Tensions Increase Over Kashmir

Aug 7, 2019
Originally published on August 7, 2019 11:12 am
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The province of Kashmir has been in dispute for longer than most of us can remember. It's wedged between India and Pakistan. Both countries lay claim to it. This week, India took away Kashmir's autonomous legal status, which some fear will change its demographics. Pakistan's prime minister is warning that the decision could send the two countries into war. NPR's Diaa Hadid reports from Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Pakistan will celebrate Independence Day next week, and the capital is awash in stalls selling green-and-white national flags. This year, some customers are demanding something else.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) People are also demanding the flags of Kashmir.

HADID: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: That's because fervor over Kashmir has been running high since Monday. That's when India scaled back Kashmir's autonomy. I asked Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist who runs a policy lab, why Pakistanis even care.

MOSHARRAF ZAIDI: Pakistan was carved out of India as a homeland for Muslims in this region, and Kashmir is the only Muslim-majority state that India claims as part of India. Pakistan has never accepted this claim, and both countries have gone to war multiple times because of this claim.

HADID: India's actions mean that, for the first time, non-Kashmiris can now buy property there. Pakistanis fear that will be used to dilute Kashmir's Muslim majority, which will weaken Pakistan's historic claims to the disputed territory.

The consequences could extend beyond Kashmir. Pakistan is helping the United States to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would allow American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan. But if conflict flares up surrounding Kashmir...

ZAIDI: It will fundamentally alter the ability of Pakistan to try and support the U.S. in its mission in Afghanistan.

HADID: And it sets back any hopes of a peaceful resolution to a decades-old conflict surrounding Kashmir.

In recent weeks, President Trump offered twice to be a go-between for India and Pakistan. India rejected the offer. Pakistanis say they'll ask Trump if he'd be willing to press India again. But for now, the Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, says he fears the situation will escalate.

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IMRAN KHAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: On Tuesday, Khan addressed a joint session of Parliament.

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KHAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: In his speech, he recalled a suicide bombing last February in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which killed dozens of troops there.

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KHAN: (Through interpreter) Such incidents are bound to happen again. I can already predict this will happen.

HADID: The bomber claimed allegiance to a Pakistani-based militant group, so India blamed Pakistan. And it led to airstrikes and a dogfight between Indian and Pakistani pilots.

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KHAN: (Through interpreter) They will attempt to place the blame on us again. They may strike us again, and we will strike back. Who will win that war? No one will win it.

HADID: The most likely victims will be Kashmiris. Anam Zakaria is a historian who recently wrote a book about the disputed province. She says Kashmiris have been plunged into darkness.

ANAM ZAKARIA: And there's uncertainty about the big decisions that are being made about their fate without consent. They've been pushed back to their bunkers.

HADID: To their bunkers - while Pakistan uneasily celebrates its independence.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.