//Indian Revocation of the Jammu and Kashmir’s Special Status: Options for Pakistan
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Indian Revocation of the Jammu and Kashmir’s Special Status: Options for Pakistan


The struggle of the Muslims of the Indian Sub-continent against the British colonial rule was based on the idea that ‘both India’s Muslims and Hindus constituted two ‘Nations,’ each deserving their own state.[1] Hence, Pakistan’s founding leaders, such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had used the ‘Two-Nation Theory’ as the underlying principle for both the Indian Sub-continent’s partition and Pakistan’s very existence as a separate homeland for the Muslims. Arising out of the colonial legacies of the Indian Sub-continent’s hurried partition by the British Empire, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) dispute remains a present-day example of one of the most glaring failings of the colonial masters. The beginning of the dispute can be traced back to 1947 when ruler of J&K Maharaja Hari Singh decided to sign a controversial instrument of accession with India amidst widespread local unrest.[2] Initially hoping to secure an independent state, the Hindu Maharaja of a majority Muslim population had severely underestimated the consequences of choosing to remain sovereign amidst widespread calls for partition along communal lines. This was also because his territory was geographically contiguous to both India and Pakistan with enormous strategic importance to both countries. For instance, its geostrategic location with its invaluable resources of freshwaters was such that it was unlikely that either India or Pakistan would have allowed the Maharaja to remain neutral for long.[3] 

Widespread violence followed the partition in August 1947. Starting in the form of a small local uprising against the Maharaja, the ensuing violence assumed a wholly different character within the already tense political climate.[4] This unfolded as a segment of the local Muslim population after seeking help from frontier tribesmen in newly formed Pakistan, managed to seize and liberate Muzaffarabad and its surrounding areas from the Maharaja’s rule.[5] The Maharaja, after failing to secure independence and unable to quell the unrest, chose to sign the instrument of accession with India. Following the agreement between the Maharaja and New Delhi in October 1947, Indian forces were flown into Srinagar.[6] Amidst the ensuing violence these initial skirmishes between irregular forces soon escalated to a full-blown military conflict between India and Pakistan. The subsequent military engagements that transpired comprised of the First India-Pakistan War (1947-1948) which saw large scale mobilization of forces from both sides.[7] While the war itself was concluded along the United Nations’ brokered ceasefire line in December 1948, it led to the near irreversible militarization of the region that persists to this day. At the end of this war, the western and northern districts of presently known as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan came under Pakistan’s control, while the remaining territory stayed under India’s control as the Indian-administered Kashmir.[8] This settlement however did not end the conflict which also led to another full scale war in 1965 and a small Kargil War in 1999. Furthermore, there was a period during the late 1980s and early 1990s when Pakistan was involved in supporting the pro-Pakistani insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir.[9]

The J&K dispute remains a key pending issue between India and Pakistan and is a major threat to regional security in South Asia. The recent crisis following the Indian government’s decision removing J&K’s special status shows that this dispute needs timely international attention and intervention to avoid any catastrophic developments in South Asia. This policy brief aims to explain not just the cause and implications of the current J&K crisis but also focuses on options for Pakistan.

The Current Crisis

The current crisis began after the Indian government’s decision to remove the special status of J&K through the revocation of the articles 370 and 35A. This decision was not surprising considering the rise of Hindu nationalism in India. The Hindu nationalists believe in Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s philosophy of Hindutva. Savarkar believed that the only form of nationalism possible in India was Hindu nationalism. Under the first term of Narendra Modi as the Indian Prime Minister (2014-2019), the world witnessed numerous acts of violent religious extremism by Hindu extremists in India. Under campaigns like Ghar Wapsi (home coming), Hindu nationalists are seeking to undertake what they call re-converting religious minorities into Hinduism.[10] Under the disguise of cow protection, Hindu nationalists have been engaged in cow politics which has also escalated incidents of violence against religious minorities, particularly Muslims.[11] Despite all this chaos, Modi won even with a bigger majority in the 2019 elections.

On 5 August 2019, the Indian government led by right wing Hindu nationalists, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), implemented their long-term desire of removing J&K’s special status. New Delhi was aware of the fact that the people of J&K would not be happy with its decision, therefore, it had deployed thousands of more troops in the region that led to the imprisonment of nearly 3,000 people including local lawyers, business executives and political workers.[12] For over a month, the people of J&K have had no access to telephones, internet and television. This crackdown continues and is responsible for less violence compared to the erstwhile protests in 2008, 2010 and 2016. There are seven million people in J&K and roughly 700,000 Indian soldiers in the state. [13] This makes it one of the most militarized parts of the world. While there was always a high degree of troop deployment in J&K, this clampdown is unprecedented. For example, even a delegation of opposition parties was declined entry into J&K.

