Conflict in Kashmir: Stasis, Stability or Chaos?


As we enter the 19th day of mass protests, curfews and other forms of breakdown in Kashmir, it may be time to review and assess the nature of the issue and the possible payoffs to parties or players. It may be stated here that Kashmir descended into anarchy and comprehensive break down after the killing of the popular militant commander, Burhan Wani.

Wani’s killing triggered massive protests which led to a cycle of violence and counter violence by the state which, in turn, exacted a death toll of over 50 persons and left thousands injured.

On the 18th day, when the government relaxed the curfew, there appeared to be no change in the momentum and drift of protests; young boys took over the streets of Srinagar and other areas and essentially commanded these public spaces.  The question is that given the impasse that defines the politics of the vale contemporarily , what likely outcomes will prevail here? And, perhaps more importantly, what could be the prudent, win win solutions to the impasse?

If a metaphor might be employed, the conditions or the impasse that obtains in Kashmir corresponds to what may be called a “game of chicken”-  a model of conflict between two players in game theory. According to the Wikipedia, “ The term “chicken” owes its genesis to a game in which two drivers drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the crash, but if one driver swerves and the other does not, the one who swerved is called a “chicken”” ( That is, the driver who blinks first loses.

“It is presumed that the best thing for each driver is to stay straight while the other swerves (since the other is the “chicken” while a crash is avoided). Additionally, a crash is presumed to be the worst outcome for both players. This yields a situation where each player, in attempting to secure his best outcome, risks the worst. The phrase game of chicken is also used as a metaphor for a situation where two parties engage in a showdown where they have nothing to gain, and only pride stops them from backing down”(Ibid).

If the “game of chicken” metaphor and its implications and consequences are grafted onto the Kashmir impasse, it yields the following assessment: the people of Kashmir and the state are involved in a game of chicken wherein both are headed on a collision course and each hopes that the other will swerve first (or blink) but this is not happening. What ensues is a collision or a crash. This “game” is repeated many times till one of the parties blinks. When one party “blinks” or “swerves”, this leads to a reprieve which , however , is of a temporary nature. Recrudescence of conflict ensues and Kashmir is back to square one-that is, an impasse.

From a macro perspective, this may suit the state given that the “payoff” from the game is not existentially threatening to it. The state appears to be more interested in “stasis” and stability than resolution of the conflict in and over Kashmir. The issue is if the game is repeated multiple or many times, then stasis gives rise to disequilibrium which is deleterious for all players. Admittedly, this is a long term perspective on the game but falls in the realm of probability.

The best or in the jargon of economics, pareto efficient outcome would be a “ multiple equilibria” which ultimately leads to dynamic equilibrium wherein all parties are equidistant and in stable equilibrium. Decoded, this means that the conflict in and over Kashmir is resolved in a way that redounds to the interests and benefits of all stakeholders- especially Kashmiris- that is, a condition of stable equilibrium, which will break the impasse and will be win win , non zero sum solution. Given the fluid conditions that obtain in Kashmir contemporarily, the time for this resolution is now. Will the stakeholders sincerely try this approach? No.  As the brinkmanship in the game of chicken reminds , pride is involved which will militate against what rationality would suggest; resolution of the conflict.  This will the prosaic reality of Kashmir for a long time to come. Alas!

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