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Greed, Grievance, and the Youth- The Perfect Disaster in Kashmir


In the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s elimination in 2016, the puzzling spate of school-burnings revealed how little we understand terrorist behaviour. Questions such as- Why are schoolchildren pelting stones? Why are educated youth taking to the gun? etc. remain insufficiently answered. Much has been said about the role of grievances in fueling the Kashmir insurgency, but the analysis offers nothing substantive. Observations and data mostly moulder as scattered constellations of disjointed, unintegrated blobs. At its very core, we have failed to blend singular factors and explain, in an overarching way- why rebellions occur, what motivates long-term political violence, and how unrest propagates itself over time and space.

This morbid state of affairs necessitates a frank review of the intricate nature of political violence itself- its causes, its triggers, and webs of interplaying processes. History shows that youth bulges have coincided with eras of trouble, and Kashmir is no different. However, there exists no holistic framework which describes the mechanics translating demographics into political violence. A seamless tapestry of structural factors like demography, economics, and political institutions, interrelating with local peculiarities such as grievances, is sorely lacking. This essay aims to provide such a framework and applies it to Kashmir. The framework provides not only insights but holds promise in better managing insurgencies while simultaneously being a predictive tool. To definitively deduce the recipe of how a rebellion works, is also to decisively know how a rebellion can be exhausted. The starting point for this journey is young men- the quintessential fuel for any iteration of unrest to burn.

Demography and Political Violence- a Framework

Samuel P. Huntington’s controversial magnum opus “The Clash of Civilizations” constructed a cohesive theory intertwining demography and political violence. Huntington focussed on demographic trends and projections concerning the Middle East and Southeast Asia-

“... populations will be disproportionately young populations, with a notable demographic bulge of teenagers and people in their twenties. In addition, people in this age cohort will be overwhelmingly urban and have at least a secondary education. This combination of size and social mobilization has... significant political consequences”.

He further reasoned that:

“young people are the protagonists of protest, instability, reform, and revolution. Historically, the existence of large cohorts of young people has tended to coincide with such movements” (Huntington, p 117).

Huntington’s rule of thumb in identifying youth bulges was when the proportion of youth aged between 15 and 24 rises above 20% in a population (Huntington p 118). Generally, it refers to a relatively large increase in the numbers and proportion of a country’s population of youthful age, conventionally 16–25 or 16–30 (Rogers et al.). This thought resonates frequently within scholarship:

  • Jack Goldstone’s placement of demographic growth as an essential factor for the twin waves of revolutions which swept Europe and Asia in the mid-seventeenth and late-eighteenth centuries (Goldstone, pp 24-39);

  • The rising proportions of youth in 1920s Europe proved to be fecund ground for recruitments by fascism and other extremist movements (Moller, passim);

  • The unrest accompanying the Arab Spring 2011 onwards has been identified as a sociopolitical result of demographic changes, where a youth bulge acted as a prerequisite for political transition (Hamanaka, p 79);

  • The wave of knife attacks by Palestinians on Israelis which broke out in 2015 was seen by Dag Tuastad as frustrated acts of a “lost generation” borne of a youth bulge (Tuastad, passim).

The demographic structure of societies generate distinct socioeconomic effects which act in conjunction with preexisting economic realities. Broadly speaking, there are two competing yet overlapping theoretical traditions- an opportunity oriented ‘Greed perspective’ and a motive oriented ‘Grievance perspective’. Both share common strands and seldom exist sans mercurial combinations with each other.

The Greed Perspective and Demography

The ‘greed perspective’ has its genesis in microeconomics, whereby the costs of rebellion being low and high potential rewards provide incentives for uprisings. Such economic forces originate in facilitative structural factors, which would include easy terror financing, a primary commodity export-based economy, or facile recruiting. Demographics are prime in this process since having a greater proportion of youth drives down the price of recruiting rebel labour, massively boosting the chances of a successful rebellion. Therefore, high population growth rates and a large youth cohort possessing low alternate earning opportunities become crucial to unleashing a rebellion and its maintenance (Collier and Hoeffler pp 9-10). Three common traits are identified here, which coexist in synergies.

  • Extractive Economic Institutions: These institutions are characterised by monopolies or oligopolies in the predominant sector(s) of the economy, whereby the bulk of the resources are expropriated by a few. Entry barriers are erected, and markets are suppressed towards favouring the controlling elite (Acemoglu and Robinson pp 73-79). In economies characterised by a dependence upon commodities export or activities like mining and agriculture, extractive economic institutions tend to prosper. The goal of insurgencies is to capture the primary sector, especially export-oriented commodities such as coal, diamonds, drug crops etc, or the usual principle productive asset- land itself. This institutional facet explains why insurgencies inadvertently engage in organised crime relating to primary commodities for revenue, such as West African blood diamonds & Afghanistan’s Opium. In such economies, the youth have little alternative livelihoods.

  • Extractive Political Institutions and the Iron Law of Oligarchy: Extractive economic institutions concomitantly privilege analogous “extractive political institutions”, with both existing in symbiosis. Setups dependent upon extractive political institutions concentrate political power into the hands of a few with little constraints placed on them. This is exemplified by the despotism of coteries, cliques, and personality cults in insurgent groups. As Acemoglu and Robinson put forth-

“extractive economic Institutions thus naturally accompany extractive political institutions. In fact, they must inherently depend on extractive political institutions for their survival.” (Acemoglu and Robinson pp 79-83).

Such an amalgamated relationship sheds light upon why these institutions persist even after rebellions capture State apparatus- newcomers inherit the minimal restrictions of their predecessors, and are enticed by the same incentive structures which maintain their unrestrained stranglehold on politics and the economy. The youth, therefore, get unsatisfactorily co-opted or are trapped in cycles of rebellions which churn out old wine in new bottles. The “Iron Law of Oligarchy” enslaves nations, where new regimes avoid changing old institutions sans some cosmetic changes (Acemoglu and Robinson pp 358-362)- the postcolonial world stands testament, from Central America to Pakistan. Goldstone summarises the glacial countenance of political institutions, connecting extractive political institutions with rebellion-

“Where institutions are flexible, as in modern democratic states, pressures can usually be absorbed through electoral realignments and policy changes. Where institutions are relatively inflexible, as in hereditary monarchies...with traditional systems of taxation, elite recruitment, and economic organization, the result is more likely to be revolution or rebellion.” (Goldstone, p 36).
  • Scorched Book Policies: This consists of attacking educational and employment generating establishments in an attempt to keep recruitment costs low through the decimation of other viable opportunities. Such an analysis can be extended to other “soft targets” beyond education and employment- roads which enable trade, large investments which absorb labour, and use of child labour to permanently lower future earnings by keeping them out of school etc. are meticulous actions to better the chances of an insurgency. Striking fear by wreaking retribution on school-goers, as exemplified in recent times by Boko Haram and the Taliban, seems to be perpetrated for the same reasons. In essence, it tilts the playing field in favour of the insurgents by destroying all other income-earning possibilities for an entire generation, trapping them in dependency of insurgents and the insurgency economy.

The Prairie Fire Model and Rebel Leadership

The “Prairie fire model” by Timur Kuran is based on the principles of public choice. He noticed a dichotomy in the narratives surrounding revolutions- before the revolution itself, hardly anyone (including the actors behind it) thinks it would be as massive as it turned out to be. However, when scholars and civil society scrutinise the roots of such rebellions, there is an air of inevitability surrounding the turn of events. Therefore, the model attempts to explain swift, unanticipated explosions of mass action -

“Why does a revolution that in hindsight seems to be the inevitable outcome of powerful social forces surprise so many of its leaders, participants, victims, and observers?” (Kuran pp 41-42).