It is important to mention that the Article 370 had allowed limited control to New Delhi in J&K because of its semi-autonomous governance. Under the Article 370, the state of J&K had its own constitution and a flag. The article 35A allowed the J&K legislatures to define the state’s citizenship and it did not allow the outsiders to permanently settle, buy land, hold government jobs or win scholarships in the region.[14] In addition, this decision has divided the J&K into two states with now Ladakh being separated, however, the Muslims of Ladakh and the Kashmir valley feel betrayed. New Delhi claims that it has done this as per the wishes of the Buddhist majority Ladakh. Nonetheless, the ruling BJP and its ideological wing, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, are celebrating the abrogation of the Article 370. This shows that there is widespread popular support in India for the BJP’s decision.

There are many reasons behind the Modi government’s decision. The desire to revoke article 370 of the Indian Constitution was stated in the 2014 election manifesto of the BJP. In the 2014 elections, the BJP also popularized its ‘Mission 44” to win 44 seats in the elections held in J&K. The BJP however won 25 seats because the People’s Democratic Party won 28 seats.[15] The key aim of ‘Mission 44’ was to win at least half of the seats in J&K to achieve the party’s agenda through legal/constitutional means. When that did not happen, the BJP opted for a much harsher and non-democratic strategy to achieve its desire of ‘one nation, one constitution’. The 2019 election manifesto of the BJP also had clearly stated the party’s intention in relation to J&K:

We are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state. We will take all steps to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for all residents of the state.[16] 

Under the Modi government, the situation in J&K has been unstable. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the number of fatalities have been growing ever since the start of the Modi’s government in 2014. Compared to 181 casualties in 2013, there were 451 recorded in 2018.[17] A key incident that disturbed the J&K’s situation is the killing of Burhan Wani,[18] who was killed in clashes with the Indian security forces in 2016. Despite restrictions placed by the Indian security forces, thousands attended Wani’s funeral and this event alone is marked as a watershed moment in the ongoing insurgency in J&K.[19]

There are also widespread concerns regarding the bigger Hindu nationalist agenda behind the recent decision. Many from within the J&K region and outside, especially in Pakistan, argue that the removal of articles 370 and 35A aims to change the demographics of the only Muslim majority state in India. Among the seven million people of J&K, 60% are Muslims. The critics of the BJP government’s decision also include Kashmiri leaders who think that New Delhi is following Hindutva to settle Hindus in J&K.[20] Thus, there is no shortage of international media reports that label India’s annexation of J&K as a true reflection of the Israel-Palestine conflict vis-à-vis the settlement of the West Bank.[21]

Despite the Indian government’s claim that its decision will start a new era of development and stability in J&K, there has been a lot of criticism. The Kashmiri leadership, most of which have either been imprisoned or under house arrest, have been very critical of the Modi government’s verdict. A young Kashmiri politician, Shah Faesal, has been describing this decision as “murdering the constitution” and “betrayal by the Indian state”.[22] Globally, the Indian government has been criticized for a complete shutdown in the state. On Eid al Adha the curfew was partially lifted and then the world could see the feelings of Kashmiris who were on the roads protesting New Delhi’s decision. Still, New Delhi claimed that everything is normal and that there is no clampdown. This denial has created a bigger problem for India through the internationalization of the Kashmir dispute.[23] Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan said, “Narendra Modi has committed a strategic blunder – he has played his last card … This will prove to be a mistake for Modi, as he has internationalized Kashmir”.[24] Khan also warned the world of the possibility of a nuclear confrontation in South Asia. This is against New Delhi’s long-term desire following the Simla Agreement of 1972. Besides numerous and regular reports on the situation by the international media, there have also been discussions in international organizations, such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). 

Options for Pakistan

Under the present circumstances, Pakistan’s options are limited, but various scenarios must be considered. The way Pakistan and its international partners have reacted so far has not been free from criticism domestically and consequently, Islamabad has to adjust its current strategy.

Unilateral Options

As far as Pakistan’s quick response is concerned, it was standard. It recalled its ambassador to India, terminated all trade ties, and approached the UN and other human rights organizations. Meanwhile the tensions are very high with regular skirmishes along the Line of Control and New Delhi’s 5 August decision has escalated the situation. Islamabad has closed its air space to India and blocked its access to use its transit facility for trade with Afghanistan. The closing of transit facilities for India by Pakistan may also not work much in Pakistan’s favor when it is having troubled relations with both Afghanistan and India. Pakistan has also shut down the Thar and Samjhota Express train and India-Pakistan bus services. This will affect thousands of travelers on both sides but may not do much to pressurize India to heed Pakistani demands. It is important to mention that Pakistan has only just re-opened its air space in July 2019 following five months of closure following the Balakot airstrike by India in February 2019. This caused airlines a loss of millions of dollars. This time the results will be similar but will put more pressure on Pakistan’s weak economy than India’s.

