In recent history, the Kashmir region in South West Asia has been a subject of confrontations and wars between the nations of India and Pakistan. The two states claim the territory as theirs; a disagreement that has disintegrated in a war about three times. At the onset of India’s independence from Britain in 1947, the country had a large Hindu population, while the newly created dominion of Pakistan had a majority of Muslim population.
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As a semi-autonomous region, Kashmir citizens had the choice to join either of the two nations – India or Pakistan. The dilemma, however, arose from the fact that, although the leader of Kashmir was a Hindu, the general populace was mostly Muslim. Pakistan favored governing the territory because the population was largely Muslim such as that found within Pakistan (a Muslim state), while India desired to govern the territory Kashmir because the rulers were Hindu.
The Kashmir Region
The Kashmir region is geographically made up of beautiful valleys and green forests. Even in the midst of the conflict that has seen the two nations lay claim to its ownership, it has sufficed as a prime tourist destination. According to Taylor, despite the widely held belief that the Kashmir conflict is primarily a geo-political one, the undercurrents that spur the conflict are purely ethno-cultural (1991, p.305).
As stated earlier, Pakistan is largely a Muslim nation while India is mainly composed of Hindu populace. The ethno-religious views prevalent in both countries dictate that, to cede ground to the other would be tantamount to giving up on the particular religion.
For instance, Pakistan was granted the status of a dominion, separate from India, because its population was largely Muslim, distinct from the Hindu populace of India. Subsequently, for many Pakistanis, claiming Kashmir for their nation’s territory mirrors the very factor that granted them independence from India – religion. Therefore, to give up the claim for Kashmir would be tantamount to giving up Pakistan’s very own claim for independence.
As aforementioned, the two nations have fought about three wars over Kashmir – in 1947, 1965, and 1971, and in all these instances, Pakistan was decisively beaten. An insurgency covertly supported by Pakistan, in 1989, destabilized the region; nevertheless, there is still no definitive solution to the fate of the Kashmir region between the two states to this very day.
Conformity and the Kashmir Crisis
Conformity is the practice of changing one’s attitudes, beliefs, and practices in order to align with the prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and practices of one’s society. In India, the prevalent religion is Hindu, and the majority of the representatives in the Congress and the executive profess the Hindu faith.
All the prime ministers of India have been of Hindu faith. Conversely, Pakistan, as a Muslim nation, has had only Muslim Prime Ministers throughout its history. Therefore, unlike other western democracies which strive to separate the state from religion, in these two Asian democracies, state and religion, freely mix. Many political and economic decisions in both countries more often have religious origins.
As a result, the need for politicians to conform to the prevailing ethno-religious attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs in these two countries has played a role in escalating the Kashmir conflict. According to Tavares, the militants in Kashmir wage a battle against India in an effort to build a theocratic state in Kashmir (2008, p.280).
Despite the belief that the people of Kashmir should have a right to self determine, both India and Pakistan are unwilling to cede any ground, and the stubborn nature of all leaders involved indicates a proclivity towards societal conformity in the leaders, leading to a stalemate.
In India, a Prime Minister, for instance, willing to allow Kashmir to join Pakistan because the majority of the citizens in the region are Muslim would immediately lose influence, power, and political power. A loss in a subsequent election would not be surprising.
Therefore, as much as an Indian leader may want to solve the Kashmir conflict by ceding ground because Kashmir should rightly come under the Pakistani sovereignty, the need to conform to the prevailing national attitude would constrain him or her. Similarly, any Pakistani leader willing to let go of the Kashmir region perhaps because India, being the more powerful nation, should govern the Kashmir would easily fallout of favor with the electorate.
Therefore, the Kashmir conflict has continued, not that a solution to the conflict is unattainable, but because the political leaders of the two countries have to continuously conform to the prevailing politico-societal beliefs (Kumar 2002, p.11). As stated earlier, the undercurrents that fan the flame of the conflict are largely ethno-religious.
Social Perception and the Kashmir Conflict
Social perception is the gradual process through which people acquire beliefs and attitudes from the unique cultural experiences that prevail around them. The socialization experiences that encompass an individual create the basis on which the individual views the world.
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In India, many of the citizens confess and stand by to the Hindu faith. With the exception of the northern province of Punjab, where the majority practices the Sikh faith, much of Indians professes the Hindu faith. Therefore, the social perception of the average Indian man is heavily influenced by the cultural dictates of the Hindu faith.
