Pakistan and China reacted furiously to India’s move to revoke Kashmir’s special status on August 5, as Islamabad downgraded diplomatic relations and suspended bilateral trade with New Delhi. Beijing described the move as an attempt by India to “undermine China’s territorial sovereignty,” ratcheting up tensions in South Asia.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had worked the phones on Tuesday, speaking to Turkish President Reccip Erdogan and Malyasia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, whose countries are members of the Organization of Islamic Countries. On August 7, Khan set up a seven-member committee to study the implications of India’s move on Kashmir and held a meeting of the National Security Council.

The committee decided to immediately downgrade diplomatic relations with New Delhi and asked India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan to leave the country and also recalled its acting high commissioner in the Indian capital. It has also suspended bilateral trade between the two countries, which stands at about US$ 3 billion annually. The committee has also called for an immediate review of all bilateral agreements.

Pakistan has also closed its airspace to India once again after opening it just a few weeks ago. It was closed in February after Indian Air Force jets bombed a suspected terrorist camp in Balakot, a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

This is the lowest point in bilateral relations between the two countries since the terror attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based terrorists on November 26, 2008. India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed powers, have fought four wars, three of which were over Kashmir. So far India has lost over 100,000 lives due to an armed insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir that began in 1990.

C Christine Fair, an American scholar who has been tracking India and Pakistan for over 20 years, said: “In my view, this is a self-goal. Pakistan needs trade with India more than India needs trade from Pakistan. And India should have downgraded relations with Pakistan ages ago,” she said. “Pakistan also has no locus standi on this issue. India has an Instrument of Accession, according to which Pakistan is in illegal occupation of territory seized in the 1947-48 war and which it illegally ceded. ”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee also released an official statement from Geneva condemning the curbs on the local population. They pointed out that India’s actions were in violation of the UN resolution of civil and political rights, which has been ratified by India.

On August 5, India revoked Article 370, a constitutional provision that had given “special status” for the conflict-ridden, lone majority-Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir. This constitutional provision gave the state the right to have separate laws. The night before union Home Minister Amit Shah made the announcement in Parliament, the federal government suspended all forms of communication and declared a curfew. It also rushed in 26,000 additional federal policemen to support the existing army and paramilitary forces in the state.

Since the revocation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state, India began preparations for a  backlash from Kashmiris and traditional rivals Pakistan and China. The state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India after independence in 1947 but plunged into war with Pakistan immediately. Pakistan managed to hold on to some parts of the state as a ceasefire line was established between the two countries. A short but sharp border war between India and China led to a further loss of Kashmir’s territory. The eastern part known as Aksai Chin remains under Chinese control.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan set up a committee to respond to India’s revocation of Kashmir’s special status on August 5. Photo: Courtesy Twitter

“Pakistan’s sharp reactions to the Indian decision to alter the status of Jammu and Kashmir is along expected lines. The two sides are now in a precarious situation pregnant with huge escalatory potential. This is an opportunity freelance terror organizations and those supported by state actors could make use of in order to bring the two sides to the brink of yet another crisis,” said Happymon Jacob, a professor at the School for International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Jacob, who has traveled extensively with the Indian and Pakistani armies and is a regular interlocutor on several track-2 dialogs with Pakistan, feels that tensions will rise significantly. “Kashmir is poised for more violence and instability, which will become obvious once the curfew is lifted. Protests in Kashmir will further prompt Pakistan to continue to promote its agenda in Kashmir. We are looking at troubled times ahead both within Kashmir and between India and Pakistan,” he said.

Uneasy calm

Top government sources told Asia Times that the Pakistani reaction was on “expected lines” and it was also preparing for an increase in “support to the terror elements in the Kashmir Valley.” As communications were partially restored in the state, official sources from the state told Asia Times that the reactions to the announcement were “muted.” According to a senior Indian police official posted in Kashmir, the region was tense but calm. “People have been allowed to go about their business and curbs on movement has been lifted. They seem wary, but are calm. There are reports of a few sporadic incidents of stone-pelting, but they are quite minor,” the police official said.

While India was expecting Pakistan to react, it had hoped for a muted reaction from China. However, since India bifurcated the state and declared the eastern part of Ladakh as a union territory without a legislature, China saw it as an attempt to change the status quo of the territory, which has been under its control since the 1962 war.

“India has continued to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law,” Foreign Ministry spokeswomen Hua Chunying said. She said the scrapping of Article 370 was “unacceptable and will have no effect,” and urged India to “strictly abide by the relevant agreements reached by both sides.”

India pushed back by pointing out that it was an “internal matter” and it did not comment on “the internal affairs of other countries and expected as much” from them.

India’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, who was a key member of the core team that took the momentous decision to scrap Article 370, landed in Kashmir on Tuesday morning. A career intelligence officer with decades of experience in counter-terrorism and Kashmir, Doval met the troops and also went around speaking to locals to make a first-hand assessment of the situation after the announcement. Official sources confirmed to Asia Times that his initial report stated that people were tense, but had accepted the decision. He also reported to the federal government that the recent measures to curb corruption in the state had gone down well with the local population.

However, since the state remained under virtual lockdown, local voices were yet to emerge. Shah Fesal, a Kashmiri bureaucrat-turned-politician, put up a post on Facebook terming the move a “great betrayal” and vowed to fight it and approach the Supreme Court.

Also read: Changing Kashmir’s special status hurt India’s federalism