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Kashmir crisis mars independence celebrations in Pakistan and India

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Pakistan is celebrating its 73rd year of independence from India, dedicating the day to the people of Kashmir in India. Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Pakistan-administered Kashmir to mark the occasion.

"Independence Day is an opportunity for great happiness, but today we are saddened by the plight of our Kashmiri brothers in occupied Jammu and Kashmir who are victims of Indian oppression," Khan said in a statement ahead of the trip, adding that he assured the people of Kashmir support from Pakistan.

Khan visited the area a day after Islamabad called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss New Delhi's actions in India-administered Kashmir, which revoked the region's status as an autonomous state.

Read more: Pakistan asks UN Security Council to meet over Kashmir

The state is divided by the Line of Control (LoC) into zones governed by India and Pakistan, although both countries claim Kashmir for themselves.

Defense trumps basic needs

Pakistanis are emotionally attached to Kashmir, which has been the reason for three wars between New Delhi and Islamabad, but critics believe the issue has hampered Pakistan's development. Pakistan has the 17th strongest military in the world and more than 100 nuclear arsenals, but out of 189 countries, it ranks 150 in human development.

A recent government report revealed that more than 50% of families could not afford two meals a day. Four out of every ten children suffered chronic malnutrition and a similar number of children under the age of five were stunted.

Critics believe that the issue of Kashmir has forced Pakistan to spend a huge part of its budget on defense, leaving little for health, education and other basic amenities. According to analyst Zia Uddin, the issue of Kashmir has prompted the ruling elite to follow imprudent policies that proved to be catastrophic for the economy."

Read more: India's foreign minister visits China amid Kashmir crisis

In 1948, our economy was very weak but we sent tribal warriors into Kashmir," he told DW about Pakistan's attempt to send Pathan leaders to annex Kashmir, a former kingdom that had ceded to India.

"The economy improved in the 1960s, but the 1965 war with India affected it badly. During the 1990s, we got involved in Kargil, carried out nuclear detonations and imposed martial law," Zia Uddin added, explaining that Pakistan's actions caused it to become the second-most sanctioned country after Libya.

"Most of the policies stemmed from our security doctrine that views everything through the prism of India and Kashmir," he said.

Regional threats

Other experts like Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a Karachi-based analyst, believe that the issue of Kashmir has militarized all of Pakistan's society.

"In the modern world, you cannot progress without democracy, but the army is using this [the Kashmir] issue to strengthen itself, undermining democracy and creating proxies which have offended three neighbors in the region. This policy has boomeranged, leading to the creation of Pakistani Taliban, who killed over 40,000 Pakistanis besides causing a loss of over $200 billion," the analyst said, adding that the policy also created differences within Pakistani society.

Read more: Cut-off Kashmir resorts to primitive communication methods

However, experts like Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan believe that Pakistan is entitled to have a strong defense to deter neighbors like China and India, who are nuclear-armed states. But he also admits that the issue of Kashmir has hampered Pakistan's and the entire region's development.

"Once the issue of Kashmir is resolved, all of South Asia could move towards the formation of a regional bloc on the pattern of the EU, which could herald an era of progress and prosperity, but until then, the Kashmir issue cannot be ignored."

New Delhi flexes its muscles

Meanwhile, India is preparing to celebrate Independence Day on August 15, a day after Pakistan. Nearly two weeks ago, the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. The region was divided into the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, which will be directly administered by New Delhi.

In a rare interview ahead of Independence Day celebrations, Modi told the IANS news agency that the re-election of his political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had given his government the push to pursue its agenda.

"What we were able to achieve in the first 75 days was the outcome of the robust base we were able to build in the last 5 years. Hundreds of reforms in the last 5 years have ensured the country is now ready to take off, powered by the aspirations of the people. The push has come not just from the executive but from the muscle in parliament," he said.

A threat to minorities

Activists like Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, felt that Modi's actions would further marginalize Muslims living in India. "What is worrying is, this move could mark the government's larger game plan to implement its Hindu nation-building agenda and snuff out voices of dissent and opposition," she told DW, adding, "The game plan is to erase differences, dissent and the rights of minorities."

Krishnan was also part of a fact-finding team that went to Kashmir to witness the hardships suffered by Kashmiris during the government's clampdown on communication and free movement.

Similarly, Harsh Mander, a former bureaucrat and now an activist working with survivors of mass violence, said he believed the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir was a part of several such steps taken by the center to alienate Muslims.

"I think, war has been declared against Indian Muslims in many different ways. What is happening with the National Register of Citizens in Assam is the beginning and spreading it to the rest of the country is going to follow," Mander told DW.

"It is, I think, calm before a prolonged war by many means to fulfill the RSS agenda, which is to reduce Muslims to a sense of fear and second class citizens," he said, referring to the BJP's ideological wing, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

For Kashmir's own good?

Kashmir would continue to be a focal point for India in the coming months and years, a former diplomat and ambassador to Pakistan, G Parthasarathy told DW. However, with some "good governance" that has been promised by New Delhi, the state could witness a change.

Parthasarathy added that there could be a higher risk of conflict with Pakistan, "but nothing that should give the government sleepless nights. Pakistan will continue to be a thorn in India's side but then we will also have to see how the geopolitics of the region shapes up and how the US, China and Russia will play their cards."

However, for Happymon Jacob, a professor in international relations, the BJP's radical steps in Kashmir would not resolve the Kashmir issue any time soon.

"While the BJP will politically benefit from this bold move, one will have to wait and see whether it will be able to implement its twin decisions to scrap Article 370 and undo Jammu and Kashmir's statehood without acrimony, bloodshed and further alienation within the Kashmir Valley."

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