News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How The Kashmir Region Became A Geopolitical Hot Spot


People in Kashmir are hoping that life starts returning to normal in the next few days. Ever since the Indian government revoked the territory's limited autonomy earlier this month, millions of Kashmiris have been cut off from the outside world, living without internet or phone services. But Kashmir is no stranger to unrest. And to give us some history on how we got to this moment, we're joined now by Chitralekha Zutshi. She's a professor of history at the College of William and Mary.


CHITRALEKHA ZUTSHI: Thank you for having me, Alisa.

CHANG: So I want to go back to the late 1940s. This is a time when India and Pakistan had just become independent countries.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: And all the time, the bloodshed goes on. As the new dominions of Pakistan and India take over their own affairs....

CHANG: And there was still some dispute over which country would control Kashmir. So tell us what happened as an effort to resolve that dispute.

ZUTSHI: So India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir in 1947 because of the differing nationalist ideologies that they subscribe to. So Pakistan claims Kashmir because it's Muslim majority, and it's a Muslim majority state. India claims Kashmir because it's Muslim majority also, but India's secular. And this proves that it can be a secular state. Both countries claim Kashmir for that reason in 1947, and they are in full-scale war against each other over it.

And this is when India takes the matter to the United Nations, and the United Nations steps in to adjudicate the dispute. And they draw a cease-fire line, and it partitions Kashmir between India and Pakistan. This is why a part of Kashmir is in Pakistan, a part of Kashmir is in India.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: In spite of Pakistan's protests and the United Nation's disapproval, India has gone ahead with the incorporation of Kashmir into the Indian state.

CHANG: Eventually, there is a provision in the Indian Constitution that lays out the territory status. This provision is called Article 370. What does it provide?

ZUTSHI: OK, Article 370 was a means to kind of bring this state into the Indian Union without meddling too much with it because it was under dispute, right? And so what it provided for was that Jammu and Kashmir would accede to India only in the three subjects of defense, external affairs and communications, and that the state itself would make its own constitution, and that constitution would then decide whether it wanted to accede in other areas to India as well, right? So the state itself and the state's legislative assembly was given a lot of leeway and power.

CHANG: OK, and this has been referred to as the special status of Kashmir.

ZUTSHI: Exactly.

CHANG: And how substantive has this special status protection been over the years? I mean, how much has the Indian government respected it?

ZUTSHI: Over the years, Article 370 has been steadily eroded, and this started very early on. And one of the ways that this was done is that because the Kashmir assembly has to agree to any changes that are made to the relationship between India and Kashmir, what the Indian government insured was that the governments in place in Kashmir were always pro-India.

CHANG: So how did the Indian government's attitude towards Article 370 affect the political rights of Kashmiris?

ZUTSHI: The Kashmiris felt that their political rights were being infringed upon because an opposition was never allowed to emerge in Kashmir, a real political opposition.

CHANG: So as these frustrations mounted among Kashmiris, as they were growing more and more outraged by infringements on their political rights...


CHANG: ...Armed conflict began.


ZUTSHI: Around 1989, you have the beginning of an armed insurgency that's led by sort of local Kashmiris against the Indian state. And, you know, they begin to demand independence. And by the early 1990s, mid-1990s, it becomes a sort of wider conflict as well because Pakistan steps in. This gives India a very sort of, you know, significant way of saying that this is just a few disgruntled people who are being basically supported by Pakistan who are doing all of this, you know?

CHANG: Right.

ZUTSHI: And so what this does is it subverts the internal grievances, political grievances, of the people of the Kashmir Valley against the Indian state because of Pakistan's sort of interference in this and makes it about sort of India and Pakistan and not about this internal issue that's going on.

CHANG: So now that India has revoked Kashmir's special status under Article 370, what does that mean for this territory?

ZUTSHI: Article 370 itself had ceased to mean very much other than its symbolic status that it gave to Kashmir. But now that symbolism is also gone, and Kashmiris are left wondering what's coming next, especially because of the way that the Indian government has carried out this move, which is by imposing these draconian sort of military lockdown on Kashmiris. So I think if you think about it from the perspective of Kashmiris, they are feeling very, very insecure about their future.

CHANG: Chitralekha Zutshi is a professor of history at the College of William and Mary and author of multiple books on the history and politics of Kashmir.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

ZUTSHI: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 21, 2019 at 11:00 PM CDT
A previous Web introduction mistakenly called Chitralekha Zutshi an associate professor of history. She is actually a professor of history.