This phenomenon is observed in disparate cases such as the French Revolution of 1789, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Iranian Revolution of 1978 holds lessons relevant to the outbreak and maintenance of insurgency. The answer, in Kuran’s words, is as follows-

“A privately hated regime may enjoy widespread public support because of people's reluctance to take the lead in publicizing their opposition. The regime may, therefore, seem unshakeable, even if its support would crumble at the most minor shock. A suitable shock would put in motion a bandwagon process that exposes a panoply of social conflicts, until then largely hidden” (Kuran p 60).

In the parlance of economics, the dissatisfied suffer from a coordination problem- they all want the same thing, but don’t know that others have the same views as them, and so keep quiet. Until one does not think that others also think like them, silence prevails and such thoughts are not converted into actions.

The aforementioned “bandwagon process” is widespread unrest coalescing when the risks of joining such unrest fall fast enough (through briskly increasing participation; safety in numbers) to make it safe- and solve the coordination problem. Even if the society is bubbling with restive undercurrents, individuals sympathetic to change find it prudent to remain outwardly subservient to the ancien regime, mistaking each other’s uneasy silence for satisfaction. Sooner or later, a few would reach their threshold of patience, and embolden others to partake in shattering illusory stability in a chain reaction. This conversion of latent discontent into explicit rebellion is thus an autocatalytic process, i.e. speeds itself, and the deceptive peace which preceded the outbreak is an integral part of this process.

Therefore, unsatisfied demography is a precondition which lacks a trigger to spark tumult. Demography is insufficient, ipso facto, in generating widespread unrest by itself. Social, political, or economic issues require articulation by credible leadership to provide an emboldening environment for others to join in; the mere existence of omnipresent problems cannot spark mass action. This leadership then overcomes the coordination problem, and forms a nucleus for the disgruntled to crystallise around. It is not necessary that a movement would remain deferential to its original leadership, nor display homogeneity in agendas. Once sections of the society are successfully roused, their relationship with agendas and initial leaders themselves follow fluid and varied power dynamics- factionalisation and inter-factional squabbling in movements are a reality (eg. Naga terrorists in India and Myanmar), and so is successful centralisation (eg. Mao’s China).

The Prairie fire model expounds upon two important features of modern rebellions:

  • Rebellions require spearheads in the form of initial leaders to trigger the “bandwagon process”, in the form of

“individuals with an exceptional ability to detect and to help to expose the incumbent regime's vulnerabilities” (Kuran p 42).

These leaders, which include the likes of Khomeini and Lenin, themselves may be surprised at the sudden efficacy of their machinations-

“Historians of revolution have systematically overestimated what revolutionary actors could have known” (Kuran p 42).

Similarly, the initial leadership may spark unrest but the movements it spawns may see different leaderships take the reins.

  • Successful rebellions invariably invest extensively into repression and indoctrination, including on people who were fervently committed to the revolution (Kuran p 42). This is due to the institutional memory of their rebellions, whereby averting the fate of the deposed necessitates a coercive apparatus which can nip the problem in the bud by eliminating any possible leaders. This is reminiscent of the brutal purges of the Soviet Union and Maoist China.

The Grievance Perspective and Demography

The “grievance perspective” hails from the corpus of Relative Deprivation Theory, and views unrest as a means of addressing economic and political resentments (Gurr pp 223). Relative Deprivation refers to the divergence between what people believe is deserved to them, and what they think they can receive. The core hypothesis is that Relative Deprivation spawns angst, where

"The potential for collective violence varies strongly with the intensity and scope of relative deprivation among members of a collectivity." (Gurr p 24).

In conjunction with this root cause, several different factors shape the path taken by the political opposition.

Education and the Job Market

Two structural preconditions compound the issues outlined above when it comes to assuaging large youth cohorts. These are poorly functioning education and employment institutions. The ILO warns of

“a “scarred” generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world” (Mirkin p 22).

One, subpar education systems which cannot serve an adequate quantity of education nor provide adequate quality and skills for employability, will naturally lower opportunity costs for youth to engage in unrest. This occurs by trapping incomes much below expectations when they join the workforce. For example, before the Arab Spring,

“The pivotal social sphere of education is the first place that Arab governments fail their youth in assisting the transition to adulthood, and the failure of Arab education sets the stage for an entrapment in a liminal pre-adulthood existence.” (Mulderig p 8).

A woeful skills mismatch between education and employment is emblematic of most developing countries, generating groups of overeducated but unemployed youth. Such youth have played a crucial role in political activism across the world (Mulderig p 12).

Secondly, most developing countries have an anaemic job market, mostly resulting from a poor application of economic policies. Attempts at scaling back a Byzantine public sector while boosting the private sector are usually hobbled by a recalcitrant politico-bureaucratic class, with cronyism and nepotism undermining the reform agenda. Thus, reductions in public sector jobs and an underpowered private sector which cannot accommodate the youth leads to unemployment spiking.

The copious benefits of a public sector job cause significant numbers of the youth to spend time preparing and attempting incredibly competitive public sector entrances, while they could have been upskilling or working. This causes a labour crunch and stymies growth in the more educated segment of the private sector, as highly educated youth withdraw from seeking jobs to write exams (Banerjee et al. pp 22-23). Since the vast majority of those who attempt these examinations would not get the job, they are left with lower earnings considering the time they invested is of no use to employers.

These circumstances force the youth into informal employment- low-paying, poor credential jobs, with little legal protection. Thus, resentment brews from “not getting one’s dues” and being stuck in “waithood” for socioeconomic mobility towards a perceived sense of adulthood- the cornerstone for which is usually marriage, requiring sufficient income as a prerequisite (Mulderig pp 4, 9-14). This resentment can usher in volatility when left unaddressed, particularly in a large youth cohort.

Economic Growth and Demography

There does not exist a universal relationship between economic growth and long term political violence. However, there does exist a robust inverse relationship between wealth and violence- the richer a nation is, the less prone it is to violence (Humphreys p 2). Meanwhile, in times of degrowth or recession, the chances of violence increase. The competition for resources intensifies, and grievances explode when the total income to be shared falls.

  • Economic growth reduces political violence: This is most likely when “inclusive” political and economic institutions dominate rather than “extractive” ones. Inclusive institutions embody a broad distribution of power, whereby no one group can dominate by establishing “extractive” institutions. From such political institutions, inclusive economic institutions naturally flow, creating a more equitable distribution of resources while ensuring low barriers to entry, while emphasising on settling differences before they become disputes. Furthermore, the development of technology and education hastens since chances of uncompetitive rent-seeking are low. When most people are invested in the system due to its inherently accommodative nature, the willingness to convulse its functioning drops due to a fair diffusion of economic growth. Such economies are characterized by sectoral diversification, well functioning and open markets, and the rule of law. Nations with these institutions can also be expected to weather short-term economic reversals better than others (Acemoglu and Robinson pp 76-83). Thus, a youth bulge can be better accommodated with inclusive institutions since their grievances can be better serviced. Indeed, population growth is a precondition for rapid economic growth- provided the appropriate institutions are in place (Sharma pp 23-32).

  • Economic growth increases political violence: Countries operating extractive institutions are particularly susceptible to instability caused by youth bulges. The inability to share power and resources more broadly breeds not only resentment but also willingness to organise a rebellion. The situation is especially acute for economies centred around primary sector commodity exports, as these resources are the source of power (Acemoglu and Robinson pp 76-83).

