PIC-Lab members Gautam Nair and Nicholas Sambanis conducted a study of ethnic and national identification in Kashmir, employing surveys and experiments to test the effectiveness of different conflict-mitigating strategies. Specifically, the study, which is forthcoming in the journal International Organization, explores the conditions that lead peripheral minorities to identify with the state, their ethnic group, or neighboring countries. India and Pakistan have fought several wars over territorial control of Kashmir, yet not much is known about the determinants of separatism and irredentism in that region. This paper  examines how violence exposure, psychological distance between Muslim Kashmiris and the Indian state, and India’s (inter)national status determine identification in the Kashmir Valley. The analysis uses data from a novel experiment that randomized videos of actual violence in a large, representative survey of the Kashmir Valley region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been the site of an ongoing insurgency since the late 1980s. The study finds that a strong regional identity is a counterweight to irredentism, but violent repression by the state can push members of the minority to identify with an irredentist neighbor. Violence increases perceived distance from the nation and reduces national identification. Thus, India’s efforts to win “hearts and minds” via development initiatives and investments in public goods in Kashmir are unlikely to work as long as violence sows mistrust and makes Kashmiris feel distant from the rest of India. There is suggestive evidence that the effects of violence exposure are concentrated among individuals with attributes that otherwise predict higher levels of identification with the state. This means that Indian state repression alienates those who are otherwise most likely to identify with the state, further deepening the chasm separating Kashmir from the rest of the country. The study shows that in the midst of an ongoing insurgency, an increase in national status brought about by economic growth and information about India’s efforts to build integrative institutions are insufficient to induce national identification.

The plot below reports Average Treatment Effects for our “violence exposure” treatment with respect to a survey question that asks respondents if they prefer India or Pakistan. In the control condition, most people (mean: around 62%) prefer India, but when they are confronted with images of violent repression of protests by the Indian army, the effect is a drop in the proportion of people who identify with India rather than Pakistan:

To better understand this empirical test, and to see additional results based on a large-scale survey of Kashmiris, read the full article, which can be accessed here.

The working paper version of the article, which includes an appendix with supplementary information and screenshots from the video treatments, can be accessed here.