(Bloomberg) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed a “new era” in the disputed region of Kashmir while his Pakistani counterpart warned of “genocide” once a curfew is lifted.
In a prime-time address on Thursday night, Modi said he ended seven decades of autonomy in Kashmir in order to rid the area of dynastic politics and entrenched corruption. He called the move “entirely the internal affairs” of India after Pakistan cut diplomatic and trade ties and sought to garner international support to oppose changing the status quo of a disputed area that has triggered three wars between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Under Article 370 of India’s constitution, which Modi revoked on Monday, the state legislature of Jammu and Kashmir was free to draft its own laws except in the areas of communications, defense, finance and foreign affairs. Indian citizens living outside the state were also prohibited from purchasing land.
“A new era has been started in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,” Modi said, referring to the Himalayan regions in northern India. “Article 370 did not give the people anything apart from separatism and terrorism and kept them from progress — it was being used as a weapon by Pakistan.”
The situation remains tense in a region that has been the main flash point between the countries since the British left the subcontinent in 1947. In the run-up to the move, Modi’s government imposed restrictions on movement, cut telephone and Internet connectivity, evacuated tourists and Hindu pilgrims and arrested local political leaders. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan warned of violence when a curfew is lifted, which Modi said would take place soon.
“The whole world is waiting to see what happens to oppressed Kashmiris in IOK when curfew is lifted,” Khan said on Twitter as Modi spoke, referring to what Pakistan calls “Indian-Occupied Kashmir.” “What should be obvious is the international community will be witnessing the genocide of the Kashmiris.”
Pakistan announced a series of measures on Wednesday to oppose what it called “unilateral and illegal actions” by India. He also said Pakistan will take the matter to the United Nations Security Council and ensure the army remains vigilant. On Twitter, Pakistan’s army lashed out at India’s military for what it called “usual blatant lies.”
The renewed tensions also risk having a wider regional impact. The U.S. is nearing a deal with the Taliban to end a war that began in 2001, and the support of both India and Pakistan are crucial to a lasting peace. In Washington on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the U.S. is watching events in the region “incredibly closely.”
On Thursday night, Modi said the federal government will look at ways to reduce the state deficit in Kashmir and seek to reassure locals that governance will continue as normal without undue influence from the capital, New Delhi. He only made a handful of references to Pakistan in his 40-minute speech, keeping the focus firmly on jobs and governance in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
“For decades, the political dynasties have kept my Kashmiri youth from the opportunity to govern,” Modi said. “I appeal to young men and women to come forward and lead their own areas.”
The government would immediately begin hiring for posts in police, the armed forces and federal government-run businesses, Modi said. Promises of job benefits like rent and travel allowances — not as yet available to local government employees — and extending scholarships to students and sportspeople also took up a large part of his speech.
He emphasized that Kashmir would revert to full-statehood under India’s federal structure, although Ladakh would continue to be administered by the federal government. The move — shortly after Modi’s landslide election win in May — fulfilled a campaign promise made to his Hindu base, which opposed special treatment for the region.
India has urged Pakistan to review its actions so “that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved,” the foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday. China has also criticized India’s actions.
A strongly-worded statement released by Beijing was most critical of the impact of India’s actions on the mainly Buddhist region of Ladakh — an area of strategic importance nestled between Tibet and Pakistan.
“The recent unilateral revision of domestic laws by the Indian side continues to undermine China’s territorial sovereignty, which is unacceptable and will not have any effect,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said a statement Tuesday.
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