India abolishes Kashmir's special status, tightens grip

The government also moves a bill proposing the territory be divided into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi

Inida's Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The Indian government on Monday revoked Kashmir's special status, stripping the significant autonomy it has enjoyed for seven decades in a move expected to further inflame tensions in the Muslim-majority region and infuriate rival Pakistan.

In addition to rushing through a presidential decree to scrap the disputed region's special status in the constitution, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi Hindu-nationalist party also moved a bill proposing the territory be divided into two regions directly ruled by New Delhi. Furthermore, it imposed a security lockdown and cut all telecommunications, AFP reports.

Kashmir has been divided between Indian and Pakistan since their independence in 1947. For three decades the Indian-administered part of the territory has been in the grip of an insurgency that has left tens of thousands dead. Armed Kashmiri rebels and many residents have fought for the region's independence or to join neighbour Pakistan. Now home Minister Amit Shah, a close ally of Modi, told parliament the president had issued a decree abolishing Article 370 of the constitution, which gives special autonomy to the Himalayan region. The decree said the measure came into force "at once".

"Unilateral decision of GOI (government of India) to scrap Article 370 is illegal & unconstitutional which will make India an occupational force in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir)," former Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.

In Pakistan, a representative of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Firdous Ashiq Awan, tweeted that his nation would continue to provide Kashmir with "moral, diplomatic and political support" until it achieves self-determination.

The unprecedented move followed days of uncertainty in the region that began on Friday when New Delhi ordered tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave "immediately". All phones, internet services and cable networks in the restive Himalayan region of more than seven million people were cut at midnight, and only residents issued with a curfew pass were allowed on the streets.

But there were already growing fears among Kashmiris that the special status would be ditched after Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) obtained a large parliamentary majority in recent elections. His party had vowed to fulfil a long-held promise to scrap the laws, and many fear New Delhi wants to change the region's demographics by allowing non-Kashmiris, mostly Hindus, to buy land locally.

The move now is thus set to exacerbate the already bloody rebellion in Kashmir and deepen the long-running amorosity with nuclear rival Pakistan which has fought two out of three wars with India over the territory.

"There will a very strong reaction in Kashmir. It's already in a state of unrest and this will only make it worse," Wajahat Habibullah, a former senior bureaucrat in Jammu and Kashmir, told AFP.

Article 370 of the Indian constitution gives special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It limits the power of the Indian parliament to impose laws in the state, apart from matters of defence, foreign affairs and communications.

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