Strategic Engineered Migration in the Indian-Occupied Kashmir

Instrumental manipulation of movements of self-determination is neither an unusual nor a new phenomenon. Rather, states and non-state actors have carried out weaponisation of migration through two ways: migratory events, opportunistic exploitation and strategic engineered migration. Strategic engineered migration is becoming a viable weapon in the arsenal of occupant powers. It is incessantly growing in currency despite the potential retributive and reputational costs of employing this unconventional strategic tool. Coined by Kelly M. Greenhill, strategic engineered migration is characterised by the migrations that are purposely induced by state or non-state actors, and employed to alter the demography of a land for military and political ends. Currently, the torments of this strategy can be seen in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s revocation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status, on August 5, 2019, set the foundational basis for strategic engineered migration in the IOK. As the revocation wrested autonomy from Jammu and Kashmir’s population, the government uplifted restrictions regarding land ownership and permanent residency in the region allowing non-Kashmiris to migrate and settle in the IOK.

There are two legal tools to carry out strategic engineered migration in the IOK: the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Reorganisation Act 2019 and Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Order 2020. The former reconstituted the state of J&K into two union territories (UTs)- Ladakh and Jammu, and Kashmir, and placed them under the direct national control of India. Whereas the latter seeks to grant domicile status in the IOK to non-indigenous peoples by setting new eligibility criteria.

Is incessantly growing in currency despite the potential retributive and reputational costs of employing this unconventional strategic tool.

Notably, clause 3A coupled with clause 5A of the J&K Reorganisation Order authorises alteration in the demographic outlook of the region. Clause 3A enables the Indian citizens who have resided in the Union territories for 15 years, have studied for seven years and appeared in the examination of class 10th and 12th, Indian official’s children, and children of residents of J&K residing outside the valley and fulfilling any of the conditions to acquire the J&K’s domicile. Additionally, clause 5A permits domiciles access the right of employment. India is strategically inducing migration into the IOK by granting domiciles and permanent residencies to non-Kashmiris in order to change the demographic structure of the region.

The Indian government’s engineering of bureaucracy in the IOK is another step toward structural changes. It induces changes in the region’s composition of civil services to facilitate strategic engineered migration by strengthening unrelated/non-local bureaucratic officers’ control over the area. On January 7, 2021, the President of India promulgated an ordinance titled J&K Reorganisation (Amendment) Ordinance which amended section 88, enabling the merger of the J&K cadre of All India Service Officers with Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre. This signifies that officers of AGMUT can now be posted in Ladakh and J&K and vice versa. This would play an indispensable role in achieving the ultimate aim of keeping the Kashmiri officers away from the J&K and allocating non-Kashmiri officers there.

As far as the political apparatus of the region is concerned, successive Indian governments have been creating and installing political parties and leaders. The corollary of this practice is demonstrated by the falsehood of District Democratic Councils (DDCs) in the IOK. In DDCs elections, BJP’s proxy candidates or a political party named Apni Party of Altaf Bukhari contested against the unlikely allies – Gupkar Alliance to invariably aid the interests of the Indian government and show allegiance to the new political realities created by it. As mentioned above, controlling J&K politics will be a colossal step to bring about strategic engineered migration.

India’s aims of strategic engineered migration can be categorised into political and military realms. Political motives include the complete integration of Kashmir – the only Muslim majority state of India into the Indian Union. Moreover, the Hindu nationalist BJP government seeks to alter the Muslim-majority demography of J&K by inducing the migration of non-Muslims there. These political goals complement the military ends of India that are to gain greater military control and substantial strategic advantage in the IOK against the arch-rival Pakistan. The changed political and demographic status of Kashmir resulting from India’s strategic engineered migration would help India achieve its key goal of greater control over geostrategically located Kashmir – a key source of water and electricity to the tens of millions of Indian people.

There are two legal tools to carry out strategic engineered migration in the IOK: the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Reorganisation Act 2019 and Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Order 2020.

Engineering a migration in a disputed territory to change the demographic outlook is a breach of international law. Article 49 of the Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying power to transfer its civilian population into such a territory. Besides, the Fourth Geneva Convention and Hague Regulations forbid the occupying state from the unlawful appropriation of property, which is considered a war crime under the International Criminal Courts’ Rome Statute. The international humanitarian law clearly proscribes settlements in such disputed and occupied territories. India’s strategic engineering of migration in the IOK through various legal, political and military means is a blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Hague Regulations and undoubtedly constitutes a war crime. Moreover, such heinous acts undermine the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions that explicitly recognise Kashmiris’ right to determine their future status.

The unfolding of strategic engineered migration engenders lethal repercussions, particularly for the local populace of the IOK. Some of these are dilution of the region’s religion and ethnic makeup, grave threat to the decades-long struggle for autonomy, politically motivated disenfranchisement, and legitimization of destruction and disregard of Kashmiri history, freedom, life and culture. Other ramifications are disempowerment and alienation of Kashmiris from bureaucratic and political set-up and unemployment for the locals. Most importantly, it would reinforce India’s multi-layered efforts to diminish the self-governance of Kashmir.

Given the unprecedented existential crisis facing Kashmiris in the wake of these alterations, the international community must take concrete steps to reverse the forced demographic change. The United Nations (UN) must establish an independent commission of inquiry to probe systematic demographic change through strategic engineered migration. The inquiry’s mandate should be establishing and analysing facts and identifying perpetrators of such gross crimes with a goal of ensuring accountability. Member states can also take unilateral measures such as expressing concerns through individual or public statements. They can also impose targeted sanctions which include freezing of assets and travel bans on Indian entities and officials responsible for the continued commission of the egregious violation of international law. Furthermore, academia and civil society should also play their respective role in bringing the grave issue to the limelight. This will play a vital role in urging public officials and policymakers to take a firm stance against India’s illegal and forced demographic change through the weaponisation of migration in the disputed territory.

Safia Mansoor

The author is a graduate in International Relations from Kinnaird College Lahore.

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