Inequalities and Demography

Economic growth is inherently uneven, whereby some niches dominated by certain communities may prosper more than others. Most commonly, when disadvantaged communities compete with those just above them in the socioeconomic hierarchy, communal strife follows. Tussles can either be over political control, or economic, or both; the existence and severity of threat-perceptions serve as motivations for conflict (Olzak, p 12). Moreover, economic competition occurs directly when communities operate in the same economic niche, causing a “niche overlap”. When such communities face a youth bulge, the chances of conflict intensify. Perceptions are framed in a broader socio-economic context- alienation goes hand in hand with prejudice, self-interest, and stratification (Bobo and Hutchings, passim). The Rwandan Civil War is an appropriate example.

This dynamic of socioeconomic competition between groups due to established institutions is reflected in another important dimension- economic inequality. “Horizontal Inequalities” i.e. inequalities between different identity groups, significantly raise the chances of conflict. Contrastingly, “Vertical Inequalities” or “Overall Inequality”, which is the difference in the incomes of all members of an economy, has no significant relationship with conflict (Stewart, p 2).

Different kinds of inequality motivate different actors. “Political Inequalities” i.e. selective exclusion of groups from power sharing and decision making, is most likely to motivate leaders to incite rebellion. Meanwhile, “Social or Economic Inequalities and those of a Cultural Status” are most likely to motivate the masses (Stewart pp 2-5). This relates to the functioning of “extractive political institutions”, considering the tendency of extractive institutions to severely concentrate powers and resources. Moreover, it provides a cogent explanation to the evolution in narratives of actors opposing the State. Disorganised protests with heavily localised leadership begin with economic and social issues and achieve political coordination through a more centralising leadership which advocates for their political inclusion- as seen in the Arab Spring. This chronology can also be reversed, where political leadership galvanises public anger on socioeconomic issues, such as the 2020 political crisis in Belarus.

“Lost Generations”, “Unadulterated Uprisings”

The political legitimacy of the State and the previous generation provides inertia; It prolongs peace but can also perpetuate conflict. However, when these interconnected legitimacies fail in the eyes of the youth, uncontrollable violence follows. Politically excluded youth with no hopes of entering an ossified political setup having had a collapse of trust in the politics of their parents’ generation engage in a distinct pattern of peer-led radicalisation. Thus, “Inter-generational” conflict delegitimises both the State and the parental generation, inciting restive youth to political violence. The example of Palestine is the most compelling.

Dag Tuastad describes Palestine’s post-1993 Oslo Accord born youth as its “lost generation” (Tuastad p 1). Extractive institutions systematically deprived the youth of any share in political involvement. This unleashed political despondence, where the ensuing vacuum enfeebled parental and national authority. Rudderless, the youth were roped into a decentralised cycle of escalation and peer-imitation; with massive protests and lone-wolf knife attacks on Israelis in 2015 being consequences.

The key connection between demographics and the formation of a common political culture and political identity- their “youthfulness”- had three overarching elements. These were: nigh absolute exclusion from the political process, the collapse of traditional authority, and imitation of older peers (Tuastad p 13). Youth evolve as distinct political actors through age-group bonding, where they internalise norms and values differentiating them from older generations. The youth build their identities while developing self-consciousness through peers. They develop collective experiences, worries, norms and values, beginning to largely define themselves in opposition to previous generations (Bayat pp 107-110). Thus, social credit amongst peers can be earned and a sense of belonging nurtured through stone-pelting or joining an armed gang.

In Palestine, which possessed the second-largest youth bulge in the Arab world, the perfect storm brewed. Its educational system is shambolic at best, and unemployment touched 29% in 2014 as the creaking economy entered a recession. A fresh round of bloodshed precipitated in the July-August 2014 Israeli military operations before which illegal tunnels providing economic opportunities between Gaza and Egypt were sealed (International Labour Office, passim). Unsurprisingly, a vicious wave of protest and violence shook Palestine in 2015, where camps turned into warzones- an “unadulterated uprising” (Eldar). Three broad observations seem recurring and generalisable-

  • Decentralised Onset- Mass disturbances unfold in a decentralised manner. While some see leadership evolving, many continue in a decentralised, fractured mode of continuance. This is likely where a general alienation with the previous generation exists and experienced political actors are rejected. Instead, “icons'' such as peers who died, joined outfits, or were jailed while engaging in violence provide a narrative to rally around. Importantly, the use of social media to overcome the coordination problem without the need for concrete leadership has made such unrest more fluvial and unpredictable. Social media enabled disparate, minimally intercommunicating groups and individuals to concentrate their collective presence at short notice, overwhelming the security apparatus. Such decentralised networks-based mode of organisation, from the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States to protests in Hong Kong, is germane for movements lacking a centralising leadership. Thus, youth can exist in a state of non-movement, non-collective actors who nonetheless participate in collective action (Bayat p 15).

  • Social Imitation- Imitating and improvising upon peer behaviour is central to all youth movements, where youth take inspiration from fellow youth. The aforementioned “icons” are the highest in the hierarchy, where personal identification is not necessarily required for youth to eulogise and mimic them.

  • Absence of Authority- The authority of adult role models to sanction behaviour is essential for adolescents, for it draws borders against risk-taking behaviours and provides a check to peer pressures. Resultantly, weaker adult authority strengthens the impact of social peers. Basic political attitudes solidify in adolescence, and when adolescents lose faith in their adults, mounting political rage follows. Such political estrangement is also deeply personal. The erosion of parental authority in the case of Palestinian children during the First Intifada (1987-93) is particularly demonstrative. Israeli children had their fathers, family, or armed forces coming to rescue them in their nightmares; Palestinian children saw no one coming, wth even fathers being absent (Peretz p 116). The delegitimisation process is a vicious cycle- the First (1987-93) and Second (2000-2004) Intifadas had generations which turned a deaf ear to their fathers (Tuastad p 8), and now 2015 saw a repeat. Such institutionalisation of intergenerational cynicism and distrust is manifesting itself as a self-perpetuating vicious cycle in multiple countries, including Palestine. Parallelly, the evaporation of State authority is closely associated with unaddressed grievances. States with inadequate centralisation or lacking State capacity see spates of anarchy sprouting in neglected constituencies most intensely (Fukuyama, passim).

Modernisation, Culture Shocks, and Urbanisation

The central thesis of Samuel Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies explains political violence and instability as being a result of rapid social change and swift inclusion of new groups into politics in the midst of slowly developing political institutions. In Huntington’s words,

“equality of political participation is growing much more rapidly than the art of associating together. Social and economic change-urbanization, increases in literacy and education, industrialization, mass media expansion-extend political consciousness, multiply political demands, broaden political participation.” (Huntington pp 4-5).

The consequences of ‘modernisation’ include the undermining of traditional sources of political authority and political institutions, leaving a “political gap” to be filled by nascent, still evolving institutions. This admixture of high political participation and social mobilisation with low political institutionalisation and organisation presents itself as a recipe for disorder. Susan Olzak also touches upon the destabilising expansion of political participation with inadequate institutions to buttress it; increased voting rights lead to violence by those who perceive a political threat from the increased leverage of those being included (Olzak p 3). Furthermore, most States beyond the West suffer from low State centralisation or lack State capacity, translating into a low effective authority with a miasmic narrative of legitimacy. Paired with demographic situations, the youth faces the brunt of social and economic change. Predictably, the youth have perennially been at the forefront of political violence.

The panacea of “modernity”- inclusive institutions with a social milieu progressively governed by the tenets of liberalism- takes a perilous path through an inherently chaotic “modernisation”. This generates a panoply of grievances. Simplistic assertions stand debunked, which hold that the more “modern” a country is, the more stable. Even in purely economic terms, social tensions increase as a country develops, with the intermediate development stage seeing social tensions peak (Harms and Zink, passim). Put simply, as an undeveloped country embarks on modernisation, it will see tensions flare with redistribution becoming an attractive proposition. Only after a particular threshold will challenging the status quo become increasingly less attractive, and the perceived benefits of rebellion progressively drop.

