Kashmir fears end of special rights as India deploys more troops

New Delhi pushes at least 10,000 paramilitary troops – set to rise to 20,000 – to India-administered Kashmir sparking fears India may set aside a constitutional provision, Article 35A, allowing Indians to buy land in the Muslim-majority region.

Tensions in India-administered Kashmir rose on Sunday over the weekend deployment of at least 10,000 paramilitary troops –– set to rise to 20,000 –– to the disputed region despite authorities' assertions the move was routine. India maintains a deployment of 500,000 heavily armed troops in the tiny Himalayan region, which has been divided between the South Asian nation and Pakistan since their split in 1947. The region has seen a resurgence of hostilities in recent years, while locals are fearful about the loss of special privileges after India's Supreme Court last year began hearing a case challenging a constitutional provision that bars Indians from buying properties in the Muslim-majority region.  Officials said the movement of troops was to relieve exhausted personnel deployed since local civic polls last year and now monitoring an annual Hindu pilgrimage. "Troops have been working constantly for seven months. Some have to go on leave and some for training outside," Director General of Police Dilbagh Singh told AFP news agency. "We have requisitioned for 200 companies (20,000 troops), more might arrive." 

Possible protests 'about a decision'

A senior security official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the deployment was to guard against possible protests about a decision or event, without giving further details.

He added that India's security set-up in Kashmir was "being re-oriented like never before." But locals say they were worried that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing government want to set aside a constitutional provision –– Article 35A –– which would allow Indians from outside the disputed territory to purchase land there. Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party vowed to strip decades-old special rights from the people of Kashmir during elections earlier this year provoking warnings of a backlash by pro-India as well as resistance groups in the region. "It's pretty unlikely India will fiddle with 35A but the troop build-up has set the alarm bells ringing across Kashmir," Kashmir-based senior journalist and analyst Shabir Hussain told TRT World. "It has set the panic button on among Kashmiris and they are prepared for the worst. Nearly a fortnight before the government order demanding extra deployment was out, Kashmiri police officers were verbally communicated to remain agile in case of any serious law and order issue and also hoard food items and fuel," he said. "The speculation among low-rung police officers is that it's either about Article 35A or some major announcement about the resettlement of Kashmiri Hindus who were displaced at the onset of Kashmir conflict in 1989-90."

Trump mediation offer

The deployment follows the uproar sparked by US President Donald Trump after he said during a meeting with Pakistani PM Imran Khan that Modi asked him to mediate in the Kashmir dispute. India and Pakistan have been fighting over Kashmir, a part of which is also controlled by China, for decades. In February, a suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based and proscribed militant group killed 41 Indian troops in Kashmir, prompting tit-for-tat air strikes between the two countries.

President's rule

India-administered Kashmir was brought under New Delhi's direct rule in June 2018 after Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew support for its local partner and dissolved the elected local government. Since then elections for local assembly have been delayed and the region is under the rule of Indian president. Resistance groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country in a UN-backed or sponsored plebiscite. Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir's mostly Muslim population and most people support the rebels' cause against Indian rule.  Nearly 100,000 people have been killed in the armed rebellion and civil uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown since 1989.