Imran Khan likens inaction over Kashmir to appeasing Hitler

Pakistan PM remarks come as tensions rise over India’s removal of special status

The Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, has likened the Indian government to Nazis, warning that global inaction over Kashmir would be the same as appeasing Hitler.

His comments came as authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir reportedly reimposed some curfew rules in parts of the territory, following an easing of restrictions in Srinagar, the region’s main city, that had allowed people to visit shops over the weekend and attend Friday prayers.

Who controls Kashmir?

The region in the foothills of the Himalayas has been under dispute since India and Pakistan came into being in 1947.

Both claim it in full, but each controls a section of the territory, separated by one of the world's most heavily militarised borders: the ‘line of control’ based on a ceasefire border established after a 1947-48 war. China controls another part in the east.

India and Pakistan have gone to war a further two times over Kashmir, most recently in 1999. Artillery, mortar and small arms fire are still frequently exchanged.

How did the dispute start?

After the partition of colonial India in 1947, small, semi-autonomous ‘princely states’ across the subcontinent were being folded into India or Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir dithered over which to join until tribal fighters entered from Pakistan intent on taking the region for Islamabad.

Kashmir asked Delhi for assistance, signing a treaty of accession in exchange for the intervention of Indian troops, who fought the Pakistanis to the modern-day line of control.

In 1948, the UN security council called for a referendum in Kashmir to determine which country the region would join or whether it would become an independent state. The referendum has never been held.

In its 1950 constitution, India granted Kashmir a large measure of independence. But since then it has eroded some of that autonomy and repeatedly intervened to rig elections and dismiss and jail democratically elected leaders.

What was Kashmir’s special status?

Kashmir’s special status, given in exchange for joining the Indian union, had been in place since 14 May 1954. Under article 370, the state was given a separate constitution, a flag, and autonomy over all matters except for foreign affairs and defence. 

An additional provision, article 35a, prevented people from outside the state buying land in the territory. Many Kashmiris believed this was crucial to protecting the demography of the Muslim-majority state and its way of life.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata party repeatedly promised to scrap such rules, a long-term demand of its Hindu nationalist support base. But analysts warned doing so would almost certainly ignite unrest.

On Wednesday 31 October 2019, the government formally revoked Kashmir’s special status. The government argued that the provision had  only ever intended to be temporary and that scrapping it would boost investment in Kashmir. Critics, however, said the move would escalate tensions with Pakistan – which quickly called India’s actions illegal – and fuel resentment in Kashmir, where there is an insurgency against Indian rule.

What do the militants want?

There has been an armed insurgency against Indian rule over its section of Kashmir for the past three decades. Indian soldiers and Pakistan-backed guerrillas fought a war rife with accusations of torture, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killing.

Until 2004, the militancy was made up largely of Pakistani and Afghan fighters. Since then, especially after protests were quashed with extreme force in 2016, locals have made up a growing share of the anti-India fighters.

For Indians, control of Kashmir – part of the country’s only Muslim-majority state – has been proof of its commitment to religious pluralism. For Pakistan, a state founded as a homeland for south Asian Muslims, it is the last occupied home of its co-religionists.

Michael Safi and Rebecca Ratcliffe

TV news showed footage of jeeps fitted with loudspeakers moving in the region on Sunday afternoon, telling people to return to their homes and shopkeepers to shut markets. Landlines, mobile phones and the internet all remain blocked, preventing residents from calling relatives or friends.

It was not clear if people would be allowed to leave their homes for Monday’s Eid-al-Adha festival, one of the biggest celebrations of the year in Kashmir.

The state has been in lockdown since Monday, when the Indian government announced it would revoke its autonomy and rules that prevent outsiders from buying land in the territory. Many Kashmiris fear the move would alter the demography of India’s only Muslim-majority state and its traditions.

Despite heavy security, hundreds of people protested in Srinagar on Sunday where they chanted “What do we want? Freedom! When do we want it? Now!”.

On Sunday, Khan said on Twitter: “Attempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing. Question is: Will the world watch & appease as they did Hitler at Munich?”

The Pakistani prime minister added that the “ideology of Hindu supremacy, like the Nazi Aryan supremacy, will not stop” in Kashmir, but would lead to “the suppression of Muslims in India & eventually lead to targeting of Pakistan”.

Khan has vowed to lobby heads of states and take his complaints to the UN, though the response has so far been muted. On Sunday, he telephoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani “as part of his outreach to world leaders on the Kashmir situation”, according to a statement issued by his office.

Rouhani was quoted as saying that Muslims of Kashmir “must be able to use their legal rights and interests to be able to live in peace.”

Ufra Mir, a peace psychologist from Kashmir who has provided psycho-social support to as many as 200 Kashmiris who are living away from home, said: “This fear of uncertainty and this sense of not knowing what’s going to happen – this is what is really stressing people out, giving them anxiety and panic attacks.”

