Constructing the Molotov Cocktail: Nationalism and Kashmir (dec. 2014)

12/4/2014 – International Relations @ Northeastern University
 Aaj woh Kashmir hai Mehkoom-o-Majboor-o-Faqir
Kal jise Ahl-e-Nazar kehte thay Iran-e-Sagheer
Today is a Kashmir subordinate, obligated, beggared
Which yesterday the wise called Little Iran
– Allama Iqbal

At first glance, South Asia since its inception may seem like a behemoth with realist tenets where there are meant to be tendrils. Pakistan and India’s enduring rivalry is one that seems to be perpetuating an endless struggle for domination – not regional domination, at least on Pakistan’s part. It is a quest to “one-up” the other and glean victories in small doses, if the slews of wars within the first 45 years after India and Pakistan’s independence are any indication. The four wars (1947, 1965, 1971, 1999) officially fought by the two countries do not include crossfires and standoffs. Most of these wars have been over Kashmir – with the exception of the War of ’71, which resulted in the independence of Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan. One could even point out that the Nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan (1974-1998) is the perfect example of realism in the Nuclear age – but this would undermine the very tenets upon which the two countries were created, and upon which they still function and create foreign policy to this day. As the prime catalyst for conflict between the two nations, Kashmir is the perfect case study to assess the applicability of international relations theory. My hypothesis, and what I will be attempting to prove through this essay, is that constructivism is the most closely applicable theory to the conflict over Kashmir. It should be noted that for the purposes of this essay, any references to Kashmir includes the territories of Jammu & Kashmir, Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as Aksai-Chin, with distinctions made when needed.

According to Kegley, constructivism is “a paradigm based on the premise that world politics is a function of the ways that states construct and then accept images of reality” (Kegley 35). He goes on to describe the social context inherent in international relations, and how ideas and perception of images define the identity of states and actors – this combination of influences “[imparts] meaning to material capabilities and behavior” (36). If we transpose this understanding of constructivism to nationalism and self-determination, we find that the nation is derived out of a schematic reasoning created as a response to external actors – often out of a sense of feeling marginalized. In a book by Arvin Bahl called From Jinnah to Jihad: Pakistan’s Kashmir Quest, the author states “[…] nationalism is the creation of a nation, rather than the awakening of some sort of natural community that already exists” (Bahl 17). Nationalism, in my opinion, is the perfect case upon which to apply the constructivist argument.

To understand how nationalism fits into the Kashmir conflict, we must look at the conception of Pakistan and India. Modern Hindu nationalism “emerged in the nineteenth century as an ideological reaction to European dominance […]” (Jaffrelot 6) and was proliferated as an alternative to mainstream congressional acceptance of Gandhi’s espousal of non-violence against the British; it also rejected the universal nature of Gandhi’s “communalist” nationalism. Instead, Hindutva as it would soon be known as mirrored much European nationalism, given its slogan of Hindu, Hindi, Hindustan (Jaffrelot 5). Despite this religious overtone, Hindutva is considered to be a birthright based not on religion, but based on nativity – that is to say, the consideration of how long the Vedic people have inhabited the land of Hindustan (15). Moreover, Hindutva was the brainchild of a man deeply opposed to Islam and the threat pan-Islamism posed to Hinduism, despite being a minority (16) – and the hostility inherent in Hindutva precipitated the enduring rivalry between Muslims and Hindus that we see even today in the subcontinent. It is not hard to see how Hindutva would become closely intertwined with what it means to be Indian and therefore give birth to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – the largest political party in India and one with a conservative, Hindutva political identity to boot.

With this in mind, we can revisit the rise of Muslim nationalism in India that led to the conception of Pakistan: the two-state solution. According to Bahl, “Pakistan fits the notion of an imagined community better than any other country in the world” (Bahl 17) – its sense of nationhood stemmed, as Hindutva did, out of a perceived threat. In the eyes of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the Muslims of the subcontinent could not live peacefully in a country where Hindus outnumbered them, as they would be permanently oppressed (17). Thus, nationalism based on Islam rather than ethnicity or other micro-identifiers formed Jinnah’s platform for partition. Given the considerable diversity of Pakistan, where entire provinces are demarcated along ethnic lines (Balochistan, Punjab, the Pashtoons of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, Sindh) imposing nationhood on preexisting nations only served to weaken the already shaky foundation upon which Pakistan was created. Not only that, but it preempted the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India by rendering the slate of historic coexistence moot and replacing it with a – relatively – artificial religious hostility (17). According to Behera, “Pakistan has remained suspended between the ambiguity of the call for a Muslim homeland […] and the varying expectations of the majority of the religious establishment and populace for an Islamic state” (237).