The conditions surrounding the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79 are reflective of the incipient hazards of modernisation. Iran had been undergoing a piecemeal modernisation since the 1930s, which accelerated following the establishment of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1953. The incompatibility of autocracy, an extractive political institution, with an increasingly inclusive economy was apparent in the conflicts it spawned. By the 1970s, there was a new middle class, modern youth, public women, an industrial working class, and a new poor in slums and squatters. Their economic rise was simultaneously met by political exclusion by the Shah’s autocracy. There were also large constituencies seeing a relative decline in clout - the old urban middle classes, the clergy (and other allied institutions), and a segment of the old commercial classes. Therefore, when repression was somewhat eased due to the Carter administration’s pressures, dissimilar social groups with little ideological congruence coalesced into nationwide anti-monarchist protests (Bayat pp 163-164). Without modernisation, unrest could not have found rugged roots.

The decentralised protests which fleetingly transform into momentary collective action (as they did in the Iranian Revolution) support the notion of “quiet encroachment”. It refers to

“the silent, protracted, but pervasive advancement of the ordinary people on the propertied, powerful, or the public, in order to survive and improve their lives.” (Bayat p 56).

“Quiet encroachment” gives further context to the urban nature of modern political violence, as migrants in crowded urban centres, the urban poor, the new middle classes, the unemployed etc. have seen their ranks grow and live in socioeconomic precarity and exclusion (Bayat p 56).

The “moral outrage” and “sense of injustice” in Iranians of the 1970s (Bayat pp 163) which drove anti-monarchist sentiment during the upheavals of modernisation stem from a “culture shock”- a disorienting, alienating, and disconcerting reaction to seeing one’s cultural context change. The rapid evolution of economic and political institutions inevitably causes pre existing social norms coming under stress and presents itself as a grievance when norms change in a direction where it clashes with one’s values (Kaplan). Fouad Ajami elucidates further-

“The fundamentalist call has resonance because it invited men to participate... [in] contrast to a political culture that reduces citizens to spectators and asks them to leave things to their rulers. At a time when the future is uncertain, it connects them to a tradition that reduces bewilderment.” (Zakaria).

This culture shock is closely intertwined with the urban ecology of the developing world, for it brings into constant contact (and conflict) an immigrant workforce from the hinterlands with divided urban classes, where all of them try to navigate a society in an uncharted and contested metamorphosis. There exists a miasma of values, a stifling confusion of morality, and a crisis of identity in such an ecosystem coupled with atomisation and directionlessness- an efficient prescription for which is religion. The phenomenon is an ever-expanding one during times of economic growth, where erstwhile rural spaces slowly acquire more urban characteristics. Therefore, the troubles that come with modernisation increase over spatial extents as well.

Most countries with repressive political environments smother mainstream politics to ensure minimal organised opposition. However, action upon religious institutions is a taboo which is seldom disrespected. Thus, networks of religious institutions have an unscalable moat insulating them from the State repression which other political organisations would face. Simultaneously, such networks are scarcely purely religious- they offer important social services to those the State ignores. Such political and economic inclusion contrasts with the State’s near absence or overbearing exclusion for many. Religious organisations have also slowly managed to engage in institutional capture- universities, political parties, the judiciary etc. have over time in many countries come to reflect the sociopolitical preponderance of religious organisations, slowly turning the society more religiously ordered (Huntington 109-112).

As many States also attempt to legitimise themselves through religion, additional fragility seeps in- the State’s legitimacy could be undermined by religious organisations if they choose so. This often results in an unholy arrangement of rent-seeking, where the State empowers such organisations to appease them which turns the system more extractive, undermining its resilience. The Protestant Reformation in Europe, as well as the religious influence in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, are examples to indicate the generality of the phenomenon.

By no means is social outreach limited to merely the “poor”. All “informals”, which includes middle-class, well-educated youth who cannot afford habitation within formal residences due to ballooning rents, or entrepreneurs which cannot afford to work in the modern economy, also feature prominently (Bayat pp 182-183). Religious networks thus cultivate significant institutional capacity amidst a famished patchwork of political actors. Organisation, hierarchy, codes of conduct, and experience- religious organisations are unbeatable on all these metrics in a State practising political repression. This enables constellations of religious institutions to offer the requisite leadership to unrest once they erupt- much like the Iranian Revolution itself. Thus, while students and intellectuals form the “shock troops” of movements, it is the traditional middle classes which form the bulk of their membership. Added to this are recent migrants, slum dwellers, and the urban poor (Huntington p 113).


Grievances alone are woefully insufficient for unrest (Kahl, passim). Meanwhile, greed motives hold significant explanatory power over unrest but fail to explain their timing. Hence, while greed better explains ‘why’ unrest breaks out, the ‘when’ is decided by grievances (Sambanis p 224). For example, international food price inflation hit the net-importing Arab world hard, triggering unrest because extractive institutions and a youth bulge enabled it (Hamanaka pp 81-82). Therefore, three components for unrest are identified: A youth bulge; Extractive political and economic institutions; And a trigger based on a preexisting grievance, which serves as a nucleus for unrest.


Mid to long term political violence has three prerequisites: a youth bulge, extractive political and economic institutions, and a triggering incident arising from preexisting grievances.

Case Relevance

To prove this hypothesis, evidence is drawn from the insurgency plaguing the Indian Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Census data from 1961 to 2011 shows a consistent rise in the male youth proportion of the population of the relevant districts, which is indicative of a youth bulge. This is coupled with the impact of extractive political and economic institutions, in conjunction with a long history of perceived grievances dating back to at least 1929. This culminated in large-scale disturbances after the results of the 1987 State Assembly elections, which served as a ‘triggering’ incident for long term political violence.

Applying the Framework to Kashmir

Youth Bulge

The Kashmiri speaking region of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has consistently shown elevated and rising male youth populations since 1971, where an already high 24.48% of the population were males between the ages of 15 and 29 (Data until 2018 suggests that around 70% of terror recruits are in the age range 15-25 (Shah et al.)). Huntington did not segregate between male and female youth in his estimations, but it is done so for the Kashmir insurgency has not produced any known female terrorists (armed insurgents waging war against the state, not including accessories and sympathisers).

The growth of the male youth proportion is a feature of the region from 1971 to 2001, indicating a significant youth bulge. This is despite a decline between in 1961-1971, most plausibly from emigration. The proportion preceding this bulge was elevated already (like the Arab world). By 1987, when the allegedly rigged State Assembly Elections were held, the proportion was roughly 26.14%. The number was around 26.28% in 1989, at the outbreak of violent insurgency. It peaked at 27.43% in 2001 and is slowly tapering off. Political violence emanating from the 2001 peak coincided with that year being the bloodiest. This was followed by mass stone-pelting in 2008-10 triggered by the Amarnath row, followed by an uptick between 2014 and 2019.

The armed insurgency saw an influx of foreign terrorists fighting at Pakistan’s behest. Therefore, only local terrorist deaths are combined with demographics. While there is no consensus regarding what constitutes political violence, in Kashmir it ranges from stone-pelting to terrorism. As a dependable proxy, terrorist fatalities have been used.

A youth bulge stands as a prerequisite for sustained violence, but a peak in the bulge does not automatically imply an end or reduction. Instead, demography responds to ‘trigger incidents’ rooted in perceived grievances. Their interaction generates recurring waves of violence. Therefore even though there is a reduced ‘bulge’ so to speak, the male youth proportion remains elevated, and thus the risk for violent unrest persists subject to perceived grievances.

