India Moves to Annex Territory, Heightening Tensions With Nuclear Rival Pakistan

Tensions are escalating over the disputed region of Kashmir following India’s revocation earlier this week of its special status, which granted the area some autonomy. Kashmir remains on lockdown, with internet and other communications blocked and leaders placed under house arrest. The Modi government has also deployed tens of thousands of additional troops in Kashmir. Pakistan announced Wednesday it would expel India’s ambassador and stop its newly appointed envoy from assuming his position in New Delhi. It also announced it was cutting off all bilateral trade with India. We speak with three guests: Sanjay Kak, a New Delhi-based Kashmiri documentary filmmaker; Mirza Waheed, journalist and award-winning Kashmiri novelist; and Siddhartha Deb, award-winning Indian author and journalist.

TRANSCRIPT

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tensions are escalating over the disputed region of Kashmir following India’s revocation earlier this week of its special status, which granted the area some autonomy. Kashmir remains on lockdown, with internet and other communications blocked and leaders placed under house arrest. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also deployed tens of thousands of additional troops in Kashmir, which is already one of the most militarized areas in world, patrolled by more than half a million soldiers.

Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in full, but each governs only a portion of the region. The two countries have fought several wars over the territory since the partition of the subcontinent and independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

Pakistan announced Wednesday it would expel India’s ambassador and stop its newly appointed envoy from assuming his position in New Delhi. It also announced it was cutting off all bilateral trade with India. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed a joint session of Parliament in the capital Islamabad earlier this week.

PRIME MINISTER IMRAN KHAN: [translated] If we get ready to fight ’til our last drop of blood, what war will that be? It will be the war that no one will win. Everyone will lose that war. The implications will be felt across the world. So the next question is: Am I using nuclear blackmail? I’m not using nuclear blackmail. I am appealing to common sense.

AMY GOODMAN: The Pakistani prime minister also said he fears India will carry out, quote, “ethnic cleansing in Kashmir.” The revocation of Articles 370 and 35A would allow Indians from outside the territory to buy land and settle in the region, among other actions, that will shift the demographic makeup of the Indian-administered, Muslim-majority region, further entrenching Indian rule over the disputed area. Hundreds of protesters gathered in the capital of Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir Wednesday. This is Kashmiri politician Shagufta Kazmi.

SHAGUFTA KAZMI: [translated] Today, the women of Muzaffarabad, Azad Kashmir, have come onto the streets in support of those women, our sisters and mothers across the Kashmir border who have sacrificed the lives of their sons, their brothers and their children. If India does not stop atrocities, if Modi does not end his heinous activities, these mothers, these daughters, these women here will remain on the roads in support of the people of occupied Kashmir until we get our rights and freedom.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, press reports in India said the Modi government informed the U.S. before revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. The State Department has denied the claims.

Well, to talk more about the implications for Kashmiris, as well as the region, we’re joined now by three guests. Sanjay Kak is a New Delhi-based Kashmiri documentary filmmaker. He’s the author of Until My Freedom Has Come: The New Intifada in Kashmir. He returned from Kashmir Sunday night and is talking to us today from Delhi. And in London, Mirza Waheed is a journalist and award-winning Kashmiri novelist. His books include The Collaborator, The Book of Gold Leaves and, most recently, Tell Her Everything. He joins us now from London.

AMY GOODMAN: And here in New York, we’re joined by Siddhartha Deb, award-winning Indian author and journalist. His recent piece for The New Republic, “India’s Looming Ethno-Nationalist Catastrophe.” His nonfiction book, The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India, was a finalist for the Orwell Prize and the winner of the PEN Open Award.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in New Delhi with Sanjay Kak. If you can explain — you’ve just come out of Kashmir. If you can explain, to a global audience, many who may not be familiar at all with what’s happening in Kashmir, its status, the significance of what has taken place this week?

SANJAY KAK: Thank you, Amy.

I returned from Srinagar on Sunday evening. And today is the fourth day that all communications have been blocked. So, it’s almost impossible to figure out what people are feeling, what they’re doing, how they are managing, how emergency services are functioning. We do know that everybody in politics there is currently incarcerated. So, even the sort of in-between category of political figures is invisible.

I think, in some senses, you know, the Article 370 and the attendant Article 35A, there are two ways of looking at it. Largely, it had a symbolic connotation, because, in many ways, historically, since 1956, when it first came into place, it was a kind of a legal — let’s say, a link, that insured that Kashmiris had a certain amount of autonomy, legally and constitutionally. However, over a period of time, not by accident, it has been whittled away. So, in effect, it had been emptied of meaning, and it only had largely a kind of symbolic value. The only thing of any real substantive value that remained was enshrined in Article 35A, which prevented people from — non-Kashmiris, nonstate subjects, as it’s called, from buying property in Kashmir. And I think that was significant. So, the abrogation of 370 and, by implication, 35A, immediately raises the specter of the flooding of Kashmir with not just capital, but also people from outside of the valley.

