India-controlled Kashmir Srinagar -After canceling the special status of the disputed area two years ago, senior pro-Indian politicians from India-controlled Kashmir will meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the first time.
After the abolition of Article 370 and Article 35A in August 2019, Modi’s hardline stance in the region was deemed to be a departure from Modi’s hardline stance in the region, followed by a long and severe military and communications blockade. To stifle any opposition to the government’s controversial measures.
Two constitutional provisions give a certain degree of autonomy to Muslim-majority regions. However, after the cancellation of its special status, the area was divided into two federally managed territories.
As part of the crackdown, thousands of Kashmiri politicians, anti-India separatists, activists and lawyers were arrested, including some former chief ministers of the region scheduled to meet with Indian leaders on Thursday.
Both India and Pakistan claim full sovereignty over the Himalayas of Kashmir. Since the two countries gained independence from British rule in 1947, they have ruled parts of the region.
In the early 1990s, India began an armed rebellion, demanding independence from India or merger with Pakistan. Separatists who made the same demands through non-violent means continue to be detained or placed under house arrest.
Muslim-majority regions also have a small group of pro-Indian politicians and political parties who participate in national and regional elections.
Why invite Kashmir leaders?
More than a dozen leaders from these pro-Indian parties have been invited to New Delhi to meet Modi and his trusted Interior Minister Amit Shah.
Although the agenda of the meeting is not yet clear, there are speculations that the federal government wants to restart the political activities that have been stopped in the region and restore the state status that was deprived of it two years ago.
As the region lost its national status, the pro-Indian parties that had dominated the region’s politics since 1947 became the target of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
The three former chief ministers of the region-83-year-old Farouk Abdullah, his sons Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti-were arrested under the controversial Public Security Act (PSA). The law is called “lawless law” by the human rights organization Amnesty International.
Senior Abdullah was released in March last year after being detained for eight months, his son was released shortly afterwards, and Mufti was released in October after being under house arrest for 14 months.
But the decision of the right-wing federal government on August 5, 2019 has changed the political and geographic realities of the region.
To challenge this, the two main parties in the region-the National Conference led by the Abdullah family and the Mufti People’s Democratic Party-have united for the first time under an umbrella group of smaller parties. And named it as the Gupkar Declaration People’s Union (PAGD).
The alliance, also known as the Gupka Alliance, aims to restore the limited autonomy and state status of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
After the regional alliance between the PDP and the BJP collapsed in 2018, there has been no elected government in the region. New Delhi is managed directly or through its carefully selected administrators.
In the past two years, the BJP has also made several controversial changes to the region’s laws, including allowing outsiders to settle permanently in the region, which the locals fear will change its predominantly Muslim character.
What did the leaders of Kashmir say?
Before heading to New Delhi, the leaders stated that they did not know the agenda for the meeting with Modi.
“We hope we can show our position in front of the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior,” Farouk Abdullah told reporters at a press conference after PAGD members met in the main city of Srinagar on Tuesday.
The chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party and the last chief minister of the region, Mufti, stated that “the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir issue requires dialogue”. New Delhi has “humiliated” mainstream politicians in the past two years.
“No matter what is taken from us, we will talk about it. Without restoring our rights, we will tell them (the government) that they cannot bring peace to the region,” she said, referring to the 370th Article.
At the same time, the Bharatiya Janata Party tried to put the pro-India Kashmir parties aside by labeling them as “dynasty and corruption.” In a tweet last year, the Minister of the Interior Shah referred to the PAGD alliance as the “Gupkar gang”, sparking outrage in the region.
The government also tried to introduce new faces and new parties to the political arena in the region, but failed to obtain results in a local opinion poll held in December last year.
Most of the seats in the polls are won by the PAGD coalition, although elected representatives have little power in federal territory.
Manoj Joshi, a political expert at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi, said that local opinion polls cannot bypass the authority of traditional political parties and force the government to contact them.
“I think this is a planned move,” Josh told Al Jazeera.
“In the past two years, the government has reorganized the state government and established a demarcation committee, which may change the balance of political power in any emerging state,” he said.
Nirmal Singh, the former BJP minister from the region, also plans to attend Thursday’s meeting. He told Al Jazeera that the meeting was part of Modi’s promise.
“The Prime Minister promised at the Red Fort that he would start the political process in Kashmir,” he said, referring to the annual Independence Day speech delivered by the Indian Prime Minister on the walls of the Mughal fortress in New Delhi.
“It took some time, but we hope this is a golden opportunity to maintain our views,” Singh added.
Talks due to pressure from the United States?
Ruhula Mehdi, a former national conference lawmaker in the region, told Al Jazeera that the Modi government may have agreed to dialogue with Kashmir leaders after the secret meeting between India and Pakistan mediated by the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.
In April this year, Reuters reported that senior intelligence officials of the two countries held secret talks in Dubai in January to calm military tensions in the disputed Himalayas.
“I think it has more to do with international dynamics than domestic dynamics,” Mehdi said, adding that the Biden administration in the US “wants India to be more democratic on Kashmir.”
“The United States has mentioned the Kashmir issue many times. Now this step is to save face, because the BJP has realized that it needs to contact Kashmir’s political leaders.”
After the secret talks, India and Pakistan issued a rare joint statement reiterating their decision to abide by the ceasefire agreement reached along the Line of Control (LoC) in 2003, which is the de facto boundary between the two countries.
For five months, the firearms has remained silent on the LoC. In 2020, more than 8,000 ceasefire violations occurred, resulting in hundreds of deaths on both sides.
Are there geopolitical factors behind the decision?
Some experts also said that New Delhi’s unexpected proposal of dialogue coincided with India’s two major geopolitical concerns: the unresolved border crisis between the Ladakh region and China, and the progress of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Tensions with China last year for several months triggered the specter of a full-scale war between two nuclear-armed Asian adversaries.
In June last year, at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a conflict in the Galvan Valley of Ladakh-the first combat loss on a disputed border in more than 40 years. China admitted earlier this year that it also lost four soldiers in the battle.
In February of this year, thousands of soldiers from both sides deployed on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) were evacuated, and after the hotline between the foreign ministers of the two countries was announced, the tension eased in February of this year.
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst based in the disputed area, said that New Delhi is restoring bridges with Kashmir’s old parties because it is worried about developments in Afghanistan.
“One of the factors is that the United States is retreating from Afghanistan, and India is worried because Kabul is much closer to Srinagar than Delhi. They are worried and they have to do something about it,” Hussein said.
But he also called the talks a “marketing event.”
“We don’t know the result. New Delhi has retreated because they used to portray them (Kashmiri politicians) as a group of thugs,” he said.
Hussein said that Modi and former US President Donald Trump “reached an understanding.”
“He (Modi) is like Trump’s election agent. He has a different relationship with the Biden administration, which includes the Cold War hawks, who are eager to regain the support of early allies such as Pakistan and Turkey,” he said.
But analyst Josh ruled out any international pressure behind New Delhi’s decision to talk to Kashmir leaders.
“I don’t think there is any special international pressure. The situation in the valley is not so shocking to attract international attention,” he told Al Jazeera.
Although Josh admitted that “the Biden administration has issued a critical statement about depriving people of Internet access,” he said, “in its own way, it has little effect on the government.”
“Normal conditions (in the Kashmir region administered by India) are still far away, but yes, resuming the political process can help restore normalcy,” he said.