After coming to power in August 2018, Imran Khan tried repeatedly to convince India to reinitiate bilateral peace dialogues. His offers fell on deaf ears in New Delhi and for that he was criticized a lot by the opposition parties in Pakistan. In the wake of the recent crisis, Khan has ruled out the option of a bilateral dialogue with India. This is not a workable option when the international community has not fully backed up Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir dispute. Islamabad should instead urge global powers and multilateral organizations to pressurize New Delhi to re-start the Composite Dialogue Process[25] to discuss all pending issues, including Kashmir.

Despite what is promoted through the media and textbooks in Pakistan, Islamabad should refrain from claiming that ‘Kashmir will become a part of Pakistan’ and should instead lobby for the right of self-determination for Kashmiris. Islamabad does not have to produce its own data on human rights violations in J&K because there is no shortage of reports from independent human rights organizations condemning India’s brutalities in J&K. This advocacy campaign has to be more organized and more widespread using whatever resources Pakistan has, such as its diplomatic missions abroad, academics and journalists. Islamabad must upscale its efforts leading up to the 2019 session of the UN General Assembly. The government has announced weekly demonstrations across Pakistan to show solidarity with the people of J&K but this may have a limited impact because of the lack of coverage by the global media. There is however a low-cost option of social media which should be used in multiple languages to promote Pakistan’s position in the wake of the ongoing crisis. In one month since the complete blackout in J&K, there has been little access provided to local and international media by the Indian government. Pakistan should avail all possible opportunities to voice the plight of the J&K people who are living under life-threatening circumstances. Islamabad needs to develop a comprehensive media strategy to tell the world what is presently happening in J&K.

Pakistan’s rhetoric about the risk of a nuclear war in South Asia may not help its cause in securing international mediation. While the international community has been concerned about the tensions between South Asia’s nuclear rivals, Pakistan has to be cautious in its approach. Pakistan has been facing deep and worsening economic crisis that has grown under Imran Khan’s government. There is a point of view that owing to its economic crisis, Pakistan would not be able to enter a full-fledged war and may opt for a low-cost option of supporting insurgency in J&K.[26] As far as supporting insurgents in Kashmir is concerned, Pakistan might not be able to fully support separatist groups in J&K. While it is clear that in the present circumstances, Hizbul Mujahideen will lead the struggle in J&K, it is not easy for Islamabad to support this group when the country is listed in the grey list by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Islamabad is already worried about being blacklisted in the next FATF meeting scheduled to be held in Paris in October 2019 – something that could have serious diplomatic and financial repercussions for Pakistan. Islamabad might have to continue supporting the Hurriyet Conference, a leading coalition of political parties in J&K. 

The traditional approach of urging the global powers, such as the United States, should not be the only strategy for Islamabad. It is because there is a closer cooperation than ever before between India and the US and because Donald Trump has recently backtracked from his earlier desire of mediating between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Many lay the responsibility with Trump for escalating the recent situation due to a meeting with Imran Khan at the White House in July 2019, where he offered to mediate on the Kashmir issue.[27] To pressurize the US, Pakistan could use its advantage over the Taliban in the context of ongoing US-Taliban negotiations but the Taliban have already warned that no one should link the Kashmir issue with Afghanistan. In the current geopolitical context, with Pakistan being a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, there is little that Pakistan should expect from the US. Besides the US also, the Western countries have not criticized the Indian government’s decision.

International Organizations

For Islamabad, it was a moral victory that the Kashmir issue received some recognition through the UN Security Council meeting in August 2019. However, this meeting, requested by China, has not led to any meaningful outcomes. Pakistan’s strong campaign in relation to human rights violations in J&K has also received some attention from the international human rights groups, such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.[28] Pakistan plans to build on this strategy by also raising the issue and its concerns at the next meetings of the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly. Islamabad needs to re-consider its initial reaction of taking the dispute to the International Court of Justice. Even if the Court is approached and accepts to proceed with deliberations on the Kashmir issue, the proceedings will discuss the whole of the disputed territory including the Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Pakistan continues to pursue the option of a formal session at the UN Security Council on the Kashmir issue. Its hopes have risen following the closed-door meeting of the Security Council on 16 August 2019 but there is a need to look at the full picture. Concerning the permanent five (P5) members of the United Nations Security Council, it is only China that has supported not just Pakistan’s position on the dispute but has also considered India’s move as a violation of its sovereignty.[29] Russia chose to support India. Others have either shown concerns or condemned the lockdown in J&K but have hesitated to take clear sides in the conflict. Considering Moscow’s position, it is highly likely that it will use its veto power to support India’s position at the UN Security Council. New Delhi has a longstanding position that the Kashmir dispute is a bilateral dispute involving only India and Pakistan.