Having said that, I think that for those who heard of the political turmoil in Kashmir, this conversation about 35A or 370, and the constitutional impropriety of it, is of concern, essentially, to a small segment of the population who, in Kashmir, are described as pro-India. The people — the more radical elements of the political struggle there who are, in the Indian media, described as separatists, they actually have no truck with any of this. As far as they are concerned, it doesn’t matter whether there’s 370 or there’s 35A. Theirs is a struggle for sovereignty. So, ironically, the people most affected by the abrogation of Article 370 are the people who are most wedded to the idea of India in Kashmir. So, we speak here of political parties like the National Conference, led by Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar, or the PDP, which is led by Mehbooba Mufti. So, in some strange sort of way, the government of India, in its wisdom, has damaged most grievously their only allies in Kashmir. And this is the irony of the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Mirza Waheed, could you also respond to what the Indian government has done earlier this week in Kashmir? Your parents live in Kashmir, and you’ve not been able to reach them because of this communications lockdown.

MIRZA WAHEED: Yes. It’s probably the worst siege we have seen in the last 30 years. I haven’t been able to make any contact with my parents or anyone else in Kashmir. But that’s true of everyone outside Kashmir. There is absolutely no contact with our loved ones in Kashmir. I grew up at a time of conflict, when it all started. I was a teenager. In the last 30 years, we’ve all seen this — you know, crackdowns, operations here and there, sieges, you know, long curfews. When I was a teenager, I lived through a 70-day-long curfew. So, none of this is new, but this is the harshest clampdown on basic liberties in Kashmir I remember in the last 30 years. That’s one.

Number two, I largely agree with Sanjay. He’s absolutely right that this mattered to a certain segment of the political classes in Kashmir. But people, common people, ordinary Kashmiris, are terrified, must be terrified of this, because it’s the last sort of protection, however flimsy, however nominal, protection of their basic identity as Kashmiris, which meant that they can hold onto their property and land and not have any demographic threat, so to speak. That has been removed on Monday.

And Sanjay is again right: The way it was done, it was completely — it was a travesty of all norms. There was no consultation, no discussion. You have to imagine how terrible it is that you imprison an entire population in their own homes. You turn the Kashmir Valley — you turn it into an open prison. And you block their phones. You don’t let them speak. You have a long, sort of hard curfew in place. And then you decide to assemble in Delhi and make a decision about Kashmir’s status with regard to its place in the larger Indian constitutional sort of framework. And the Indian authorities knew very well this is not going to go down. And that’s why today, even now, there is absolutely no contact with our families in Kashmir.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in the United States, you know how insulated the American population is in understanding what happens outside. We’re talking about two nuclear rivals, India and Pakistan, and the disputed region of Kashmir. If you can explain to this global audience how high the stakes are now, why the Indian Prime Minister Modi has done this, and do you see this as a possible flashpoint, with thousands more soldiers brought into this, one of the most militarized areas of the world?

SIDDHARTHA DEB: Well, yes. I mean, I think it’s a kind of exercise in completely authoritarian power. And I think there are two big questions here. What does it mean for Kashmiris? And I think both Sanjay Kak and Mirza Waheed have given us some sense of that. But what it also means for India, in the sense that parliamentary democracy is really a sham. That is what Modi and the BJP are revealing again and again and again, that just by fear, they can sort of decide on something, on the fate of a large group of people. Now, of course, which groups of people is really important, and it’s not accidental. It is the fact that, you know, the target is really Kashmiris, and Kashmiri Muslims in particular.

And, you know, so this is basically Modi’s way of distracting from the large-scale problems that continue to sort of — you know, that continue to plague India under his rule, which includes the economic — you know, economically, India is doing badly. Environmentally, it’s a disaster. It is the heart of climate change. The Indian subcontinent is at the heart of climate change, so, you know, with the kind of populations, with the kind of poverty. And there’s nothing that’s being done about it. And instead, Modi is giving — Modi and the BJP are giving the supporters something to feel triumphant about, by seeing the Kashmiris basically being turned into prisoners in their own home.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is a majority-Muslim population, the only one in —

SIDDHARTHA DEB: It is. It is. But, you know, one of — it is. And it is obviously for the Hindu right BJP. This is the primary target of hatred, which is not to say that they don’t hate others. They hate all minorities, all dissenters. And I think one of the big questions is not only what does it mean for Kashmir, but that, you know, this could happen in India. Tomorrow Modi could decide to split another Indian state into two. And, you know, again, this is completely — it’s a kind of escalation of the kind of violence. And the Indian state is not benign and democratic, you know, even without Modi and the BJP. But this is a kind of escalation of violence, an escalation of exercise of power from Delhi. And it’s being done with the kind of short-term gains in mind. There is no long-term view.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Siddhartha Deb here in the United States, in New York. Mirza Waheed is a Kashmiri journalist, speaking to us from London. And Sanjay Kak, also Kashmiri, speaking to us from New Delhi, India, he has just returned from Kashmir on Sunday night. Stay with us.