As India Marks Anniversary, Kashmir Is Still in the Dark

Aug. 5 marks one year since Modi revoked Kashmir’s special status. But Kashmiris will be mostly cut off—high-speed internet has been shut off to the region once again.

Kashmir, One Year On

Next Wednesday, Aug. 5, marks exactly one year since New Delhi revoked Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status, splitting the state into two union territories—Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. At the time, India’s surprise announcement turned into a global controversy. Pakistan opposed it, with Prime Minister Imran Khan calling Kashmir’s abrogation “brazen and egregious.” But Islamabad’s attempts to internationalize the issue were largely rebuffed, with Washington and other world powers toeing New Delhi’s familiar line that Kashmir was an internal domestic issue.null

One year on, where do things stand?

While New Delhi’s move remains popular among an increasingly nationalistic Indian citizenry, a dispassionate assessment of the decision will show that few of its objectives have been achieved. Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, who argued last year that the old status quo “denied economic opportunities and social gains for the masses,” would struggle to make the case today that things have gotten better. A promised summit to encourage investment in Kashmir still hasn’t taken place. The coronavirus pandemic has made any reforms difficult to implement, but even before the nationwide shutdown in March, there had been little progress.

India’s government says the security situation in Kashmir has improved, pointing to a 36 percent decline in terrorism-related incidents between January and July compared with the same period last year. Once again, it’s unclear how much those improvements are connected to pandemic-related shutdowns.

In any case, information has been difficult to come by. Local media are often harassed by the police, and international reporters have struggled to get inside. Authorities barred internet access for several months after Aug. 5. While it returned in March, mostly at lowered speeds, the Jammu and Kashmir government has once again bannedhigh-speed internet for the next few weeks, ostensibly to curb protests and reporting from the region. A survey of Kashmiri college students found 90 percent were in favor of a complete withdrawal of Indian troops.

Kashmiri leaders who have expressed anger over the abrogation remain under house arrest, including former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Another former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, was only released on March 24. In an interview this week with the Hindu, Abdullah said, “The polity of the rest of India effectively forgot about us,” referring to his and his father’s jailing. “It is shortsighted to believe that Kashmiris have quietly accepted what happened. … If Kashmiris have accepted the decision, why is the government still banning 4G internet?”

Abdullah has a point. For Indian-administered Kashmir to realize any of the economic goals New Delhi has promised, it first needs to open up—with a free and fair media and consistent internet access—and build confidence among businesses and institutions. But doing so would increase the likelihood of protests and potentially violence.

What to expect this week. India is planning what media outlets are calling “mega functions” to mark the anniversary, with a 15-day program of ceremonies starting on Aug. 5. Pakistan, meanwhile, is expected to ramp up its media outreach and will likely lean on Turkey and China to support its moves to draw attention to the plight of Muslims in Kashmir. Stay tuned for more coverage from Foreign Policy.


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