The Greed Perspective

Weakening Economy

Elevated levels of educated youth in a sluggish economy has translated to an unemployment crisis in Kashmir since independence. The local economy is still primarily agrarian upon which approximately 70% of the population is directly or indirectly dependent (The Third Pole)- facilitating extractive institutions due to this primary sector orientation. Tourism, a much-touted panacea, only accounts for approximately 7% of the State economy and is very sensitive to the security situation (Sengupta 22-23). The combination of substantially educated yet poorly skilled youth, scarce employment, low and volatile growth rates, and sharp bouts of inflation has foreshadowed unrest.

Shortly preceding an uptick in violence 2015 onwards:

  • State inflation rate stood at 7.9% (seven point nine percent), while the national average was 6.2% (six point two percent);

  • The unemployment rate for ages 18-29 stood at 24.6% compared to the All India Average of 13.2%;

  • The Agricultural and Allied sectors faced two shocks in quick succession- 2012-13 of -6.24% (six point two four percent) and in 2014-15 of -13.66% (due to floods);

  • Food price inflation has been very volatile and unequal- the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers (used as a proxy for urban areas) stood at 13.69% in October 2014, while CPI for Rural Labour was 5.37% (Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Government of Jammu and Kashmir pp. 127-149, 241-242, 254-263).

Pertinently, inflated food prices triggered the Arab Spring amidst prevalent unemployment, and urban areas were the first to erupt.

Such trends indicate a pernicious agricultural crisis in Kashmir. The primary sector’s contribution has receded from 28.16% in 2004-5 to 17.83% in 2014-15, with a commensurate rise in the tertiary sector; Even as 70% of the population remains dependent on agriculture (The Third Pole). This labour has not found other work with the tertiary sector unable to absorb this glut, frustrating ambitions. Kashmir is also witnessing rapid urbanisation, heralding rapid conversion of agricultural land to other uses, with up to 20% of agricultural land converted by 2016 (The Third Pole). The low productivity in the agricultural sector is apparent; in 1951-52, the shortfall of food grain was at 32%, and by 2014-15 was at 82%. Low adoption of high yielding varieties, lack of reform, and shrinking land are responsible.

Economic degrowth and bouts of food inflation were experienced during 1987, before the outbreak of 1989, during 1998 and 2001-02. Aggravated national inflation being transmitted to Kashmir 2008 onwards also foreshadowed the outbreak in response to the Amarnath row.

Extractive Economic and Political Institutions

Jammu & Kashmir has entrenched clientelism, where political patrons act as ‘barriers’ to sources of revenue. Overwhelming State control, popularly referred to as the License-Permit Raj plagued India until the economic reforms of 1991. However, there was little change in Kashmir's economy, where clientelism survived owing to the security situation. There was also a serious blow to tourism, and deterioration in infrastructure either by neglect or terrorism. The central government’s various attempts to revive the economy through ‘grants’ and ‘packages’ caused pilferage and rent-seeking by local cronies, thanks to clientelistic politics, in a ‘terrorist economy’ (Sengupta, pp. 22-26). These set the grounds for extractive political and economic institutions.

Tenders were extractively awarded to ‘contractors’ through political patronage. These contractors became targets for extortion and protection rackets. This had popular support, for contractors were seen as corrupt, oligopolistic barons milking exploitative entry barriers- reflecting grievances against extractive institutions. Terrorist revenue became increasingly systematised- Should a terrorist commander be eliminated, a new de facto ‘contract’ would be drawn up. Such facts showcase how terrorists were capturing resources within the extractive economy. Similarly, as Sengupta suggests, the killing of migrant labourers in 2006 was not retribution, but terrorists indicating their desire to make new ‘arrangements’ and not lose out on newer revenue sources. Thus, recruitment to rich terror outfits became a lucrative prospect for unemployed local youth. It simultaneously encouraged a culture of ‘corruption’, thereby worsening the extractive nature of institutions. Indeed, Transparency International India crowned Jammu & Kashmir as the “most corrupt” State in India. (Sengupta pp. 22-26). Even the renewed wave of terrorism in Kashmir post-2014 is consistently marked by bank robberies, often accompanied by the theft of weapons from policemen, indicating the same causal factors. (Press Trust of India, 2020).

The fact that terror was becoming an attractive employment option corresponds with the insightful biography of Firdous Syed Baba i.e. Babar Badr, the former commander of the Muslim Janbaaz Force from the Kashmir Insurgency in the 1990s. Baba noted that after the insurgency gained momentum in 1990, terrorists

“would receive twelve lakhs rupees for relief work (for the families of martyrs and victims). The average militant would get a salary of two thousand rupees a month and the higher-ups a little more”.

Baba also records violent competition between outfits for financing by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence, much like competition for primary sector resources. The insurgency turned ‘directionless’-

"Though initially there was not much money in the movement, huge funds now floated about:....secessionist groups were said to be receiving nearly a crore and half every month from the ISI, channelled through various religious and other trusts" (Sinha, pp. 155-168).

Not only was terror a source of salaried employment but even social security. Huntington similarly analysed the role of Islamic charities in providing social security which can attract unemployed youth in large numbers (Huntington p 113).

Baba noted the inevitable criminalisation this newfound economic opportunity brought,

"Extortion of innocent Kashmiris was the order of the day. Militants were interfering in people’s personal lives- they would adjudicate in property disputes, or force a family to marry their daughter to an undesirable militant" (Sinha, pp. 155-168).

Much like employment, terror became a means of upward social mobility in an otherwise traditionally hierarchical society.

The Iron Law of Oligarchy

The Iron Law of Oligarchy played out peculiarly in the Kashmir insurgency. In 1990, a folk-singer turned terrorist, Kukka Parray, established the terror outfit Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen in the district of Bandipora. This terror group indulged in many of the same revenue sourcing tactics described earlier. In early 1993, they kidnapped a ‘contractor’ named Ghulam Qadir Dar, accused him of links with the Indian Armed Forces and extorted him (Irfan, 2017).

Mid-1993, Parray’s outfit was co-opted by the State as a renegade counterinsurgency force, which was re-christened Ikhwan-e-Muslimoon. Parra co-opted and coerced neighbouring militants to join his force. However, most did not require any coercion at all, for they saw greater economic ‘opportunity’ with the Ikhwan and joined in droves. They were quick to dominate Bandipora, and their group even had a ‘finance minister’ (Irfan, 2017).

Although the group was a very effective counterinsurgency tool, their primary source of financial sustenance remained ‘ransom money’. In extraordinary displays of ingenuity and corruption, they made counterinsurgency profitable. Kuka Parray had a government nursery and forest cleared on the pretext of flushing out ‘hiding militants’, and was able to sell all the felled timber (again, a primary sector commodity); He allegedly ‘raised crores’ as a result (Irfan, 2017).

The Ikhwan was notorious for the same kind of criminal behaviour characteristic of Kashmiri terrorist outfits. Parray joined politics and founded the J&K Awami League in 1995, and the Ikhwan allegedly played a coercive role in Parray’s campaigns. Parray ultimately became a patron in the clientelist political economy of Jammu & Kashmir (Irfan, 2017). One could even argue that Parray initiated the formation of a new extractive political institution that worked in tandem with extractive economic institutions.

The Ikhwan changing sides could be considered ‘cosmetic’. They relied on the very same extractive institutions for revenue and co-opted a very large section of the youth to ensure that revenue accumulation occurred on a greater scale. The principal reason for insurgents to embrace counterinsurgency was the promise of greater economic opportunity- the strongest (though not sole) motivator for the youth. This was quite literally, old wine in a new bottle- an illustration of the Iron Law of Oligarchy as well as greed.

