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Symbiotic Suppression: How Digital Authoritarianism Helps Facilitate Physical Repression in Indian Controlled Kashmir


Within the scholarship of authoritarianism, there is a growing assumption that as a regime’s access to digital means of repression increases, use of violence and other forms of physical state repression will be replaced and decrease. However, since India’s revocation of Kashmir’s special semi-autonomous status in August 2019, the nature of the ensuing crackdown has suggested that this understanding of modern repression may be incomplete—especially in light of India’s extensive use of the digital tactics that purportedly facilitate this transition. Through examining a broad collection of Kashmiri activist, survivor, journalist, and NGO accounts since August 5, 2019, this thesis contends that digital authoritarianism and physical repression can actually thrive symbiotically—offering substantial dividends for the regime at the expense of the civilian dissent. In particular, these findings highlight the need for future research to continue studying the development of “symbiotic” situations like Kashmir, as well as to begin identifying the ways in which international players can leverage change in this evolving realm of repression.
The University of Maine The University of Maine
DigitalCommons@UMaine DigitalCommons@UMaine
Honors College
Fall 12-2020
Symbiotic Suppression: How Digital Authoritarianism Helps Symbiotic Suppression: How Digital Authoritarianism Helps
Facilitate Physical Repression in Indian Controlled Kashmir Facilitate Physical Repression in Indian Controlled Kashmir
Patrick Aaron White
University of Maine - Main
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Repression in Indian Controlled Kashmir" (2020).
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Patrick Aaron White
A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for a Degree with Honors
(Political Science)
The Honors College
University of Maine
December 2020
Advisory Committee:
Robert Glover, Associate Professor of Political Science and Honors, Advisor
Asif Nawaz, Assistant Professor of History and International Affairs
Judith Rosenbaum, Associate Professor of Communications and Journalism
Amber Tierney, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Kristin Vekasi, Associate Professor of Political Science and School of Policy and
International Affairs
© 2021 Patrick White
All Rights Reserved
Within the scholarship of authoritarianism, there is a growing assumption that as a
regime’s access to digital means of repression increases, use of violence and other forms
of physical state repression will be replaced and decrease. However, since India’s
revocation of Kashmir’s special semi-autonomous status in August 2019, the nature of
the ensuing crackdown has suggested that this understanding of modern repression may
be incomplete—especially in light of India’s extensive use of the digital tactics that
purportedly facilitate this transition. Through examining a broad collection of Kashmiri
activist, survivor, journalist, and NGO accounts since August 5, 2019, this thesis
contends that digital authoritarianism and physical repression can actually thrive
symbiotically—offering substantial dividends for the regime at the expense of the civilian
dissent. In particular, these findings highlight the need for future research to continue
studying the development of “symbiotic” situations like Kashmir, as well as to begin
identifying the ways in which international players can leverage change in this evolving
realm of repression.
Thank you to the Honors College for providing me with years of opportunity,
engagement, and powerful friendships.
To the entire Departments of Political Science and Leadership Studies—
especially Peter Madigan, Ryan Larochelle, and James Warhola—for pushing me,
encouraging my passions, and always going the extra mile.
To my academic advisor, Richard Powell, for being everything and more one
could ever expect from a professor, advisor, and person.
To my thesis committee—Kristin Vekasi, Asif Nawaz, Judith Rosenbaum, and
Amber Tierney—for their candor, kindness, and incredible expertise.
To my thesis advisor, Robert Glover, for two semesters of true genuineness in a
year where it was often so hard to find. Unequivocally, this work would not have been
possible without his constant, selfless generosity of time and effort. Words cannot fully
capture his patience and care, nor my utmost respect and deepest appreciation.
Finally, to the friends and family that have been with me from birth and beyond.
Their names and my thoughts could not possibly fit between these two covers, and they
alone are the reason why I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
Thank you.
