Kashmir, located between China, India and Pakistan, has been at the heart of a complex, 70-year dispute between Delhi and Islamabad, which has strained bilateral relations and impeded the development of stronger ties in the whole of South Asia. Kashmir is a mountainous area the size of Germany, in the north-west of the Indian subcontinent, home to K2, the world’s second-tallest mountain, and also narrow valleys and barren plateaus. It is also prone to seismic activity: as recently as 2005, a strong earthquake is estimated to have claimed 75 000 lives.
In March 2015, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Muslim Jammu and Kashmir People’s Democratic Party (PDP) created a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. Its chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, died in January 2016; he was succeeded in April by his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, as the first female chief minister of the state. She resigned in June 2018, after the BJP quit the coalition. On the same day, the governor’s rule was imposed in the state. The Chinese ambassador to India has suggested cooperation between China, India and Pakistan under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), to solve bilateral issues between India and Pakistan, including Kashmir. The EU firmly upholds the resolution of disputes through dialogue and constructive engagement.
On 24 July 2019, Minister of State for Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy told the Rajya Sabha (upper chamber) that the security situation in J&K had improved in the first half of 2019. However, a few days later, the Indian authorities started to deploy additional troops to the state; the figure reached 46 000 in a few weeks, in addition to an already significant security personnel presence. The government applied Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, an urgent security measure barring any group of five or more from congregating in public, while not technically imposing a curfew. It isolated Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, two former chief ministers (the highest state authority) belonging to the two main local political parties, placing them under house arrest, and detained thousands of political leaders and activists (the government has not provided figures). All educational institutions were shut down.
On 5 and 6 August 2019, the Indian Parliament approved the withdrawal of Article 370 of the Constitution, which had guaranteed Jammu and Kashmir, a high degree of autonomy. It also decided to split Jammu and Kashmir into two territories, both administered directly from Delhi. Meanwhile, the government deployed 46 000 troops, arrested regional political leaders and thousands of activists, suspended internet and communications across the valley, and shut down schools and colleges.
In July 2019, a report on human rights in Kashmir issued by the Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner said that no steps had been taken to improve the human rights situation in Kashmir.