The Ummah

For the past 50 years, as the Kashmir dispute was absent from the UN Security Council, Pakistan heavily relied on the Ummah’s support. In the wake of the current crisis, what has disappointed Pakistan the most is the lack of support from Muslim countries. At the UN Security Council level, Kuwait was supportive of Pakistan but individually very few OIC members have issued a statement in favor of Pakistan. By 8 September 2019, only the following OIC members had issued official statements with reference to the current situation of J&K: Azerbaijan, Iran, Malaysia, the Maldives, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). For Islamabad, it was shocking that even under the current situation, the UAE government awarded its highest owner ‘the Order of Zayed medal’ to Indian Prime Minister Modi.[30] The foreign ministers of the UAE and Saudi Arabia visited Islamabad on 4 September 2019 to ease tensions between India and Pakistan.[31] Hoodbhoy, a famous scholar of Pakistan, has argued that Pakistan has been “ditched by the Ummah”.[32] This is already clear to Islamabad considering the Ummah only offers limited support in relation to its position on the Kashmir dispute. This is a realistic assessment because many of the Muslim majority states, such as the UAE, have strong economic cooperation with India and they will not disrupt that out of solidarity with Pakistan.

At the OIC level, the emergency meeting on the issue was held on 6 August 2019 but was only attended by the representatives of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and a few other members. The OIC also issued an official statement later in August 2019 that called for an immediate lifting of the curfew and demanded a UN-supervised plebiscite to resolve the dispute.[33] While Pakistan depends heavily on the OIC, it needs to be realistic about what is achievable.

Despite Pakistan’s boycott, India was invited to participate as the ‘guest of honor’ in the OIC meeting held in Abu Dhabi in February 2019. Pakistan has a longstanding position that India should not be allowed to participate in the OIC and should not even be granted any status. Thus, little impact can be expected of OIC declarations/statements on New Delhi because India has no formal status within the OIC.


The Indian government’s decision to remove J&K of special status will have serious implications for security, not just within India, but also in South Asia. Tensions are already all-time high between India and Pakistan, and Islamabad has recalled its ambassador to India and cut off trade ties. Simultaneously, Islamabad is engaged in active diplomacy to gain support of more international actors, both from within the Muslim world and the West. It has however received little backing for its position on the Kashmir dispute. Despite its initial reaction promising to use any means, including a war, to support the Kashmiris, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan will opt for a full-fledged war due to its poor economic situation. Due to its tinted global image in relation to terrorist financing, Pakistan may not immediately opt for supporting Kashmir insurgents. While the Kashmir issue has been internationalized at various levels, it is highly unlikely that there will be a formal session of the UN Security Council on the issue. Despite criticism of its chosen options at home, the Imran Khan government has to settle for a low-cost option, such as advocacy through its diplomatic missions and the media to demand a UN-administered plebiscite in J&K. Islamabad must be patient because multilateral options, especially involving the United Nations, will be time consuming. Therefore, Pakistan may have to settle for now on what it can do alone.

[1] Stephen P. Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan. (New York: Brookings Institution Press, 2004), 28-29.

[2] Alice Thorner, The Kashmir Conflict. Middle East Journal, 3(2) (1949), 23.

[3] Neera Chandhoke, Is the United Nations Still Relevant for Kashmir? The Journal of Modern Hellenism,30 (2014), 93.

[4] James D. Howley, Alive and Kicking: The Kashmir Dispute Forty Years Later. Dickinson Journal of International Law,9(1) (1991), 89.

[5] Stanley Wolpert, India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation? (Berkeley, United States: University of California Press, 2010), 22-23.

[6] Ibid, 23.

[7] Ibid, 21.

[8] Since the early 1960s, China also holds a part of J&K – a thinly populated region called Aksai Chin.