Scorched Books

The first blow against education came with the murder of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, Mushir-Ul-Huq in 1990. The Jammu & Kashmir Students Liberation Front (JKSLF), the student wing of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), claimed responsibility (Upadhyay, 2009). The fact that the JKLF had the insight to establish a separate wing for students early on in the insurgency is indicative of the extent of recruitment and indoctrination efforts invested by terror outfits in educational institutions.

Girija Dhar was the Principal of the Government Medical College during this period. Dhar recalled a highly politicised environment where both students and faculty were falling prey to anti-India indoctrination by terror outfits. Dhar noted that many educational institutions had been compelled into shutting down and did not wish to see her students suffer the same fate. She won the cooperation of student leaders by delivering the following address-

My mandate is to ensure that students do not suffer... You have come here to study and become doctors. Your parents have made great sacrifices to send you here. You have seen many dreams that you want to fulfil. I want to ensure your dreams are realized. If you think that Kashmir is fighting for so-called freedom, you are free to think so. All the more reason that you should be armed with a degree to help in developing Kashmir. Armed conflict, terrorism, disturbed conditions are no excuses for suspending studies”.

She effectively undermined terror indoctrination by building a compelling argument around her students' economic future. This further underscores the role of the Greed Perspective vis-a-vis demography. Dhar also recalled that a Mosque was built on the college campus by her predecessor, who fearfully yielded to demands by religious extremists. This Mosque soon became a key tool for the indoctrination of students and faculty by terrorists (Khanna pp 207-208).

The most detrimental effect on education came in the form of educational institutions shutting down for prolonged periods during unrest. In 2008, the then Indian Chief of Army Staff Gen. Deepak Kapoor stated that two decades of the insurgency had “demolished the education system” in Kashmir (Ganie and Muhi Ud Din, pp. 82-84). Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the de facto head of the secessionist Tehreek-e-Hurriyat until 2020, selectively warned local parents against sending their children to ‘goodwill’ schools run by the Indian Armed Forces in 2017 (Press Trust of India, 2017). The renewed wave starting in 2014-15 targeted education more directly: By 2016, 47 schools were set on fire by arsonists in the unrest that followed the elimination of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani (Wani, 2016). Therefore, quite literally, the insurgents subscribed to a policy of ‘scorched books’.

The Prairie Fire Model and Rebel Leadership

The trajectory of the Kashmir insurgency shows resonance with Timur Kuran’s model which seeks to explain explosions of unanticipated mass political unrest. Discontent from demographic pressures in conjunction with political and economic issues had long brewed before the upsurge in 1989. Just as Kuran theorized, while the State was caught off guard with devastating consequences, all post facto analysis possesses an air of inevitability regarding the insurgency. Indeed, the ‘bandwagon process’ witnessed 1990 onwards was unprecedented. Yet, when it came to Kashmir, there were critical differences in notions of ‘rebel leadership’ and the spread of indoctrination.

There were indications of latent discontent in Kashmir for at least two decades before 1989. The actions of terrorist Maqbool Bhat and the JKLF are evidence- these ranged from the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Pakistan in 1971, attempts at bank robberies, and the murder of an Indian diplomat in the United Kingdom in 1984. Bhat was posthumously ‘deified’ and turned into an icon for insurgents, replete with the ritualism of observing mourning on his execution date. However, despite perhaps having tacit local sympathy, Bhat’s antics did not inspire open rebellion during his lifetime (Shukla, 2020). It was only after the allegedly rigged State Assembly Elections of 1987 that latent discontent fomented into open rebellion. Furthermore, many leading figures of the losing political alliance, the Muslim United Front ended up becoming terrorists, for only after the election the risks of joining unrest fell quickly and the ‘bandwagon process’ accelerated. It is no wonder that one such Legislative Assembly candidate, Syed Mohammad Yousuf Shah i.e. Syed Salahuddin commands the Hizbul Mujahideen. His young polling agent from the 1987 campaign, Yasin Malik, became commander of one of the factions of the JKLF. Institutions had eroded enough for guns to trump polls.

One must remember that the insurgency in Kashmir has been highly localized. Therefore the insurgent leadership failed to produce ‘spearheads’ which could expose weaknesses in the regime and bring about coordination. Firdous Syed Baba remembered that in 1993,

... If there were a hundred strikes a day, ninety-five were not only ineffectual but harmful”. Terror command chains also reveal a degree of failed expansion, where ‘the militants... did not need a presence in each panchayat, block, tehsil, or district. This tendency of each tanzeem compromised the quality of the militants’ (Sinha pp.154-155).

Pakistan recognized this problem and sent charismatic foreign terrorists who had experience fighting in Afghanistan to solve the Coordination problem- something they momentarily achieved in 2000-01, leading to the annus horribilis of 2001. Haroon Khan (i.e. Mast Gul) of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Masood Azhar, Muhammad Sajjad Khan (i.e. Sajjad Afghani), and Nasrullah Mansoor Langrial (i.e. Darwesh) of the Harkat-Ul-Ansar/Harkat-Ul-Mujahideen (later became Jaish-e-Mohammed) are notable examples. Masood Azhar, strikingly, was not dispatched to Kashmir as a combatant, but as a potential ‘spearhead’ on account of his articulate writing on Jihad and fiery oratory which could motivate a dedicated cadre of terrorists (Levy and Scott-Clark, passim). Pakistan also attempted to bring about this change with the establishment of umbrella leadership groups such as the United Jihad Council. However, in the face of localization and heightened competition for patronage, coordination remained elusive.

Importantly, Local Terrorist Deaths peaked twice- in 1994 and 2001. The 2001 peak seems to have been generated by a spurt of Foreign Terrorists (comprising commanders in the Soviet-Afghan War, as well as ‘leaders’ such as Syed Salahuddin) re-overcoming the Coordination Problem for an uprising which was losing steam since 1994-5. Thus, there was a precipitous breakout of violence as the Coordination Problem was momentarily solved, leading to the characteristic suddenness of the spike in violence.

Another example of the localised nature of violence in Kashmir goes back to February 1986, where triggered by developments in the Ayodhya dispute, followed by inflammatory speeches by the then Chief Minister, GM Shah, where he repeatedly exclaimed that “Islam is in danger!”, anti Kashmiri Pandit rioting ensued in Anantnag, which saw the “desecration” of at least 42 temples (Tempest, 1986). Rioting also reportedly occurred in other parts of south Kashmir and Sopore. The fact that this rioting did not spread beyond these very specific areas hints at two important takeaways- localised grievances mix with broader narratives of grievances, but also end up localising the violence if not sufficiently generalised in narratives, and that violence in and of itself cannot solve the coordination problem unless being politicised enough to incentivise leaders to organise and overcome the coordination problem in their zones of influence. In the case of Anantnag, involvement of the political leadership in the mobilisation process being limited to the district ensured its diminitude. The reason for such geographic limitation could possibly be the diverse and disjointed leadership across the region being unconvinced about the chances of success for a coordinated uprising- a failed bandwagon process.

There was also a highly localized and intermittent degree of cooperation between Kashmiri militants and Sikh militants fighting for an independent Khalistan in Punjab, quite possibly facilitated by Pakistani nudging. As far back as June 1984, there was an attempt to cause a bandwagon process in Punjab and the then fledgling Kashmir insurgency simultaneously. In the immediate aftermath of the Indian Army’s Operation Bluestar in Amritsar, a mob attacked the Hanuman temple in the Amira Kadal locality of downtown Srinagar, tossing its idol in the river Jhelum and physically assaulting its priests in a violent show of solidarity with the Khalistan movement (Pandita, 2013, pp 66-67). If successful, this would have meant a simultaneous solving of the coordination problem in both places and drastically improving the probability of success. Indeed, Firdous Syed Baba recalls a failed mass jailbreak from Jammu Jail in January 1993, which saw the collaboration of many Kashmiri militant commanders from different outfits (including himself) and “several Sikh extremists” including “a hardened militant named Pappi Sardar” (Sinha, 2000, pp 150-151).

