The Indian government moved to revoke the special status that granted autonomy to Muslim-majority Kashmir on Monday, with experts describing the move as “undoing seven decades” of constitutional relations.
Amit Shah, the Home Minister for India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party, the BJP, announced that Article 370 of India’s constitution would be revoked in parliament Monday.
Article 370, which has been part of the constitution since sovereignty of Kashmir was transferred to India in 1947, ensured that the territory was self-governing and also set key policies involving areas from defense to foreign affairs.
The move still needs to be ratified by the legislature, but is likely to pass as the BJP recently won a majority in parliament in an election earlier this year.
Dr Farzana Shaikh, an associate fellow at Chatham House, told ABC News that the move will “completely undo more than seven decades of Kashmir's constitutional relationship with the Indian Federation," and that it leaves the region in “uncharted political and legal territory.”
“The potential for violence is and always has been very great in Kashmir, particularly over the last couple of years as we've seen an escalation of violence in the region,” she said. “At one level you might think that was to be expected, because the BJP has been pretty much up front [about its intentions in Kashmir]. But I think the manner in which these moves have been executed has taken everyone by surprise.”
Revoking Kashmir’s autonomy has long been a goal of India’s nationalist prime minister and leader of the BJP, Narendra Modi.
Pakistan also controls a portion of Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistani- and Indian-controlled areas by a border known as the Line of Control.
Tensions have flared between the two nuclear powers in recent months. In February, airstrikes were carried out across the Line of Control by both the Indian and Pakistani Air Forces, with fighter jets being downed on both sides.
How Pakistan reacts to the revocation of special status depends heavily on the reaction from the international community and the United States, which sees Pakistan as crucial to combatting militancy in neighboring Afghanistan, according to Vasuki Shastry, an associate fellow at Chatham House and former political journalist in India.
“It can very easily become an international issue, provided the G-7 is in the mood to make this an issue,” he said of the Group of Seven, which is scheduled to meet later this month. However, he said, "you've got to take into account that the timing [from Modi] is perfect. This is a time of resurgent nationalism all over the world. These are all leaders building on domestic bases of support. They don't really care what the international community thinks.”
"I've heard so much about Kashmir, such a beautiful name," he told reporters during a meeting with Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan. "It's supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world, but right now there's just bombs all over the place. If I can do anything to help that, let me know."
With unrest expected to occur in the region, Kashmir has been placed under curfew, with a social media “blackout” and at least 10,000 Indian soldiers arriving in the region to maintain order, according to the Associated Press. However, violence could be sparked by the so-called "Jihadist" organizations such as Jaish-e Mohammed, long accused of taking orders from the Pakistan government, which also lays claim to Kashmir, Shaikh said.
“Everything we know about the way violence is laid out in Kashmir suggests that it may not be that easy to control,” Shaikh said. “In any case, I think it can be said with a fair degree of certainty that the sense of political alienation in the region is bound to be very serious [regarding the] long-term consequences.”
The revocation of Article 370 will likely lead to a legal appeal from one of the opposition parties in India, Shastry said, but a region whose fate is so often the result of unintended consequences has now become a lot more dangerous.
“An upsurge in militant attacks, with or without the tacit support of Pakistan, could be seen as a hostile act by India,” he said. “[Modi] is in no mood to talk to Pakistan. So you know the risks of something untoward happening are very high.”