Kashmir is a Muslim-majority territory that sits high in the Himalayan mountains on the dividing line between India and Pakistan. For 72 years- ever since those two nations became independent-it has been a source of conflict between them.
India and Pakistan both claim Kashmir, with a population of about 12.5 million people, and both control parts of it. The two nuclear-armed nations have even fought two wars over the dispute. Former president Bill Clinton once called Kashmir "the most dangerous place in the world." Still, for decades an uneasy stalemate has prevailed, broken by occasional military incursions, terrorist attacks, and police clampdowns.
But that fragile situation shattered in August, when India sent troops into the portion of Kashmir that it controls. As part of the crackdown, the Indian government shut down internet and phone service, leaving millions of Kashmiris almost completely cut off from the outside world.
In Srinagar, the region's largest city, soldiers hunkered down behind checkpoints. People glanced furtively out their windows, afraid to step outside their homes. Protests erupted and repeatedly descended into violence. The crackdown has raised tensions between India and Pakistan and shocked the international community.
"You have two nuclear powers who've fought four wars, and two of them have been over Kashmir," says Anubhav Gupta, an India expert at the Asia Society in New York. "People are concerned that if there's any sort of military confrontation again, that's very dangerous."
Unrest in Kashmir dates back to the chaos that accompanied the 1947 partition of British India. At that time, the British agreed to divide their former colony into two countries: Pakistan, with a Muslim majority, and India, with a Hindu majority. Kashmir, which was ruled by a Hindu prince but had a majority-Muslim population, chose to remain independent. But shortly after independence, Pakistani militants invaded Kashmir, which prompted the Kashmiri prince to seek help from India. That led to a federation with India, which designated Kashmir an autonomous territory.
India controls about two-thirds of Kashmir and Pakistan the other third. But Pakistan has a long history of covertly backing militant groups inside the Indian-administered areas of Kashmir, and that support has helped keep alive a small militant movement that opposes Indian rule.
India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, is a Hindu nationalist who campaigned on promises to integrate Kashmir into the rest of...