kashmir conflict realism

Written by Haleema Bhatti 12:28 pm Articles, International Relations, Pakistan, Published Content

Understanding the Kashmir Conflict Through Realism

The Kashmir conflict started between India and Pakistan after the Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh acceded to India – despite it being a Muslim majority area. This research aims to study the history of the Kashmir conflict and the policies adopted by India and Pakistan from a realist perspective. Haleema Bhatti believes that for national interests and state survival, both states have tried their best to maximise their power and dominance in the region.
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Haleema Bhatti is pursuing her MPhil in Political Science from Forman Christian College and has done her bachelor's in international relations from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. Her research interests lie in South Asian and religious politics.


Kashmir has been the bone of contention between India and Pakistan since its independence in 1947 due to its geopolitical and geostrategic location. The area of Kashmir is the converging point for India, Pakistan, Central Asia, and China. Hence, it is the major reason behind the conflict between both states that have been employing realism and using aggressive policies in the case of Kashmir to maintain power in the region.

Theoretical Framework

To study this conflict, the theory of realism in International Relations can be seen as the most relevant paradigm as it views the state as a rational actor that is in a constant desire for power. Realism was initially founded by Thucydides during 430-406 BC who discussed the depiction of power politics as the law of human behavior. Realism has been divided into three types that include classical realism, structural realism, and neo-realism.

The eminent realist scholars include Thucydides, Hobbes, Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, and John J. Mearsheimer. The theory of realism believes that states are the most important actors in international politics and war. States are the unitary and rational actors that protect their interests at the cost of others and are most interested in their survival.

The major components of realism are self-help, survival, and statism. Kashmir can benefit both states due to its prime location as it helps to create dominance in the region and ensure survival which are key factors for the domestic and foreign national interests of these states.

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Historical Analysis

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is a landlocked state that lies in the mountain area of South Asia and is bordered by China, India, and Pakistan. It has a territorial land of 85806 square miles, of which 31643 square miles is with India. The princely state was divided into five regions including Ladakh and Baltistan, the Gilgit region, the district of Poonch, the valley of Kashmir, and the Jammu Province. 

In terms of the religious population according to the 1941 census, the total population was around four million of which 77% were Muslims, 20% were Hindus, 1.5% Sikhs, and 1% Buddhist. After the decline of Mughals in the region, Ahmed Shah Abdali from Afghanistan conquered the area followed by Sikhs. After Sikhs, the Hindu Dogra took control of the area.

Today’s demarcation of Kashmir also happened during Dogra’s reign and it was made in the treaty of Amritsar through which the British sold the total land of Kashmir to their ally Raja Gulab Singh for only 7.5 million rupees. According to the plan by British Raj, all the princely states had the option to accede to either India or Pakistan. All the states joined one state or the other except Junagarh, Hyderabad, and Kashmir as they wanted to remain independent states.

Hyderabad and Junagarh were the Hindu majority areas with a Muslim ruler who wanted to join Pakistan, while Kashmir was a Muslim majority area with a Hindu ruler. Hyderabad and Junagarh wanted to join Pakistan, but the Indian forces attacked the princely states and made them a part of India due to its majority being the Hindus.

While the Maharaja was deciding the state’s fate, the Muslim majority turned against him and started a rebellion under the supervision of Sardar Ibrahim. They took control of most of the territory of Kashmir and that brought insecurity to Maharaja who asked India for help. India asked for the accession of Kashmir to India as a reward for help and the Maharaja agreed. 

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This all started a conflict between India and Pakistan with the first war in 1948 through which Pakistan was able to control most of the land. India approached the United Nations for a ceasefire and both states agreed on the destiny of Kashmir through a plebiscite. In July 1949, both states signed a ceasefire agreement to establish a ceasefire line as recommended by the United Nations. This ceasefire line divided Kashmir into Pakistan Administered Kashmir and Indian Administered Kashmir.

Realism & the Kashmir Conflict

To understand the Kashmir conflict within the framework of power, dominance, and balance of power, it is mandatory to look at the theory of realism. Realism believes that there is anarchy in the international arena and a state can only survive by achieving endless means of power. Both India and Pakistan have applied realism to the Kashmir conflict.

According to the realist perspective, states strive for military might, expansion, and power. India is trying to dominate the South Asia region by becoming the hegemon as it has strong ties with the regional states. Pakistan, on the other hand, has a motive of protecting Muslims from Indian atrocities taking place in Indian Administered Kashmir while striving for more power and dominance in the region.

If the Indian policies towards Kashmir are of expansion, dominance, and power then Pakistan is focusing on state survival in the case of the Kashmir issue. India believes in the policies of Hindutva and the Hindustan that accommodate the area of Pakistan in it as well as the area of India, Bangladesh, and the Arabian Sea. It believes in the unified India that was united during the British era and earlier.

To target this ideology and maintain survival, Pakistan must have the freedom of Kashmir. Pakistan presents the view that both Pakistan and Kashmir are not a part of India, denying Indian hegemony over the region. If India were to lose Kashmir, it will lose contact with its districts of Punjab and will have to give up on natural water resources that come from the region.

With India having a stronger military and a second-strike capability, Pakistan chose to keep a defensive position. Pakistan is also economically weaker than India and cannot go to war with India as it will lead to international sanctions and attacks that will threaten the survival of the country. So, it is in the national interest of Pakistan to have a defensive approach and not opt for a direct war as it will threaten its survival.

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On the other hand, India knows how important Kashmir is for it to maintain its hegemony and dominance in the region and to maintain its power, but at the same time, it knows that war is a threat to its survival and national interest as Pakistan is also a nuclear power and that a nuclear conflict could lead to hundreds of years of deprivation, struggle, and deficiency.

Both India and Pakistan are also trying to maintain the balance of power which is also an important prospect of realism. “Balance of power refers to the condition of stable position among countries when there emerges a threat like situation and to overcome every country tries to stable through maximizing their military weapons and making strong decision and policies that entertain a good and balance treatment for their own country”.

India is trying to increase its military and economic power to influence and control other states of the region including South Asian states. It is also economically strengthening itself through industrialization and IT growth. Pakistan, too, has been joining many regional and international alliances to maximize its hard power such as CEATO, SENTO, the War on Terror, and the Afghan Jihad.

The Kashmir conflict is one of the serious issues in the international world that has led to many border skirmishes and conflicts between India and Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan are keen to solve the Kashmir issue, but they resist because of their survival, security, and national interests that are linked with Kashmir.

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