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Trump — and the world — can only ignore India's oppression of Kashmir for so long

Kashmir is a percolating consequence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, much like Trump, tears at the fabric of democracy, pluralism and security.
Security personnel stand guard on a deserted road during a lockdown in Srinagar on Aug. 15, 2019.Sajjad Hussain / AFP - Getty Images

This week began with Eid, one of the holiest days of the year for Muslims, traditionally celebrated as most religious holidays are: by connecting with family and breaking bread together. For Kashmiris, however, celebration this year was near-impossible — logistically and emotionally. For those living within Kashmir, a curfew enforced by Indian troops has restricted movement to the point that some Kashmiris are reportedly unable to access medical care. For the Kashmiri diaspora, the communications blackout, again instituted by India, means they cannot connect with family back home over the holiday, let alone check to see if loved ones are safe.

If allyship is defined by ideological overlap and shared goals between leaders, then India is indeed a suitable ally — for a country led by President Donald Trump.

India is frequently trotted out by the West as “the world’s largest democracy,” a capitalist success story and a good ally for Americans. If allyship is defined by ideological overlap and shared goals between leaders, then India is indeed a suitable ally — for a country led by President Donald Trump. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump have used populist messaging and the targeting of minorities (often Muslims) to pervert democracy and promote a dangerous brand of majoritarianism. The events in Kashmir over the past several days could not better exemplify this pattern.

Moral obligations aside, this occupation is not in the world’s interests. International ramifications range from the alarming and obvious to the complex and intractable. Pakistan and India have already gone to war multiple times over Kashmir and both countries are amongst only six in the world to be armed with nuclear weapons. There are less obvious potential complications, too, such as Pakistan redeploying its troops from the Afghan border to Kashmir, thereby endangering precarious peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, which, if successful, would allow remaining American troops to return home.

And as we know all too well, the unintended consequences of oppression can have tragic ripple effects. Recent events in Kashmir are fodder for jihadists in Pakistan. Further, insurgent militancy in Kashmir can spill over not just to the rest of India but beyond its borders and set off a vicious circle of communal violence.

Kashmir first captured international attention on Aug. 5 after the Indian government sent thousands of troops, instituted a total communications blackout — from phone lines to internet to TV — imprisoned Kashmiri politicians, introduced curfews and, crucially, revoked Article 370. Since the inception of India and Pakistan, the disputed territory of Kashmir has been occupied chiefly by the two countries (with a small portion controlled by China). Article 370 was a compromise for an Indian-controlled Kashmir, granting the region a “special status,” providing it with autonomy and its own constitution. The Indian government also revoked an important provision that allowed only Kashmiris to own land there and privileged them in local employment opportunities.

India’s stripping Kashmir of this special status wiped away a 72-year precedent. As troubling is the manner in which this was done. Indian law says such a move requires the assent of Kashmir’s state legislature. In order to get around this, the Indian government dissolved the legislature and an emergency federal rule was imposed on Kashmir. According to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), this allowed Modi to unilaterally change the law; however, not everyone agrees.

Many outside the region have been surprised by this seemingly sudden hawkishness. But it is not surprising. In fact, it is perfectly in keeping with Modi and his party, the BJP, who champion chauvinistic Hindu nationalism. The BJP views India’s more than 200 million Muslims as second-class citizens at best, and major encumbrances to a pure, Hindu nation at worst. In June, a leader of the BJP’s women’s wing faced backlash after her Facebook post about Muslims, saying “There is only one solution for them”: for Hindu men to publicly gang rape Muslim women and then hang them. Also, recall that before he became prime minister, Modi was denied a visa to the U.S. for his inaction during anti-Muslim riots in his home state, Gujarat, when he was chief minister.

Many outside the region have been surprised by this seemingly sudden hawkishness. But it is not surprising.

Moreover, the way in which the actions against Kashmir were undertaken exacerbates the anguish of progressive Indians who worry the very idea of India as conceived by its founding fathers — as a secular, inclusive, democratic society — is in serious danger.

BJP politician Vikram Saini implored party members to go and marry “Kashmiri girls.” His statement echoed the flurry of social media excitement among many male party supporters who shared similar sentiments regarding BJP men marrying Kashmiri Muslim women. “It’s deeply sexist,” Rituparna Chatterjee, an Indian journalist who manages the @indiametoo Twitter account, told Reuters. “Women’s bodies have been battlegrounds for men for centuries. The latest comments on Kashmiri women are only testimony to this fact.”

Concerns about ethnic cleansing in Muslim-majority Kashmir extend beyond chauvinistic calls for BJP party members to procreate with Kashmiris. Activists and advocates over the past week fear the abrogation of laws preserving Kashmiri autonomy opens the door for Hindu settlements.

Recent events in Kashmir are already having a deeply destabilizing effect, pitting Pakistanis and Kashmiris against Indians. Kashmir, historically divided or ambivalent about its relationship with India, is not likely to embrace a state which has transformed it into something close to an open-air prison. This means that Kashmiris who don’t want to leave their homes and join Pakistan but also don’t want to stay and be subjugated by India will have few options other than to resist the occupation. Doubling down on India’s unprecedented actions in Kashmir, Modi used his Indian Independence Day address on Thursday as an opportunity to claim "'one nation, one constitution' has become a reality."

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It would be a mistake to look at what’s happening in Kashmir as a sad story in a vacuum. Kashmir is a percolating consequence of Modi, who, much like Trump, tears at the fabric of democracy, pluralism and security. The very social and political forces that have created this crisis — misogyny, proto-fascism and jingoism, to name a few — are of the same breed as those that threaten liberal democracy in regions around the world. By turning a blind eye to Kashmir, we get one step closer to a world where these forces prevail and decency is quashed.

CORRECTION (Aug. 21, 2019, 03:20 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the number of countries that possess nuclear weapons. Nine countries have nuclear weapons, not six.