Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Rajya Sabha
Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Monday, Aug 5, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Srinagar: The Indian government on Monday rushed through a presidential decree to scrap a special status for disputed Kashmir, hours after imposing a major security clampdown in the region.

Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament that the president had signed a decree abolishing Article 370 of the constitution giving special autonomy to the Muslim-majority Himalayan region.

The decree said the measure came into force "at once".

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947.

The home minister also announced the bifurcation of the state into two union territories.

J&K to be a union territory with legislature. Ladakh will also be a union territory without a legislature, reported Indian media.

New Delhi has said the sweeping clampdown, enforced by tens of thousands of military reinforcements, was needed because of the "prevailing law and order situation".

But politicians said Modi could be about to change the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir and has ordered the measure over fears of unrest in the Muslim-majority territory, which is also claimed by Pakistan.

All phones, internet services and cable networks were snapped at midnight in the restive Himalayan region of more than seven million people following days of soaring tensions.

Only residents with a "curfew pass" were allowed on the streets.

NDTV, one of the rare broadcasters able to transmit from the main city Srinagar, showed empty streets dominated by security forces.

Ahead of the clampdown, India ordered thousands of tourists out of Kashmir saying there was a threat of militant attacks by Pakistan-backed groups.

Islamabad has denied the claim and in turn accused Modi of seeking to overturn the region's Muslim-majority by changing its status so more outsiders have the right to buy property and get jobs.

Thousands of paramilitary forces and riot police moved in around midnight, blocking roads with barbed wire and placing steel barricades across roads in several parts of Srinagar.

Scores of local politicians and two former chief ministers were placed under house arrest.

Kashmir has been in the grip of an insurgency for three decades which has left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians.

Modi's Hindu nationalist government has said that changes to the constitutionally guaranteed job and property privileges for Kashmiris were needed to end the conflict.

It put Kashmir under direct rule from New Delhi last year after Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party ended a coalition with a local party in the state assembly.

India and Pakistan have controlled most of Kashmir since their independence in 1947. Each claims the other's sector and they have fought two of three wars over the territory.

Nearly 80,000 paramilitary forces have been flown into Kashmir in past 10 days, already the world's most militarised region where India has roughly 500,000 troops.

The security measures have sparked panic among residents, who formed long queues outside petrol stations, food stores and cash machines.

India's illegal move will destroy regional peace: Imran Khan

Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday termed India's move to revoke Article 370 as "illegal" and one which would "destroy regional peace and security".

His reaction came after the Indian government earlier in the day decided to revoke Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir and split the state into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir with an Assembly and Ladakh without one.

The cricketer-turned-politician termed changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir as a "violation of UN resolutions".

"India's move will further deteriorate relations between nuclear-capable neighbours," he said.

Pakistan rejects India's Kashmir order

Pakistan's foreign ministry has rejected India's revocation of a special status for the portion of disputed Kashmir that it controls.

The ministry said in a statement Monday that under UN Security Council resolutions India cannot change the status of Kashmir, which is claimed by both countries.

It said the people of Pakistan and Kashmir will not accept the Indian action, and that Pakistan will "exercise all possible options" to block it.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a Pakistani TV station Monday from Saudi Arabia, that Pakistan would step up diplomatic efforts to prevent the revocation made by presidential order from coming into effect.

On Monday, India scrapped a constitutional provision that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir its own constitution and broad decision-making rights.

I condemn the house arrests: Senior Congress leader

Senior Congress leader and former home minister P Chidambaram on Monday condemned the "house arrest" of leaders in Jammu and Kashmir and claimed it was a signal that the government would defy all democratic norms to achieve its objectives. Kashmir remained on edge as authorities stepped up security at vital installations and in sensitive areas, suspended mobile internet services and either "arrested" or "detained" several leaders in fast-paced developments on Sunday night.

Reacting to the developments, Chidambaram said he was keeping his fingers crossed and before the day was over it would be known if there would be a major crisis in the state.

"The house arrest of J&K leaders is a signal that the government will defy all democratic norms and principles to achieve its objects. I condemn the house arrests," he said in a series of tweets.

"I had warned of a misadventure in J&K. It seems the government is determined to embark upon one," he said.

Omar, Mehbooba under house arrest

190805 Kashmir
Indian soldiers stand guard in Srinagar, India, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti will not be allowed to move out of their houses as strict restrictions will be imposed in the Kashmir Valley from early Monday morning, police sources said.

“Government has imposed restrictions under section 144 CrPC in District Srinagar with effect from 1200 Hrs on 5th August 2019 which shall remain in force till further orders,” an official statement said.

“As per the order, there shall be no movement of public and all educational institutions shall also remain closed. There will be a complete bar on holding any kind of public meetings or rallies during the period of operation of this order. Identity cards of essential services officials will be treated as movement passes wherever required.

“However, there is no curfew in place as reported in a section of media.”

Political leaders like Congress’ Usman Majid and Communist Party of India-Marxist MLA M.Y. Tarigami said that they have been arrested, while police sources said that former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti will be under house arrest.

Heavy deployments of local police, along with contingents of paramilitary forces, will fan out so that they are in place when the loudspeaker-mounted police vehicles make the announcement.

All universities in the Valley have ordered cancellation of class work and exams scheduled on Monday without announcing any future dates.

Mobile internet facilities have been suspended across the state and sources said mobile phone calls are likely to be cut soon, to prevent anti-social elements from spreading rumours.

All police stations, district and sector magistrates deputed on law and order duties have been provided satellite phones to maintain official communications.

Service provider BSNL is offering satellite phones to media persons at Rs100,000 a piece to file stories from the Valley.

All available indications suggest the locals have already stocked enough rations, medicines and other essentials to survive any eventuality.

All top officers of state police, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies are supervising the situation to ensure that there is no major law and order problem if any major decision is announced in New Delhi that would alter the constitutional relationship of the state with the rest of the country.

Meanwhile, District Magistrates across the Valley, worried about the uncontrolled rush of buyers at petrol pumps, on Sunday imposed restrictions on sales.

Indian Ambassador in the UAE Navdeep Singh Suri comments on the move:

"The government has taken a long overdue step to bring the people of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian mainstream. Over the years, Article 370 has been a major hurdle in efforts to bring progress and prosperity to the state. The Central Government has provided Rs 2,77,000 crores ($40 billion) in grants to a state that accounts for barely one per cent of the country's population, only to see the development of vested interests that have created the separatist culture. Article 370 was always intended as a temporary provision and the changes introduced today are in pursuance of the government's declared commitment to better governance and social justice for all citizens of India."