And so, we arrive at the issue of Kashmir. When the princely states were told to choose their fate, Jammu & Kashmir was the entity that would either validate or invalidate each new country’s ideological platform. Hindutva, for all its sway, was not the normative raison d’être of India – instead it was founded on secular nationalism. If Muslim-majority Kashmir were to accede to India, it would be validation of India’s secularism. However, if Muslim-majority Kashmir were to accede to Pakistan instead, it would legitimize the two-nation theory underpinning Pakistan’s Muslim nationalism. Even today, in 2014, after the promise plebiscite that was never put into practice, Kashmir is considered the litmus test for both nations’ legitimacy. What with all the rallying cries for Pakistani and Indian voices, whether secular or religious, Behera laments that “not one of these groups has yielded critical space to Kashmiri voices” (239).

This is what has crafted Kashmir’s own confused nationalism. If the issue was one steeped in Realism, then Pakistan – as a rational actor – would have given up the fight for Kashmir a long time ago, recognizing its comparative weakness. Instead, it is an emotional quest to validate Pakistan’s very identity through the absorption of Kashmir (Marova 16). Kashmir is, then, left to fend for itself and construct an identity out of its complex relationship with both India and Pakistan. It has often had identities presented to it, ripe for picking – “the Kashmiri identity espoused by the National Conference and Islamic ideology, as promoted by the Jamaat-i-Islami” (Behera 46). The former was pro-India, the latter pro-Pakistan. It was only until 1990 that an independent Kashmiri identity came into fruition in opposition to India’s crackdown on perceived militancy in the Kashmir valley which came down to “If you are a Kashmiri, you are a Muslim, you are pro-Pakistani and you have to be dealt with accordingly” that showed a deep misunderstanding of the “vital distinction between militants, sympathizers of militants, and innocent civilians” (49). But even this rallying cry among Kashmiris does not apply universally – there is a non-Muslim minority that includes Hindus and Pandits, among other religious and ethnic groups, who may not necessarily share the same ambitions as their secessionist or pro-Pakistani Muslim fellow Kashmiris. This further colors the waters of Kashmiri identity a murkier shade.

Finally, to return to the crux of this essay, constructivism applies better to this entire conflict due to the irrationality of the foreign policy practiced by Pakistan. Returning to Bahl’s writing, we find that Kashmir is actually of very little strategic importance to Pakistan (22); its pursuit of Kashmir has only served to further intensify political turmoil within the country, and that in turn has led to its continued isolation from the international community (21); tensions over Kashmir have also led to Pakistan dedicating more of its GDP to defense as opposed to investing in core infrastructure, education, and other sectors of the economy that could use the boost (24). In comparison, India – with its much larger GDP and better-developed infrastructure – does not have as much to lose over its own pursuit of Kashmir. However, it is losing face among the international community particularly over its treatment of Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir. As discussed in previous papers for this class, India has been incredibly neglectful of its “charge” during its moment of need during the September floods of 2014, despite prior warnings about a flooding catastrophe. Furthermore, disproportionate crackdowns that include, “abuse and humiliation, widespread torture, rape, arbitrary detention [of youth suspected of militancy], and shootings by the security forces at public processions and in crowded market places…” among many other human rights offenses (Behera 48). Neither country is gaining enough to justify their respective pursuit of control over Kashmir.

It is, therefore, my conclusion that realism does not aptly explain the behavior of Pakistan and India towards each other over Kashmir. Instead, international relations theorists must realize that this is a multifaceted issue steeped in emotions and ideology – not rationalism and realpolitik beyond perhaps isolated events during wars, particularly the War of 1971. But even in that case, an argument can be made that West Pakistan only latched onto East Pakistan for so long out of a desire to legitimize its ideology of a nation-state based on religious unity; India’s victory upset this ideological platform, once again affirming the constructivist approach to this matter (Marova 22). In order to have a more thorough understanding of this conflict, one must recognize the nationalism that underlies and still spurs the conflict over Kashmir and between Pakistan and India, and how this will impact the image of these countries in the realm of international relations.

Works Cited

Bahl, Arvin. From Jinnah to Jihad: Pakistan’s Kashmir Quest and the Limits of Realism. New Delhi: Atlantic & Distributors, 2007. Print.

Behera, Navnita. Demystifying Kashmir. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2006.  Print.

Jaffrelot, Christophe, ed. Hindu Nationalism: A Reader. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2007. Print.

Kegley, Charles, and Shannon Blanton. World Politics: Trends And Transformation. 2014-2015 ed. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

Márová, Alena. “Pakistan As a Case For Social Constructivism.” Thesis. UNIVERZITA PALACKÉHO V OLOMOUCI, 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <;.

NOTE: I rediscovered this article while going through my google drive. Posting an essay from class is banal, I know, but it’ll be nice to have this at hand on my blog if my position or opinion ever changes. There’s a lot of things missing from this that I should’ve included in retrospect – the concept of Kashmiriyat, further elucidating on Hindutva, explaining Kashmir’s strategic relation to Pakistan more fully but I was working within a word limit unfortunately. Perhaps I can expand on this further next semester during my Ethnic Political Violence class.

Goodness, I miss writing research papers.

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