Introduction ..........................................................................................................................1
Chapter 1: Theoretical Framework ......................................................................................6
Filtering ..........................................................................................................................13
Blocking .........................................................................................................................13
Co-opting .......................................................................................................................14
Flooding .........................................................................................................................14
Chapter 2: Literature Review .............................................................................................17
Surveillance of dissidents ..............................................................................................27
Dissemination of misinformation ..................................................................................28
Regime legitimization ....................................................................................................30
Create Fear .....................................................................................................................32
Elimination of dissenters’ operational capacity .............................................................34
Chapter 3: Historical Context ............................................................................................40
Early Development of Kashmir .....................................................................................40
The Partition of India and the First IndoPak War ..........................................................47
Kashmir in Decline ........................................................................................................56
Chapter 4: Analysis ............................................................................................................67
Methodology ..................................................................................................................67
Physical repression .........................................................................................................71
Extrajudicial killings ..............................................................................................71
Torture and Rape ....................................................................................................75
Physical surveillance ..............................................................................................80
Mass imprisonments and detentions ......................................................................83
Digital authoritarianism .................................................................................................88
Internet shutdowns .................................................................................................89
Chapter 5: Discussion and Conclusion ..............................................................................97
Discussion ......................................................................................................................97
Conclusion ...................................................................................................................103
Bibliography ....................................................................................................................106
Author’s Biography .........................................................................................................115
Table 1. Relative Usage and Effectiveness of Authoritarian Tactics Within Five Goals of
Autocrats ............................................................................................................................96
They're marauding our homes and hearths like a victorious army. They are now
behaving as if they have a right over our lives, property and honor.
- Nazir Ahmed Bhat, Kashmiri resident
September 2019
August 4th and 5th, 2019 would become a watershed moment in the history of one
of the most dangerous regions in the world. Jammu and Kashmir, a territory caught in the
crossfire between two disdainful nuclear powers in India and Pakistan, was seeing the
final fragmentary remains of its partial autonomy ripped away suddenly and violently.
Article 370 of the Indian Constitution—the long-debated provision which afforded Indian
controlled Jammu and Kashmir (referred to hereafter as simply “Kashmir”) this semi-
autonomous status—was scrapped by the central government, and the ensuing crackdown
on the Kashmiri population was largely unparalleled by any previous democracy. In the
immediate wake of the revocation, home invasions by the Indian security apparatus were
widespread, gross human rights violations became a tool of intimidation, and thousands
were briskly detained as the valley went into a vicious state of effective house arrest.
Such brutal lockdowns may have historical precedence in autocratic regimes, but
the fact that this was undertaken by a country internationally viewed as the “world’s
largest democracy” was cause for a new level of concern. Moreover, Indian repression in
Kashmir was by no means anything new, but this old-school authoritarian crackdown was
being implemented with the aid of a newer autocratic tactic: an internet blackout. At this
point in time, India already outpaced the rest of the world in its use of this practice, and
Aijaz Hussain, “Kashmiris allege night terror by Indian troops in crackdown,” Associated Press,
(September 14, 2019).
Kashmir was victim to more than two-thirds of them.
However, the 213-day blackout
that would follow became the longest ever imposed by a democracy, and the severing of
digital networks meant that the Kashmiri people were now isolated from the rest of the
world, the rest of the valley, and in many cases, from their very own families. India was
determined to crush a movement of dissent—which would likely have been unmatched in
Kashmir’s long history—before it could ever begin, and just as they had over hundreds of
years of occupation and oppression, the Kashmiris would pay dearly.
Viewing these blackouts alongside India’s blackouts is puzzling, especially due to
an increasing assertion in the research literature on authoritarianism that these types of
crackdowns should be subsiding. According to this line of thinking, autocrats are actively
transitioning away from more physical means of repression thanks in large part to
opportunities now afforded by the development of new internet technologies and
information landscapes. In short, why take on the risks of killing one’s own people when
the information that stirs discontent can instead be manipulated to prevent popular
pushback? Both strategies encompass controlling a population, but the latter can be
accomplished much less overtly than the former.
