India’s Lower House Expected to Ratify Bill to Split Kashmir

NEW DELHI (AP) -
An Indian soldier on patrol in Jammu, India, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Channi Anand)

India’s lower house of Parliament was set to ratify a bill Tuesday that would downgrade the governance of India-administered, Muslim-majority Kashmir amid an indefinite security lockdown in the disputed Himalayan region.

The Hindu nationalist-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi moved the “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill” for a vote by the Lok Sahba a day after the measure was introduced alongside a presidential order dissolving a constitutional provision that gave Kashmiris exclusive, hereditary rights.

The situation in Kashmir was unclear after the government shut off most means of communication with the outside world, including internet, cellphone and landline networks. The government deployed thousands of troops to the restive Himalayan region amid fears its actions could spark uprisings.

The ANI news agency showed armed soldiers in camouflage and other security personnel standing near barricades of barbed wire in the otherwise empty streets of Srinagar, Kashmir’s main city.

The lower house is expected to easily ratify the bill, downgrading Kashmir from a state to a union territory with a legislature, and carving out Buddhist-majority Ladakh, a pristine, sparsely populated area that stretches from the Siachen Glacier to the Himalayas, as its own union territory without a legislature.

Parliament’s upper house approved the bill with a two-thirds majority, with many opposition lawmakers voting with the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Residents in Ladakh, many of whom had been asking for union territory status, also reported intermittent communication blocks.

Tensions also have soared along the Line of Control, the volatile, highly militarized frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, who both claim the region in its entirety.

Pakistani protesters express solidarity with the Kashmiri people’s struggle for their right to self-determination, in Karachi on Monday. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Pakistan President Arif Alvi convened Parliament in Islamabad to discuss India’s surprise measure on Kashmir after Pakistan’s foreign minister denounced it and appealed to the United Nations in a letter Monday to send a fact-finding mission.

Both houses of Pakistan’s Parliament were expected to unanimously adopt a resolution later Tuesday to reject the revocation of Indian-controlled Kashmir’s special status despite objections from opposition lawmakers that the resolution had not originally appeared on the agenda, forcing the speaker to briefly adjourn the meeting.

Also Tuesday, Pakistan’s top military commanders were meeting in the garrison city of Rawalpindi to discuss the change in Kashmir.

Pakistani troops, navy and air force were on high alert following reports that New Delhi was continuing to dispatch additional troops to the region.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties “to exercise restraint,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday.

“We are following with concern the tense situation in the region,” Dujarric said. “We’re also aware of reports of restrictions on the Indian side of Kashmir, and we urge all parties to exercise restraint.”