Analysis: How India's actions in Kashmir could spark a new war with Pakistan




 

Days after Donald Trump offered to bring his dealmaking skills to bear on India and Pakistan's seemingly intractable Kashmir dispute, Narendra Modi has dramatically shaken up the pieces of the puzzle.

The Indian prime minister's sudden move to revoke Indian-administered Kashmir's special status may have been in his manifesto for two elections, but it has caused domestic and international shock nonetheless.

Abolishing the region's autonomy by revoking article 370, and thus paving the way for Hindu migrants to buy land and take jobs in the Muslim majority area, increases Mr Modi's standing as a populist strongman. But it will perhaps irrevocably damage Delhi's relations with the residents of Kashmir, stoking militant violence in a region long known as a jihadist hotspot. And it also risks destablising a frozen conflict which has brought India and Pakistan to war three times.

"The revocation of article 370 is a major tipping point for an already-fraught dispute. It's hard to overstate the magnitude of this move," said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based The Wilson Centre.

Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan, with the territory effectively partitioned between them. On the Pakistani side, condemnation of India's presence in Kashmir and its abuses against residents is an emotive cross-party issue.

While the government issued a brusque denunciation, elsewhere the rhetoric was more bellicose. The president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir warned that the two countries could "go to war". Saifullah Niazi, a close aide to prime minister Imran Khan said India had " pushed the whole region towards an unending conflict. The conflict has consumed generations over the past 70 years and will further escalate to new heights," he said.

Tensions had already been high between the nuclear armed neighbours after February's suicide bomb that killed 40 paramilitary police in Pulwama. India blamed Pakistan-based militants and launched retaliatory air strikes.

In such circumstances, hopes of reconciliation seem remote, even with Mr Trump's help. India has always rejected calls for outside mediation anyway, saying Kashmir is a bilateral issue to be sorted out between the neighbours.

Politicians in Mr Modi's ruling BJP party argue that Kashmir's special status has made it difficult to integrate the region with the rest of the country and has therefore held back development. The issue is an internal administrative matter they claim. But the ramifications are unlikely to be contained locally, with dangerous consequences once again for the whole region.

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