Therefore, an important and distinct dilemma arises: there is evidence that
dictators are increasingly turning to digital tools of repression, yet violent repression
continues to persist as part of India’s tactical repertoire—despite its purporting to being
the world’s largest democracy. If access to the tools and infrastructure of digital
authoritarianism truly decrease state use of physical repression, what explains the
Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, “Kashmir’s Internet Siege: an ongoing assault on digital
rights,” n.a. (2020),
development of the situation in Kashmir—especially since August 2019? Is it possible
that the global trend identified by contemporary scholars is not entirely representative of
the reality of the ground? If so, what conclusions can be drawn about the relationship
between digital and traditional authoritarianism? This thesis explores all of these issues,
especially as it relates to Guriev and Treisman’s theory of “informational autocrats,”
under the core research question: how has the availability of digital authoritarianism
affected the Indian government’s use of violence in its suppression of the Kashmiri
At this point, there may be one immediate pattern that is cause for confusion: why
is India being discussed in the same context of autocrats and authoritarianism? After all,
Freedom House still classifies the country as “Free” in its 2020 report of global
democracy, and few would argue that the country itself resembles a government close to
that of regional autocratic rivals like China and Russia.
The answer is relatively
straightforward: for all intents and purposes, Indian Kashmir is not free. In the same 2020
report, Freedom House gives the territory a score of 28 out of 100—compared to India’s
71 and last year’s Kashmir‘s 49—and affirms its peoples’ current reality with a “not free”
While the semantics of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can be debated extensively by those focused on Hindu
nationalism and the larger politics of the Indian subcontinent, what cannot be disputed is
that the Kashmiris are actively being oppressed in an environment of authoritarianism
and to act otherwise would be misinformed. Therefore, this thesis accurately
Freedom House, “India: Freedom in the World 2020,” n.a., (2020),
Freedom House, “Indian Kashmir: Freedom in the World 2020,” n.a., (2020),
contextualizes India, its security apparatus, and its central government within
authoritarianist nomenclature like “autocrat” and “regime” regardless of whether this
reasonably applies to the rest of India proper, and leaves this latter, separate debate for
others to approach.
To start, Chapter 1 provides a theoretical framework which situates the reality in
Kashmir within the field of authoritarianism, identifies the core components of digital
authoritarianism, and introduces the concept of informational autocracy that becomes so
central to the research question at large. This is followed by a literature review in Chapter
2, which dives deeper into Guriev and Treisman’s theory, articulates the five main goals
of autocratic regimes, and contextualizes this with reference to other states and regimes.
Chapter 3 examines the history of Kashmir and its centuries-long struggle for
independence, and Chapter 4 specifically analyses the events that have taken place since
the revocation of Article 370 in 2019. From a methodological standpoint, this is largely
accomplished by collecting sources in a manner similar to the process known as snowball
sampling, albeit using Twitter as a specific medium for this collection. In Chapter 5,
some of the larger questions posed by the analysis are approached in greater detail, and
ends with the work’s conclusionary thoughts.
As is discussed in the chapters ahead, a variety of factors makes it impossible that
this thesis could provide a truly comprehensive account of the situation that has erupted
in Kashmir. That said, these challenges do not diminish the importance of beginning to
investigate the current reality, as the ensuing results have extraordinary implications for
both the future of the Kashmir conflict as well as global democracy at large. Hopefully,
future research will continue to analyze the struggle in Kashmir, and start to provide
answers to the questions this work raises.
It seems the idea that a ‘world is only a click away’ doesn’t exist for Kashmiris.
-Bazila Ehsan, Kashmiri PhD scholar
August 2020
In a field as often highly contested as political science, there is one reality that is
as close to a consensus as there will ever be: the dawn of the internet and the modern
digital age has had a monumental impact on the political process across the board. While
the actual manifestation of these effects has certainly been hypothesized and debated with
no end in sight, the development of the most highly complex means of communication in
human history has changed the way elections are held, politicians reach their constituents,
regimes oppress their populace, and movements spur societal change. Internet
technologies have dramatically altered the landscape of opportunities available to
individuals, groups, and governments, and any complete, up-to-date understanding of the
Kashmir issue must recognize and account for such factors.
