Kashmir leader Omar Abdullah defends special status

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Media caption,

Omar Abdullah says that Article 370 is the link that binds the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India

The leader of Indian-administered Kashmir has denied making any threats to secede from India after a recent row over the state's special status.

The row erupted after a minister in the new government of PM Narendra Modi said there was a need to rethink Article 370 of the Indian constitution.

But Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told BBC Hindi that Article 370 was the only link Kashmir had with India.

The law gives Kashmiris the right to decide which Indian laws apply to them.

The special provision, included in the Indian constitution after the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India in October 1947 when the British left, also allows the state government to make its own laws and have its own separate constitution.

"Who am I to make a threat? I am only warning those people who are seeking to play with the provision of the constitution without understanding it fully," Mr Abdullah told BBC Hindi at his sprawling official residence in Jammu, the state's winter capital.

"What is the other link [except Article 370] between Jammu-Kashmir and India?" he asked.

The controversy erupted last week after a junior minister in the prime minister's office, Jitendra Singh, said "the consultation process had begun to repeal Article 370".

Mr Abdullah reacted sharply and tweeted: "Mark my words and save this tweet - long after Modi government is a distant memory, either Jammu and Kashmir won't be part of India or Article 370 will still exist."

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Kashmir is India's only Muslim majority state

His comment prompted some to say that Mr Abdullah was threatening to secede from India.

Repealing Article 370 has been one of the core demands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won a massive mandate in the recent parliamentary elections, and its ideological fountainhead, the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The region is often described as a nuclear flashpoint between India and Pakistan and separatist organisations have been demanding independence for the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley from India.

India accuses Pakistan of waging a proxy war through Islamist militants in Kashmir in which tens of thousands have died since the late 1980s.

There is a growing apprehension in the Indian government that violence in the valley might escalate after Nato combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, allowing the Taliban and other Islamists to shift their focus to Kashmir.

Syed Salahuddin, chairman of the United Jihad Council - an umbrella body of different militant organisations - has already warned that Indian targets in Kashmir could be attacked after international forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

But Mr Abdullah is sceptical about the claim that Nato's presence in Afghanistan has helped contain violence in the valley.

"The presence of Nato forces in Afghanistan may have contributed [to a decrease in the violence in Kashmir] but it's not the overriding factor. The withdrawal of Nato forces will not also lead to reversal of the situation to the early 1990s when militancy was at its peak," Mr Abdullah said.