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Mon 5 Aug 2019 10:43 AM

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India to scrap Kashmir's special status amid security crackdown

Prominent political leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir were placed under house arrest overnight and the Indian Army has deployed thousands of extra troops across the valley

India to scrap Kashmir's special status amid security crackdown
India also evacuated thousands of tourists, students and pilgrims - citing terrorist threats - and has reportedly restricted phone and Internet services over the last 48 hours.

India will revoke the special status of Kashmir in a measure that has already drawn shouts of protests in the parliament and risks worsening the deteriorating security situation in the disputed region.

Prominent political leaders in Indian-administered Kashmir were placed under house arrest overnight and the Indian Army has deployed thousands of extra troops across the valley in one of the most widespread security crackdowns in recent years.

India also evacuated thousands of tourists, students and pilgrims - citing terrorist threats - and has reportedly restricted phone and Internet services over the last 48 hours.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet met Monday and the Minister for Home Affairs, Amit Shah, announced the government’s intention in parliament a short time later. The move will repeal Article 370’s application to Kashmir, which required the federal government to seek the state’s permission on all laws except for defense, foreign affairs, finance and communications.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan warned in a tweet Sunday that India’s "new aggressive actions" had "the potential to blow up into a regional crisis."

The Indian Army said on Sunday evening it had responded to an increase in cease fire violations and infiltration attempts along the line that divides Indian-controlled and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

India’s rupee slid the most since December today amid the uncertainty over a potential announcement on the troubled Jammu and Kashmir state.

House arrest

The move to place two of Kashmir’s former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, under house arrest at midnight further added to a sense of crisis in the state.

“I believe I’m being placed under house arrest from midnight tonight & the process has already started for other mainstream leaders," Abdullah tweeted.

India’s arrest of political leaders without an explanation is “unprecedented,” Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst at risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said in an email.

“It has the potential to embolden Pakistan-based terrorists to begin ramping up attacks again,” said Bery. “This also fits into Imran Khan’s narrative that India is the one responsible for escalating the tensions -- he managed to convince President Trump of that and this is only going to support his message further.”

The Ministry of External Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the political crackdown.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said any change in the fundamental situation in Kashmir would be a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions. "This latest escalation on the LoC by India is a matter of great concern for Pakistan," said ministry spokesman Muhammad Faisal.

Last week, India rebuffed U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate between the south Asian nation and Pakistan, which have long-running tensions centring on Kashmir, an area in the Himalayas claimed in full - and ruled in part - by both. In late February, Modi’s government authorized airstrikes against Pakistan in response to a terrorist attack in Kashmir.

"First came fresh troop deployments and sudden, dramatic evacuation orders. Now it’s house arrests for some local leaders, Internet cut-offs, and curfews likely to follow," said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Washington, DC-based Woodrow Wilson Centre. "What an unsettling and ominous moment for Kashmir," Kugelman said in a tweet.

The extra troop deployment came as thousands of devotees are on an annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave in the state that houses a shrine to the Hindu god Shiva. Since then, the pilgrimage has been curtailed and the devotees were asked to return home.