The Indian government has revoked the special autonomous status in place in Kashmir since 1947, amid a major security crackdown in the disputed Muslim-majority region.
In India’s most far-reaching move on the heavily militarised state for seven decades, Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a presidential decree aimed at bringing Jammu and Kashmir fully under the control of Delhi.
The revocation prompted fears of violence in the restive region, where the majority reject Indian rule. Communications were blocked and troops patrolled the capital of Srinagar, with public movement heavily restricted, while some local leaders were put under house arrest.
It also raised the prospect of confrontation with Pakistan, which quickly warned it would “exercise all possible options” to block the move. The Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi. denounced the “illegal” decree, which he said violated a United Nations resolution, while the president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir warned that the two countries could “go to war”.
India and Pakistan both claim ownership of Jammu and Kashmir and administration of the region is currently split between them along a disputed Line of Control.
The decree abolishes Article 370, under which Kashmir had essentially self-governed with the exception of the areas of defence, foreign affairs and communications. The article had also prohibited non-Kashmiris from owning land or property in the region; some critics of the move claim India is planning a demographic takeover with an influx of Hindu settlers.
A violent insurgency has raged in Indian-administered Kashmir since 1989 between Kashmiri militants seeking independence or more autonomy from Delhi and the Indian Army.
The Indian government has accused their Pakistani counterparts of fuelling the conflict by providing training and logistical support to militants in its territory.
According to the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society more people died in the conflict in 2018 than any year this decade, with 586 killed including 160 civilians.
Rumours had spread that the Indian government would revoke Article 370 after it carried out an unexpected security clampdown in the region over the past week.
Last Friday, tourists and Hindu pilgrims that had been visiting the Amarnath cave shrine were ordered to leave the region after the government said it had received intelligence that militants were planning an attack. It also said that it had uncovered a Pakistani-made mine, ammunitions, explosives and other weapons.
The Indian army then announced that it would send a further 10,000 extra troops to join the 500,000 soldiers already stationed in the region.
The combination of troop deployments, sudden evacuation and leaked military orders – such as one telling Indian Railways staff in the Kashmir valley to store enough rations for four months – led to panic and chaos. Over the weekend residents queued for hours to withdraw money from cash machines and purchase essential goods.
Concerned family members outside of Indian-administered Kashmir reported that they were had been unable to contact relatives since Sunday as mobile networks and internet providers had been cut off.
Two former chief ministers of the region, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were placed under house arrest late on Sunday night.
“GOIs [Government of India’s] intention is clear and sinister,” tweeted Ms Mufti, describing it as the “darkest day in Indian democracy”.
“It will have catastrophic consequences for the subcontinent,” she added.
“They want to change demography of the only Muslim majority state in India, disempower Muslims to the extent where they become second class citizens in their own state,” Ms Mufti said.
But the move was applauded by members of Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP.
Arun Jaitley, Mr Modi’s finance minister until May, insisted Article 370 had been “temporary”. “It had to go,” he said. “Separate status led to separatism. No dynamic nation can allow this situation to continue. A historical wrong has been undone today.”
The Indian government said it had sent a further 8,000 troops to Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday due to fear of reprisal attacks, while commuters on the Delhi Metro were warned to be on ‘high alert’ by government officials.
Even prior to the removal of Article 370, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had warned that India’s crackdown “has the potential to blow up into a regional crisis”.
Mr Khan called on US President Donald Trump to mediate – an offer that Delhi rejected.