himalayan border region of Kashmir.

Kashmir, long a flash point in contentious relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, has seen 30 years of unrest, including guerrilla attacks, Muslim protests and charges of repression by Indian security forces. Now, Pakistani officials and others said, there are fears of worse to come.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a grim address to a special joint session of Parliament, accused India's Hindu nationalist leadership of promoting a "racist ideology." He said that after making numerous attempts at outreach, he has concluded that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government "took our overtures for peace as weakness."

India's action Monday, which stripped Kashmir of numerous rights, "is not a decision they have taken out of the blue," Khan said. "It is ingrained in their ideology that puts Hindus above all other religions." India will "now crack down even harder on the Kashmiri people," he predicted, adding: "I fear they may initiate ethnic cleansing in Kashmir to wipe out the local population."

Referring to a terrorist attack in Kashmir that led to a dangerous military standoff in March, Khan said neither country can afford to fight an unwinnable war against the other. "This is not nuclear blackmail," he said. Instead, Khan said he intends to let world leaders know that "what the Indian government is doing in Kashmir ... goes against everything the Western world believes in."

Pakistan's senior military commanders issued a statement saying they "fully supported" the government's rejection of India's actions.

"Pakistan never recognized the sham Indian efforts to legalize its occupation of Kashmir" through the Indian constitution, the commanders said. "The Pakistan army stands firmly by the Kashmiris in their just struggle. … We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations."

The drastic step taken Monday by Modi abruptly repealed an article in India's constitution, ending more than six decades of limited but settled rights for residents of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley. Numerous Pakistani commentators expressed fears that it would unleash a spate of violent repression and protest.

While Indian authorities imposed a news and communication blackout Monday from Indian-controlled Kashmir, Pakistani news media aired nonstop coverage. TV channels reported that numerous Kashmiri leaders were arrested and broadcast images of Indian soldiers chasing and beating protesters in Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state and a hub of Muslim unrest.

There was widespread condemnation of India's action by politicians and commentators. Many said it violated U.N. resolutions on the status of Kashmir after the tumultuous partition of India created Pakistan in 1947.

Pakistan has long championed the efforts of Indian Kashmiris to gain independence from Indian rule, and India has repeatedly accused Pakistan of abetting guerrilla attacks and bombings there.

Last week, India sent thousands of extra troops into the region and urged all tourists to leave, raising fears in Pakistan that military action was being planned. On Sunday, Pakistani officials accused India of dropping cluster bombs in civilian areas along the Line of Control that separates the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir.

Pakistani media also reported that a senior Kashmiri Muslim leader in Srinagar, Syed Ali Geelani, had tweeted what he called an "SOS" message to "all Muslims living on this planet," asking them to speak out and warning that India was "about to launch the biggest genocide in the history of mankind."

On Tuesday, the editors of Dawn, Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper, also predicted "violent consequences." They said India's move has reduced Kashmir "to the status of a colony" and warned that Hindu settlers, galvanized by Modi's reelection in May, could begin an "invasion" of the Kashmir Valley to dilute Muslim demographic strength.

Until now, the region has enjoyed semiautonomous powers, with its own constitution, local government and laws that controlled all matters except those related to finance, defense and foreign relations. Outsiders were not allowed to buy property there. Modi's decree will end those rights and incorporate Kashmir fully into greater Indian territory.

Opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, called Modi the "butcher of Kashmir" and a "terrorist." He called on Pakistanis to raise their voices against India's action "at every available international forum."

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said, "We are concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights." She added, "We call on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control."

In a recent first meeting with Khan in Washington, President Trump offered to help mediate the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India. In turn, he asked Khan to support the ongoing peace talks in Afghanistan, and the Pakistani premier said he would invite Taliban leaders to meet with him.

Some analysts here said India's move against Kashmir was a deliberate effort to counter such an effort and could even set back U.S. talks with Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents. Pakistan has always sought foreign mediation on Kashmir, and India has always rejected it.

Other Pakistani observers said they had expected Modi to revoke Kashmir's special status sooner, and some said such a plan was part of his reelection manifesto.

"This is what they always wanted to do," said commentator Mosharraf Zaidi. "The best way forward for us is to highlight Indian atrocities in the occupied territory," he said. "Our government should exercise immense restraint and let India dig its own grave through its thuggery."

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