Over the past week she has counselled people through phone calls, social media and through a Whatsapp group.

Many of those unable to contact their families were students away from Kashmir for the first time, she added. “They were supposed to go back home but now they don’t even know if they should. A lot of them have run out of money.”

The security lockdown in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city.
The security lockdown in Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city. Photograph: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

Mir flew back on Sunday because she wanted to support her family. “I don’t know the space I will be going back to. I definitely know that it won’t be the same, it won’t be the same space that I left,” she said.

A few people in Kashmir have managed to secure access to a working phone to reassure family members. Mir Mushtaq, who is working in Delhi, said that his relatives called three days ago. “My mother was consistently crying. She asked me to come there and be with her,” he said.

Normally, he would spend Eid with family, distributing the meat of a sacrificed goat door-to-door in Pulwama, where he would visit between 100 and 180 families.

He decided to stay in Delhi to raise awareness. “My motherland is in danger. What will I do there, lock myself in a room?”

The communication blocks and curfew in Kashmir, which prevented people from leaving their homes for almost five days last week, were apparently intended to stop unrest, resulting in little concrete information as to what is happening in Kashmir.

Restrictions on movement were lifted for the first time on Friday to allow people to attend local mosques for prayers. Afterwards, police reportedly opened fire and used teargas to break up demonstrations of at least 10,000 people who took to the streets to protest Delhi’s actions.

(August 1, 1947) 

With the end of British colonial rule, the Indian subcontinent is partitioned into predominantly Hindu India and mainly Muslim Pakistan. Mass migrations follow, with Hindus and Muslims moving to their country of choice. More than a million people are killed in the communal violence that ensues.

(October 1, 1947) 

India and Pakistan fight their first war over control of Muslim-majority Kashmir, a kingdom ruled by Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh. The war ends in 1948 with a UN brokered ceasefire, leaving Kashmir divided between the nations, with the promise of a referendum to chose which nation its people wish to join.

(August 8, 1965) 

A second war erupts over Kashmir, with India and Pakistan agreeing to a UN-mandated ceasefire the following month.

(December 5, 1971) 

The third war between India and Pakistan is fought in East Pakistan, ending with the creation of independent Bangladesh.

(May 10, 1974) 

India detonates a nuclear device in the first confirmed nuclear test by a non-permanent member of the UN security council.

(December 1, 1988) 

India and Pakistan sign an agreement that neither will attack each other's nuclear installations or facilities; it takes effect in 1991.

(May 8, 1989) 

Armed resistance to Indian rule in Kashmir begins. India says Pakistan supports local fighters with weapons and training, which Pakistan denies, saying it only gives local Kashmiris "moral and diplomatic" support.

(May 8, 1998) 

India detonates five nuclear devices and Pakistan responds by detonating six of its own. International sanctions are imposed against both.

(December 1, 2001) 

India masses troops along its western frontier with Pakistan and the Kashmir boundary after blaming Pakistani insurgents for a deadly attack at the Indian parliament. The standoff ends in October 2002 after international mediation.

(September 8, 2016) 

Suspected rebels sneak into an army base in Indian-controlled Kashmir and kill at least 18 soldiers. Indian forces later attack militant bases in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

(February 14, 2019) 

A car bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Indian-controlled Kashmir kills 40 Indian soldiers. Militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, headquartered in Pakistan, claims responsibility. India blames Pakistan and promises a "crushing response"."

(August 5, 2019) 

India's central government changes part of the Indian constitution and downgrades Jammu and Kashmir from one state to two territories. The changes eliminate Kashmir's right to its own constitution, limit its decision-making power, and allow non-Kashmiri Indians to settle there.

(October 31, 2019) 

Delhi formally revokes Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy and splits it into two federal territories. The state’s constitution, as well as its penal code and state flag, was nullified.

An Indian home affairs ministry official denied the reports, and said there had been only a few stray protests of no more than 20 people. However, the BBC later released a video appearing to show huge crowds marching through the streets of Srinagar, as well as police opening fire and using teargas.

Delhi’s decision to scrap Kashmir’s special status not only faces major resistance in the territory, but has also escalated tensions with Pakistan and been condemned by China.

Pakistan said that with the support of China, it would take up India’s actions in Kashmir with the UN security council and that it may approach the UN human rights commission over what it has described as the “genocide” of the Kashmiri people.

Pakistan last week expelled the Indian high commissioner and halted trade. The country’s army chief warned that his forces would take any action to stand by Kashmiris.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has insisted that the removal of Kashmir’s special status would bring investment and rid the state of terrorism.


Rebecca Ratcliffe in Delhi, Shah Meer Baloch in Islamabad and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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