As such, the social perception of Indians relies heavily on the dictates of the Hindu faith. Because many religions teach the uniqueness and superiority of the particular religion over all others, the social perception of Indians encourages a non-compromising stand on conflicts such as the Kashmir conflict.
The non-compromising stand stems from the fact that in dealing with Pakistanis and the majority of the people living in Kashmir, the Indians deal with persons of another faith – Islam. Since the social perception of an Indian includes the belief in the supreme nature of the Hindu religion compared to other faiths, to compromise would mean accepting the superiority of another religion, which would go against the average Indian’s social perception.
On the other hand, the social perception of the majority of Pakistanis and people living in Kashmir is heavily influenced by the Islamic faith. Similarly, the belief in Islam and the huge role it plays in the social perception of Pakistanis precludes the possibility of a conclusive peaceful solution to the Kashmir crisis; because, the Islamic faith that influences a Pakistani’s social perception also announces its superiority over other religions.
Therefore, as much as this fact may not be acknowledged, the Kashmir conflict is primarily a religious conflict influenced by the social perceptions of the citizens of these two countries (India and Pakistan), these social perceptions being based on religion. The interest that the Muslim terrorist group Al-Qaeda has on the conflict gives credence to this religious angle to the conflict.
The late Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, in 2002, warned the USA against supporting India in the Kashmir conflict. The interest that Al-Qaeda has on Kashmir stems from the terrorist organization’s belief in the creation of Islam based states – theocracies.
Social Cognition and the Kashmir Conflict
Social cognition is the process through which an individual processes information about the society around him or her and then uses this information in interacting with others and in individual decision-making.
In relation to the Kashmir conflict, social cognition determines the approach that the various leaders of the two nations use to try to resolve the conflict. In India, the successive Prime Ministers view the conflict from a Hindu religious angle, while the Pakistani leaders view it from a Muslim religious angle. All parties, therefore, view their own specific religions as the best, and endeavor to influence the other party to subscribe to their view – leading to a stalemate and thus a continuation of the crisis.
Change of Social Perceptions that may lead to Conflict Resolution in Kashmir
As stated earlier in this paper, the major factor that has led to a lack of resolution to the Kashmir conflict has been the social perception of the citizens and leaders of the nations of India and Pakistan.
Given that the social perceptions of the citizens and leaders of the two countries are steeped in religious dogma, the first social perception that will need to be addressed in order to resolve the Kashmir crisis is the social perception based on religion. Because both nations are democracies, the fate of the citizens of Kashmir should be determined by a referendum whose results should be accepted by all parties (Ganguly & Bajpai, 1994, p.401).
Since the social perceptions of leaders in both countries are biased, a free and fair democratic process offers the best possibility for a resolution to the conflict. The citizens of Kashmir will thus be allowed to vote, and determine whether they desire to enjoin India or Pakistan; with a third option of self-governance, such as the one granted to Bangladesh.
The second social perception that needs to be removed out of the equation in order to achieve a solution to the Kashmir conflict is the belief that ‘might is right’.
The leaders in both India and Pakistan perceive military might as the surest way of conquering the opponent. Ever since the conflict began at independence, both India and Pakistan have endeavored to create and maintain large armies and weaponry in order to be at an advantage incase of war. Currently, both countries are nuclear powers (Ganguly, 1990, p.60). The rush to store up arms incase of war or for defensive purposes only serves to heighten tensions between the two states.
In conclusion, even though the crisis over the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan has carried on for decades, it is not necessarily difficult to solve. As discussed in the paper, the crisis is primarily fuelled by biased social perceptions, social cognitions, and the unnecessary need to conform by the leaders and citizens of these two countries. Through elimination of the social perceptions that hinder peace, a solution to the Kashmir conflict is possible.
Ganguly, S. (1990). Avoiding war in Kashmir. Foreign Affairs, 69(5), 57-73.
Ganguly, S., & Bajpai, K. (1994). India and the crisis on Kashmir. Asian Survey, 34(5)
Kumar, R. (2002). Untying the Kashmir Knot. World Policy Journal, 19(1), 11-14.
Tavares, R. (2008). Resolving the Kashmir Conflict: Pakistan, India, Kashmiris, and Religious Militants. Asian Journal of Political Science, 16(3), 276-302.
Taylor, D. (1991). The Kashmir crisis. Asian Affairs, 22(3), 303-307.