[9] Jonah Blank, “Let’s talk about Kashmir,” Foreign Policy, 5/9/2014 at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/09/05/lets-talk-about-kashmir/

[10] Debraj Deb, “’Ghar Wapsi’ id in Tripura: 96 Christians ‘reconverted’ to Hinduism,” Indian Express, January 21, 2019 at: https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/tripura/ghar-wapsi-bid-in-tripura-96-christians-reconverted-to-hinduism/

[11] “India: Vigilante ‘cow protection’ groups attack minorities,” Human Rights Watch, 18/2/2019 at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/18/india-vigilante-cow-protection-groups-attack-minorities

[12] Niha Masih, and Joanna Slater, “Among the 3,000 detained by Indian authorities in Kashmir: Children,” The Washington Post, 29/8/2019 at: https://beta.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/among-the-3000-detained-by-indian-authorities-in-kashmir-children/2019/08/29/1616b5c0-c91c-11e9-9615-8f1a32962e04_story.html

[13] Javed Jabbar, “A new opportunity,” Dawn, 28/8/2019 at: https://www.dawn.com/news/1502088

[14] “Kashmir special status explained: What are Articles 370 and 35A?,” BBC News, 5/8/2019 at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/kashmir-special-status-explained-articles-370-35a-190805054643431.html

[15] “Indian media: BJP’s Kashmir performance,” BBC News, 24/12/2014 at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-30595366

[16] “BJP manifesto 2019: Top 10 promises for next five years,” India Today, 8/4/2019 at: https://www.indiatoday.in/elections/lok-sabha-2019/story/bjp-top-promises-1496617-2019-04-08

[17] “Fatalities in terrorist violence 1998-2019,” South Asia Terrorism Portal, https://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/states/jandk/data_sheets/annual_casualties.htm

[18] Burhan Muzaffar Wani was a young Kashmiri commander of a separate group called Hizbul Mujahideen.

[19] “Why the death of militant Burhan Wani has Kashmiris up in arms,” BBC News, 11/7/2016 at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-36762043

[20] “Kashmir: Why India and Pakistan fight over it,” BBC News, 8/8/2019 at: https://www.bbc.com/news/10537286

[21] Yossi Beilin, “West Bank status quo shares eerie militaries with Kashmir,” Al-Monitor, 12/8/2019 at: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/08/israel-palestinians-india-simla-agreement-un-resolution-242.html

[22] “PM Modi is ‘murdering the constitution,’ says Shah Faesal,” BBC News, 14/8/2019 at: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-asia-india-49348653/pm-modi-is-murdering-the-constitution-says-shah-faesal; “Jammu and Kashmir: Shah Faesal paints painful picture of curfew, Governor says everything is fine,” India Today, 7/8/2019 at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/jammu-and-kashmir-curfew-satya-pal-malik-shah-faesal-article-370-1578340-2019-08-07

[23] Khalid Shah, “Government of India’s narrative trap in Kashmir,” Observer Research Foundation, 27/8/2019 at: https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/government-of-indias-narrative-trap-on-kashmir-54747/

[24] “Pakistan’s Imran Khan faced limited options on Kashmir,” Financial Times, 15/8/2019 at: https://www.ft.com/content/bfe92f00-be69-11e9-89e2-41e555e96722

[25] The composite dialogue process was started in 1998 but has been stalled since 2004.

[26] Maria Abi-Habib, “Pakistan runs out of options as India tightens grip on Kashmir,” The New York Times, 9/8/2019 at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/09/world/asia/kashmir-india-pakistan.html

[27] Toru Takahashi, “How Trump triggered the Kashmir turmoil,” Nikkei Asian Review, 31/8/2019 at: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Comment/How-Trump-triggered-the-Kashmir-turmoil

[28] See, https://www.hrw.org/tag/kashmir

[29] Jun Mai, “China calls India’s move to scrap Kashmir’s special status ‘not acceptable’ and not binding,” South China Morning Post, 6/8/2019 at: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3021712/china-calls-indias-move-scrap-kashmirs-special-status-not

[30] “India’s Modi awarded UAE highest honour amid Kashmir crackdown,” The Sydney Morning Herald, 26/8/2019 at: https://www.smh.com.au/world/middle-east/india-s-modi-awarded-uae-highest-honour-amid-kashmir-crackdown-20190826-p52kyl.html

[31] “UAE and Saudi Arabia visit Pakistan in joint diplomatic push,” The National, 4/9/2019 at: https://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/uae-and-saudi-arabia-visit-pakistan-in-joint-diplomatic-push-1.906535

[32] Pervez Hoodbhoy, “Ditched by the Ummah,” Dawn, 7/9/2019 at: https://www.dawn.com/news/amp/1504003?__twitter_impression=true

[33] “OIC reaffirms internationally recognized status of Kashmir dispute, its resolution through plebiscite,” Dawn, 31/8/2019 at: https://www.dawn.com/news/1502779/oic-reaffirms-internationally-recognised-status-of-kashmir-dispute-its-resolution-through-plebiscite

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