Stripped of its autonomy, Kashmir continues to be disputed by Beijing and Delhi

India has decided to remake the region by splitting it into two areas: Muslim-Hindu Jammu-Kashmir, and Buddhist Ladakh. China’s Foreign Ministry has criticised Delhi's decision for undermining “China’s territorial sovereignty”, a step deemed “unacceptable” by Beijing.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Tensions between India and China have increased following the decision by the government of Narendra Modi to cancel the autonomy of the Jammu-Kashmir region. Both countries claim parts of the Himalayan territory.

Three days ago, the Indian government decided to change the status of the autonomous region to that of a Union territory, under the direct control of New Delhi. This means stripping Jammu-Kashmir of certain privileges – like its own constitution, flag, laws, land rights – and opens it up to a possible "Indian" and "Hindu" invasion that could alter its demographic and religious composition.

Jammu-Kashmir is the only region of India with a Muslim majority (about 70 per cent). Now, immigration from the rest of India could change the balance between Muslims and Hindus.

In addition to cancelling the region’s special autonomy, the Modi government decided to split the area into two Union territories: Jammu-Kashmir, with Muslims and Hindus (about 12.3 million), and Ladakh, home to less than 300,000 Buddhists.

According to analysts, Modi's move is designed to curb China's influence in the region. As part of its New Silk Road plan, Beijing plans a communication route linking China to Pakistan, which runs right through Kashmir.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, criticised Delhi’s decision because it undermines “China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law. Such practice is unacceptable”.

For years, China has claimed parts of Kashmir and the Himalayas, on the border with Xinjiang and Tibet, and its troops have often clashed with the Indian army.

In recent years, Beijing has pursued a soft power policy, through loans and donations to Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh, to win influence.

Reacting to Chinese criticism, India’s Foreign Ministry yesterday said that issues related to Ladakh and Kashmir are an internal matter.

In Ladakh, the local population seems happy to leave Kashmir’s shadow, hoping that tourism can flourish in its territory. Traditional farming remains the main staple of the local economy.

In Jammu-Kashmir, local Christians, both Protestants and Catholics, are subject to India’s military rule. In recent years they have also become victims of Islamic extremists favourable to Kashmir independence. (B.C.)