The ‘Greed Perspective’ is also evident in the factionalisation of the political wing of the insurgency- the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and their inability to provide a ‘spearhead’. Firdous Syed Baba disdainfully recalled that

"Hopes inspired by the Hurriyat Conference, however, quickly faded. First, it appointed eighteen-year-old Mirwaiz Omar Farooq as its chairman. Why was a young man with no political or military experience appointed? The senior members were apparently unwilling to let any of the others take charge, and so chose Omar Farooq as a consensus candidate. He was seen as unambitious….best of all, naive." (Sinha, pp. 158-159).

Since the uptick in 2014, terror outfits remain highly localised and concentrated in the four increasingly urbanised districts of South Kashmir. The new generation of terrorists, however, is very prolific on social media, especially on platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp (Shah, pp. 1-19), which lowers the threshold to momentarily overcome the coordination problem. This explains why the new generation of terrorists has recorded a much higher degree of operational cooperation between different terror groups than ever before (Shah et al.). Burhan Wani, for example, became a cult-like figure because of his social media activity and was able to directly induce at least 10 youth to terrorism in his lifetime. He was a potent ‘icon’ of martyrdom as well, which indicates that the insurgency was still no closer to finding a ‘spearhead’. However, social media acts as a redoubtable tool for indoctrination albeit terror leadership is still highly constrained by its ‘local’ nature.

The Grievance Perspective and Demography

As stated earlier, there is significant overlap between the “Greed Perspective” and the “Grievance Perspective”. The demand for Azadi has its roots in the Quit Kashmir movement launched against the then Princely State by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1931. Economic resentment was an intense cause and evidently, tied to youth demographics. According to former Principal Secretary P.N. Dhar,

After lagging behind by a generation, Muslims were taking to higher education. The worldwide economic depression which started in 1929 hit Kashmir very hard. The steep fall in agricultural prices reduced farmers to a state of destitution… The fall in state revenues and the general decline in economic activity aggravated unemployment, especially among the educated. One of the new arrivals from these emerging educated Muslims was Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah” (Dhar, pp.24-25).

The Quit Kashmir movement began as a violent uprising in 1931 with “communal overtones”, marked by large scale rioting. It was only in 1939 that the movement found coordination under the ‘spearhead’ Sheikh Abdullah and allied itself with the broader Indian freedom movement. Pertinently, those leading the violent insurgency in Kashmir themselves consider July 13th, 1931 to be when the “freedom movement began in Kashmir” (Dhar, pp.24-25).

Education & the Job Market

Mass unemployment and subpar education serve to extenuate issues connected to youth bulges. Kashmir has had a history of suboptimal educational institutions, failing to give the required quantity and quality. Though successive ministries prioritised education, “the spread of college education, as well as professional and technical education in the State, was comparatively slow”. For example, the first medical college was established only in 1959 in Srinagar; the second, in Jammu, was established as late as 1973. These colleges however could only offer “education and training”. The first postgraduate medical institute came into being as late as 1982 and was granted the status of a University only in 1983. A report describes it thus-

the State did not do anything significant to set up engineering colleges up to the 1980s. This was also the case for polytechnics and nursing colleges. Thus right up till the 1980s, the avenues for professional education and skill-based courses were limited” (Mattoo, pp. 7-9).

Stagnation has pervaded higher education since 1990. Poor quality private engineering, B.Ed, and Business Schools proliferated in the intervening years. Tardy regulation ensured inadequate staffing and where ‘the problem of the quality of education imparted and employability of those being churned out remains’. Degree colleges arose only after 2005, and inaccessibility to education was significant till as late as 2018. Incentives against the status quo remain rare, since ‘the only agencies that check quality with the power to reward performance are the autonomous agencies of the Central Government, the UGC, the AICTE and NAAC’. Reform in higher education is glacial, with institutions unable to provide graduates industry required skills, making the youth unemployable. As this incompatibility hamstrings aspirations, ‘Kashmir’s youth are still on the streets pelting stones’. (Mattoo pp 9-11). Given the elevated male youth proportion of the population stood at 26.29% in 1989, the inability to provide adequate quality or skills for employment contributed to the insurgency in 1989.

Kashmir’s job market is anaemic due to its sluggish and imbalanced economy, with educated youth facing acute unemployment. From 2005-2013, 54,000 jobs were created in the State, while the labour force grew at an average 100,000 entrants per annum. The state attempted to attenuate the situation through economic emigration packages but had to disband them by 2016 (Puri, 2017).

As of 2018, 93% of unemployed male youth who were aged between 15 to 24 were literate. An examination of terrorists recruited until 2018 revealed that all were literate and qualifications ranged from middle school to doctorates. None of these men had been educated in Madrassahs. The profiles of three prominent terrorists with the Hizbul Mujahideen are revealing: Riyaz Naikoo, the slain commander, was a Mathematics teacher in a public school; Junaid Ashraf Sehrai, the son of the chief of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat had an MBA from the University of Kashmir; and Mannan Bashir Wani was a PhD scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University (FE Online 2018; Press Trust of India, 2020 & Masood 2020).

Economic reform has been stymied by a dynastic politico-bureaucratic class. Employment in the public sector is sought after, not because of the money, but job security, social security, and lack of alternatives. With limited employment, unemployed youth are attracted to terrorism as discussed earlier. This only furthered the hold of the politico-bureaucratic class which acts as a gatekeeper to public sector jobs through nepotism or corruption. This is best exemplified by the Jammu & Kashmir Bank Recruitment Scam in 2018, where 582 bank employees were replaced by political appointees (Ahmad, 2018). Resentment has grown as a result. With the proportion of male youth in Kashmir continuing to be elevated, the risk of these factors contributing to a renewal of an uptick in violence remains ever-present.

Economic Growth and Demography

Degrowth of the economy has a deleterious impact when it comes to the large youth cohort resorting to political violence in Kashmir. The existence of extractive institutions hobbles economic growth, where youth obtain few opportunities and remain excluded. For this reason, before Articles 370 and 35A rendered inoperative in August 2019, a lively debate raged on how political institutions could be made more inclusive. It was understood that this would demand a devolution of power requiring strengthening of local democratic bodies like Panchayats, holding Members of the Legislative Assembly to account, and thereby dramatically expanding the constituencies of stakeholders (Mattoo, 2000).

Inequalities and Demography

Kashmir is not homogenous (Cohen, p. 260) and the insurgency is marked by communal strife. Selective killings by terrorists and the forced exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 are evidence of perceived socioeconomic cleavages playing a role in the unrest. The justification for such violence by terrorists, included accusations of collusion with the Indian Government, alleged monopolisation of the oppressive pre-independence Dogra administration, and competition for political-economic control (a niche overlap) (Pandita, passim) resulting from the rise of education in the Kashmiri Muslim community (Dhar, pp. 24-25).

However, it appears that a precipitous decline in the Hindu and Sikh proportions of the population had become an identifiable trend by as early as 1981 which had until then, been relatively “stable” (Centre for Policy Studies, 2014, 1-12). The most likely reason seems to be employment related, where better standards of educational attainment offered brighter opportunities outside the erstwhile State. Naturally, dwindling numbers but better fortunes, as some emigre wealth trickled back, further fueled a perceived sense of horizontal inequality while increasing the vulnerability of those minorities which stayed behind. With this economic grievance, the addition of a political grievance could spark violence, which it ultimately did in 1989, as well as in 1986, apart from the communal violence seen in 1931. On all three occasions, the narrative of the ‘rich’ Pandit who was ‘oppressing’ the ‘poor’ Muslim with State support was an omnipresent theme.

