To judge how radical Mr. Modi´s decision to deprive Kashmir of its autonomy really is in a historic context, consider these words from 1952 by India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru:
Kashmir is not the property of India or Pakistan, (it) belongs to the Kashmiri people. When Kashmir acceded to India, we made it clear to the leaders of the Kashmiri people that we would ultimately abide by the verdict of their plebiscite. If they tell us to walk out, I would have no hesitation in quitting Kashmir. We have taken the issue to the United Nations and given our word of honor for a peaceful solution. As a great nation, we cannot go back on it.
Mr. Nehru had been a leading activist for India’s independence from the British. As the historian of South Asia William Dalrymple has noted, Mr. Modi has indeed moved his country very far away from the vision of a pluralistic, democratic nation state once envisioned by the modern country’s founding fathers.
Playing with fire
Mr. Modi, for his part, signaled that he knew that he was playing with fire in what former U.S. president Bill Clinton once dubbed “the most dangerous place in the world.”
Indian polls meanwhile have shown that as many as two-thirds of the residents of the Kashmir valley, one of the world’s most militarized regions, want independence.
Modi anticipated that his move would be rejected by India’s Muslim community, which was already on the defensive as a result of Hindu nationalist assaults.
Mr. Modi thus sent ten thousand troops to Kashmir in advance of the revocation, detained scores of political leaders, ordered tourists to leave the region, closed schools and shut down telephone lines and the Internet.
To be sure, the timing of Mr. Modi’s move was likely propelled by Mr. Trump’s recent offer to mediate the Kashmir dispute which India rejected out of hand.
The Indian government was also displeased with U.S. negotiations with the Taliban that could lead to a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and potentially to a Taliban takeover. Both developments would strengthen India’s arch-rival Pakistan.
To head that off, Mr. Modi has redefined Mr. Nehru’s notion of greatness by framing it in terms of Hindu rather than Indian nationalism. This approach allows him to go back on the promises and legal, political and moral commitments of his predecessors.
Modi is just one of the leaders who define the borders of their countries in terms of historical claims. They aim at the representation of their “civilization,” broadly defined, rather than a nation whose frontiers are determined by internationally recognized demarcation, population and language.
This “civilizational” stance explicitly means the rejection of the rights of others.
Modi is, for example, in line with Mr. Netanyahu, even though Israel’s annexation of Arab territory conquered during the 1967 Middle East war was enacted by his predecessors.
Emboldened by Trump and Xi
Mr. Trump may have emboldened Mr. Modi. After all, the current U.S. President set a precedent for the violation of international law by recognizing Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem conquered from Jordan and the Golan Heights captured from Syria as well as de facto endorsing Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank.
Most likely, so did Chinese president Xi Jinping, who has been able to ensure that the Muslim world has remained silent, and in some cases even endorsed his brutal clampdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang in what constitutes the most frontal assault on a faith in recent memory.
In dealing with recent conflicts, Mr. Trump, Israeli and Indian prime ministers Benyamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi have made it plain that they are ready to cast aside diplomacy and the notion of a nation state, as the world has known it since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia.
These leaders also stand united in their readiness to ignore national, ethnic, minority, religious and human rights.
A new world order
For now, these leaders may feel a high moment in putting flesh on the skeleton of a new world order that enables them to violate international law with impunity.
Mr. Modi, for example, claimed that he was just fulfilling a longstanding election promise, the unilateral withdrawal of Kashmir’s right to govern itself.
Such expansive moves – whether in Kashmir, Xinjiang or Israeli-occupied territories – risk in the short and/or longer term sparking violent conflict, including a confrontation between nuclear powers India and Pakistan and mass popular unrest.
Modi´s decision to deprive Kashmir of its autonomy is opposed by India’s Muslim community -- already on the defensive as a result of Hindu nationalist assaults.
Modi is just one of the leaders who define the borders of their countries in terms of historical claims.
Modi, Netanyahu, Xi and Trump stand united in their disregard for international law.