India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech to the nation during a ceremony to celebrate country's 73rd Independence Day, which marks the of the end of British colonial rule, at the Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 2019. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
Here's why Kashmir is so important
02:14 - Source: CNN
New Delhi CNN  — 

Tensions between India and Pakistan are high after New Delhi announced changes to the status of Kashmir, the disputed region at the heart of decades of conflict between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

Here’s a quick recap of this week’s developments.

Indian-controlled Kashmir was stripped of its special status

On Monday, India announced it was scrapping a provision in the constitution that had granted special status to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan both claim the Kashmir region in its entirety and have fought several wars over the issue.

Article 370 of the constitution – which had been in place since 1949 – granted Jammu and Kashmir the power to have its own constitution, flag and autonomy over all matters, save for certain policy areas such as a foreign affairs and defense.

The scrapping of Article 370 will allow non-residents to purchase property in Jammu and Kashmir, and apply for jobs or scholarships that had previously been reserved for residents. Experts fear the move could lead to a demographic change in Hindu-dominated India’s only Muslim-majority state.

Article 370 has been a bone of contention in Indian politics for years, and revoking it was one of the promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of recent national elections.

Pakistan condemned the move, which it described as illegal.

Then India reclassified the state to give New Delhi more control

On Tuesday, India’s parliament voted to reorganize and reclassify Jammu and Kashmir in order to give the central government in New Delhi greater authority over the disputed Muslim-majority region.

The Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill will change its administrative status from a state to a union territory. In the Indian system, state governments retain significant authority over local matters, but New Delhi has more of a say in the affairs of a union territory.

The bill unilaterally alters the administration of Jammu and Kashmir without consultation from state leaders. As a union territory, it will be overseen by a New Delhi-appointed official.

The remote mountainous region of Ladakh, currently part of Jammu and Kashmir, will also be separated and turned into a standalone union territory.Experts said the changes to Kashmir’s status could further inflame tensions and the risk of violence in an already unstable region.

The conflict over Kashmir goes back more than 70 years

In 1947, after India gained independence from British colonial rule, the country was partitioned into two states – Indian and Pakistan.

This partition led to a massive exodus with millions of Hindus and Muslims moving across the border. Since then, Kashmir has been at the centre of a contentious tug of war between the two countries.

The erstwhile ruler of Jammu and Kashmir was given an option to accede to Pakistan or India. In exchange for protection, the then-ruler of the province acceded to India. But special provisions were added to the Indian constitution to protect the rights of the territory’s residents.

India controls 45% of Jammu and Kashmir, in the south and east of the region, while Pakistan controls Azad Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan, around 35% of the total territory in the north and west. Both countries claim complete ownership of Kashmir. China also controls around 20% of Kashmir territory known as Aksai Chin.

The issue is also one of the oldest items on the agenda at the United Nations, where India and Pakistan took their dispute soon after independence.

Predominantly Hindu India and Muslim-majority Pakistan have fought two wars since 1947 over Kashmir and came close to another in 1999.

Wars in 1947 and 1965 were fought directly over Kashmir, and the ongoing violence has killed more than 47,000 people since 1989.

India says Kashmir’s special status was holding it back

The Indian government has justified its move to remove the special status and reorganize the state citing the need for desperate economic reforms in the region.

On Thursday, Modi said the move would free Indian-controlled Kashmir of “terrorism” and bring stability to the region.

“As a nation, we have taken a historic decision,” Modi said in an address to the nation. “Due to the past system, the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh were deprived of many rights, which was a major obstacle in their development. That is now over.”

“I am confident that the people of Jammu and Kashmir will defeat separatism and move forward with new hopes,” Modi added.

Pakistan and China have criticized India’s moves

Islamabad announced Wednesday that it would remove India’s High Commissioner from the country, downgrade diplomatic relations, and suspend bilateral trade with India.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused Modi’s party of believing “that Muslims should be ethnically cleansed in India.”

India has responded by saying the issues are internal matters and called on Pakistan to review its stance.

China, which controls about 20% of the Kashmir region and has close ties with Pakistan, also protested India’s moves, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry accusing New Delhi of encroaching on Chinese territorial sovereignty.

Beijing warned India to “strictly abide by the relevant agreements reached by both sides, and avoid taking actions that would further complicate the boundary issue.”

In the meantime, Kashmir is under lockdown

Before it announced the scrapping of Article 370 on Monday, India imposed a communications blackout in Jammu and Kashmir, with landline connections, internet and mobile coverage all suspended.

Tens of thousands of additional Indian troops have also been deployed into the already heavily militarized region to head off unrest, and several prominent politicians were placed under house arrest, according to CNN affiliate CNN-News18.

Shah Faesal, a prominent politician from Kashmir, said the blackout had prevented many people in the region from fully comprehending the week’s developments.

“My understanding is that once the telecommunication starts, once people start making sense of all that has happened over the last couple of days, I think the situation there is going to turn very, very volatile. A Security clampdown cannot withstand the collective rage of an entire people,” he told CNN.