Narratives of Kashmiri Pandits dominating the Dogra bureaucracy and being instruments of oppression are “mythology” borne of British Policy during the Great Game, which required the Dogra regime to be perceived as “oppressive”. The poverty of the peasantry, which largely belonged to the Kashmiri Muslim community was “highly exaggerated” by the British, yet their “material condition”, according to Walter Lawrence, was still better than their counterparts in the rest of India. The “very few” Kashmiri Pandits proximate to the Dogra Regime were descended from families who had emigrated from Kashmir several generations earlier and were “culturally and linguistically” not a part of the Kashmiri Pandit community in the Valley. Kashmiri Pandits were predominantly lower-middle class and by occupation, “lower rung” civil servants, shopkeepers and schoolteachers. Only “half a dozen families” were within the Maharaja’s landed gentry. The most a Kashmiri Pandit could hope to achieve was to become a “clerk”, an ambition ridiculed in a popular ditty penned by the nineteenth century Kashmiri Pandit poet, Zinda Kaul. (Dhar, p. 21).

The Dogra regime was dominated by Punjabi Hindus, who were imported for this very purpose since 1846. This led to the growth of a “Punjabi ruling class” in the state. This ruling class also made significant inroads into trade, and it is here that a “niche overlap” with Kashmiri Muslims developed, in agriculture and trade. This overlap led to targeted killings of Punjabi Hindus of this “class” by terrorists starting in 1990 (Dulat & Sinha, 2015, pp 14-17). Yet, the myth of “Kashmiri Pandit oppressiveness” survives to this day and has become politically correct as a result of endorsement by Indian writers, both “Marxist” and “Nationalist” .The “spearhead” of the Quit Kashmir movement, Sheikh Abdullah also “fell victim to this propaganda” (Dhar, p. 24). All of this led to perceived Horizontal Inequalities and the ensuing resentment had devastating consequences for communal harmony.

As discussed earlier, there was once a degree of localized cooperation between Kashmiri militants and Sikh militants from the Khalistan insurgency. This led to Kashmiri insurgents long perceiving Kashmir’s miniscule Sikh minority to be co-belligerents against the Indian government. However this perception appeared to have lost currency as the Khalistan movement slowly waned into obscurity, presumably bringing a pre-existing niche overlap between the communities back to the fore. In 2000, the massacre of 36 Sikh villagers by the terror outfit, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the village of Chittisinghpura in Anantnag confirmed this shift (Swami, 2000).

“Lost Generations” and “Unadulterated Uprisings”

The allegedly rigged Elections of 1987 caused a loss of political legitimacy for the State among youth, followed by an eruption in 1989. This was somewhat repeated in 2008-2010, due to the Amarnath land issue. A similar reaction was seen with the governing alliance in 2014, just before a violent uptick. Thus, a peer-led political culture and imitative youth identity germinated, as they were excluded from political processes. They rejected traditional authority and exhibited imitation of older contemporaries. Many youths indulging in stone-pelting in 2008-2010 became full-fledged terrorists in 2014-15, reflecting this process.

The “Decentralised Onset” of political violence in Kashmir can be attributed to the localized nature of the insurgency and it remains decentralized with no evolution in leadership. A state of alienation with political elites led to slain terror ‘icons’ such as Maqbool Bhat in the 1990s and Burhan Wani post-2016 becoming rallying points. The prolific use of social media with the ‘new’ wave of insurgency post-2014, has amplified the potency of ‘icons’ both slain and living when it comes to indoctrination. However, the lack of centralization does not mean that social media has not played a role in accelerating Social Imitation among the new terror outfits, thus becoming a driving force for recruitment and coordination.

Similar to Palestine, the rejection of traditional forms of authority such as parental guidance is also apparent. Even more telling is the rejection of traditional authority within the fold of the insurgency itself- the new generation of terrorists post 2014 shows little reverence to the Hurriyat Conference. The young terrorist Zakir Musa’s outburst against the Hurriyat in which he threatened to behead their leaders is indicative of just how wide the gulf between them is (Shah).

Modernisation, Culture Shocks, and Urbanisation

Social changes arising from modernisation and its effects such as urbanisation, leaps in literacy rates, urbanization, the prevalence of mass media and a growing political consciousness contributes to the overlap between ‘Greed Perspective’ and the ‘Grievance Perspective’. Literacy rates among male youth in Kashmir are relatively high (around 78% in 2018). This has compounded the impact of a youth bulge and consequent unemployment on political violence. While there is increased political consciousness, there is a lack of political participation by the youth due to an exclusive dynastic system with a high degree of rent-seeking. While we have shed light on the profile of terrorists from the post-2014 period, which indicates all the hallmarks of modernisation (literacy, use of social media, etc), the question remains as to why they are overwhelmingly ‘urban’ unlike the 1990s (Shah et al.).

It can be deduced that the State’s long history of attempts to legitimise itself through a network of religious organizations have only allowed the undermining of the same while encouraging a greater degree of rent-seeking. The Jamaat-e-Islami in Kashmir is a pertinent example. The Jamaat was of course not exclusively religious, but the scope of “institutional capture” by this organization is all-encompassing. When the State government led by Farooq Abdullah was dismissed in 1984, its successor had to resort to “political support from the secessionist Jamaat-i-Islami to stay in power”. The new Chief Minister, G.M. Shah was compelled to “recruit Jamaati cadres in the Kashmir armed policestability was sought with the assistance of avowed destabilizers” (Dhar, p. 374). Institutional capture for the Jamaat depended on the threat of mass political violence. It fielded proxy candidates both in mainstream political parties and in the Hurriyat and acted as a political patron for the terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen. The incumbent commander, Syed Salahuddin is a Jamaati himself. The Jamaat was finally banned and went underground in 2019 (Special Correspondent, 2019).


Existing scholarship, while being depthful, has been piecemeal. Harmonising different approaches based on available data, the Framework outlined here builds a cohesive picture of the link between demography and political violence. In Kashmir, the probing of causal factors in isolation has resulted in incomplete solutions, lacking sufficient predictive and ameliorative vigour. While its applicability to Kashmir has been robust, the Framework is sufficiently generalisable for deciphering the anatomy of unrest. It permits one to foretell the likelihood of unrest in the future based on structural factors and grievances; allowing for prophylactic actions. Furthermore, as the data collection and analysis capabilities of agencies improve, the Framework could form a gestalt bedrock for comprehensive security management in the future, which blends non-traditional and traditional notions of security based on structural fundamentals.

(Deekhit Bhattacharya is a student of Law at the University of Delhi, after graduating from the University of Delhi with a B.A. (Honours) in Economics. He has interned previously at the Australia India Institute at New Delhi, and the Federation of Indian Exports Organisations under the Ministry of Commerce, the Government of India. Reach him at

(Ishan Dhar graduated from George Washington University with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science in 2015. He has formerly been a Researcher & Project Officer at the Australia India Institute and a Research Intern at the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies in New Delhi. Ishan has also participated in Tiger Watch's wildlife conservation interventions since 2014. He has co-authored the titles Wildlife Warriors and Jhalana: Leopard Forest in the Pink City. Reach him at

(Anshika Mittal is pursuing a Masters in Operational Research from the University of Delhi, after having graduated from the University of Delhi with a B.A. (Honours) in Statistics. She has previously interned at Quadranglesearch, an Info Edge subsidiary.)


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