China opposes India’s decision, Pak Army to stand by Kashmiris, UN calls for restraint
India’s lower house of Parliament has passed a bill to split Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories with 370 vote in favour and 70 vote against, ANI reports on Tuesday
Country’s Hindu nationalist government hailed the "historic" legislation to bring Kashmir under its direct control, as Pakistan vowed to back the Muslim-majority region and challenge the divisive move.
Tensions also have soared along the Line of Control, the volatile, highly militarized frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, which both claim the entire region.
The Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganization) Bill, 2019, downgraded Kashmir from a state to a union territory with a legislature and carved out Buddhist-majority Ladakh, a pristine, sparsely populated area that stretches from the Siachen Glacier to the Himalayas, as a separate union territory without a legislature.
Indian Parliament’s upper house approved the bill by a two-thirds majority, with many opposition lawmakers voting with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
New Delhi stripped Kashmir of its autonomous status via a presidential decree on Monday, hours after imposing a massive security lockdown in the restive state to quell any unrest.
Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah compared the decision to other "historic moments" in the nation, adding that the law should be "written with golden words in Indian history."
His declaration came as reports emerged on Tuesday of sporadic protests and at least six people admitted to a hospital in the main city Srinagar with gunshot wounds and other injuries, a source at the facility said on condition of anonymity.
The situation in Kashmir was unclear after the government shut off most communication with it, including internet, cellphone and landline networks. Thousands of troops were deployed to the restive region amid fears the government’s steps could spark unrest.
Indian TV news channels showed security personnel including armed soldiers in camouflage standing near barbed wire barricades in the otherwise empty streets of Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city. Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh said Srinagar is “totally peaceful,” the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's plan to change the status of Kashmir ran into fierce opposition from China and its ally Pakistan.
China said it opposed India's decision to revoke Kashmir's special status and that New Delhi needed to be cautious on border issues.
"India's action is unacceptable and would not have any legal effect," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement, drawing an immediate rebuke from Delhi that Kashmir was an internal affair.
The Himalayan region is divided between India, which rules the populous Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated region around Jammu city, Pakistan, which controls a wedge of territory in the west, and China, which holds a thinly populated high-altitude area in the north.
In response, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said splitting Jammu and Kashmir into federal territories was a domestic issue.
After a meeting with top commanders in the city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan's army chief expressed support for the people of Kashmir, and the prime minister said he was weighing an approach to the United Nations Security Council.
"The Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end," said General Qamar Javed Bajwa. "We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations in this regard."
"We will fight it (Modi's policy) at every forum. We're thinking how we can take it to International Court (of Justice) ... to the United Nations Security Council," Prime Minister Imran Khan told Pakistan's parliament.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to show restraint, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“We are following with concern the tense situation in the region,” Dujarric said. “We’re also aware of reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, and we urge all parties to exercise restraint.”
Kashmir leaders detained
Indian-administered Kashmir has been in the grip of a bloody rebellion against Indian rule since 1989, and analysts have warned the scrapping of its autonomous status could trigger fresh protests.
The region has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947, and both the sides claim the territory, over which they have fought two wars.
Earlier, national security adviser Ajit Doval said in a report to his department that there was "peace and normalcy" and "no agitation" in Kashmir after the announcement, local media reported.
But with mobile and internet shut down and Kashmir virtually cut off from the outside world since the early hours of Monday, there was limited news emerging from the region.
A traveller who arrived in India's capital New Delhi on Tuesday from Srinagar told AFP on condition of anonymity that he had heard "intermittent gunfire" and other weapons since Monday.
He said he heard soldiers shouting during the night, while government troops were deployed at "every five steps."
"My car was checked at least 25 times on the way to the airport and it took me almost four hours to cover a distance of hardly 30 minutes," he said.
India has also sought to clamp down on other sources of dissent, with three Kashmir political leaders detained after a court order seen by AFP on Tuesday said they had engaged in activities "likely to cause breach of peace" and lead to a "serious law and order situation".
Initially placed under house arrest at the weekend, former chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah along with regional party leader Sajad Lone were reportedly then taken to an official guest house on Monday.
The court order also said authorities feared the trio could organise a public rally which is currently banned in Kashmir as part of the emergency lockdown.
'Abuse of executive power'
Criticism mounted from opposition politicians on Tuesday, with Rahul Gandhi, until recently the head of the main opposition Congress party, saying the decision was an "abuse of executive power" that had "grave implications for our national security."
"National integration isn't furthered by unilaterally tearing apart J&K, imprisoning elected representatives and violating our Constitution. This nation is made by its people, not plots of land," he wrote on Twitter.
Monday's decree, rushed through by Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, removed from the constitution the special status that Kashmir had held after the region was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947.
The changes ended special privileges for Kashmiris in regards to owning property and reserved jobs.