Nearly two decades ago, President Bill Clinton called Jammu and Kashmir “the most dangerous place in the world.” Now the disputed Himalayan territory, claimed by both India and Pakistan, is again under a global spotlight. The reason: India’s sudden voiding earlier this month of a constitutional provision that gave the country’s only Muslim-majority province a measure of autonomy from New Delhi, and the bifurcation of the state into two separate federally administered territories.
India’s actions have clear regional ramifications. By tightening its grip on Kashmir, New Delhi has embarrassed and angered Pakistan, whose powerful army has long sought to wrest the territory from India’s grip. An India-Pakistan war could involve China, and possibly draw in the United States as well. It would also complicate President Donald Trump’s plan to draw down American troops from Afghanistan ahead of his reelection bid next year. But though these fears are plausible, they are also overblown. Simply put, a weakened Pakistan lacks the capacity to effect the change it seeks.
In the long term, the domestic implications of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions for India’s 1.3 billion people may prove more significant. Should the supreme court allow the government’s decision to stand, as appears likely, it will suggest that institutional checks on government power are weaker than many people assume. The ease with which the government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood—over two days, by simple majorities in both houses of Parliament—also raises questions about the robustness of Indian federalism.