When examining the theories of networks at the most fundamental level, it is easy
to see how influential the internet has truly become as a means of mass communication
and information storage. Mueller argues that networks exist in the social sciences in two
separate, distinguishable ways: as a means of “network analysis,” as well as in an
Safwat Zargar, “A year without high-speed internet ravaged health, education, entrepreneurship in
Kashmir,”, (August 1, 2020).
“organizational form.”
According to Mueller, the latter usage of the term can be broken
down in a myriad of complex interdisciplinary fragmentations, though he identifies three
that are particularly relevant to the literature of economic organizations and political
science: production networks, peer production, and political networks.
While the
network in its organizational form is closely tied to its other iteration as a tool for
network analysis—and certainly has inherent value in its own right—it is the first
definition that holds the most relevance in this specific case.
The components of network analysis can be understood as a large web of various,
interconnected links and nodes. In simplest terms, a node can be practically any tangible
thing within the universe, while a link is the binding which creates the relationship
between two nodes. For example, this type of network analysis can help explain the
spread of a disease during a pandemic, with individual humans representing nodes while
physical proximity acts as the vehicle in which exposure and transmission occur.
As it relates to communication and the spread of information, the power of the
internet as a link between nodes is widely understood even if it is not always fully
appreciated. To continue within the example of a pandemic, an unobstructed internet
connection allows for the nearly instant, seamless transfer of information by a doctor in
New York to a peer in New Delhi. While the links that made up this network certainly
did exist at prior points in history—in the form of phone calls, telegrams, or even
traditional “snail mail,” for example—some of these methods could take hours, weeks, or
Milton Mueller, Networks and States: The Global Politics of Internet Governance (Cambridge: MIT
Press: 2010), 31.
Ibid, 34-38.
Ibid, 33.
even months in a situation where speed is of the utmost importance. Looking even more
broadly, the value of rapid, secure means of linkage is obvious for social movements
looking to coordinate in the most efficient way—especially those under the control of
autocratic oppression. Where in-person meetings between known dissent leaders may be
infeasible due to physical separation by the regime’s coercive apparatus, internet
technologies allow for the sharing of data and information that are crucial in building a
This application of network analysis to the politics of social movements
immediately raises important, pertinent questions. For example, exactly what
opportunities do these digital tools open up to dissenters in an oppressed society?
Likewise, can these same tools also be utilized by authoritarians in order to preserve the
regime’s balance of power? The answer to this last question in particular is fundamental
in order to appropriately approach the research question.
First, the effects of internet technologies on a dissenting movement itself are
perhaps no better exemplified than by the idea of transnational advocacy networks.
Transnational advocacy networks, as Keck and Sikkink propose them, are specific to
activists as opposed to economic firms or experts in a scientific field, and are formed with
the purpose of changing the behavior of states and international organizations.
groups operate on a basis of shared values and goals, and operate both domestically as
well as transnationally. Keck and Sikkink identify seven major actors that comprise
advocacy networks in some combination: international and domestic nongovernmental
Margaret Keck, Kathryn, Sikkink. Activists beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics,
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), 1-2.
research and advocacy organizations (NGOs); local social movements; foundations; the
media; churches, trade unions, consumer organizations, and intellectuals; parts of
regional and international intergovernmental organizations; and parts of the executive
and/or parliamentary branches of governments.
These different actors can be more effectively understood through a process
which Keck and Sikkink define as the boomerang pattern.
Put simply, when the state
denies the demands of its populations, a domestic NGO or social movement will seek to
share information with external actors within its transnational advocacy network, who in
turn will share information with and exert pressure on their own state and relevant
intergovernmental organizations. If adequately convinced, these states and
intergovernmental organizations will use their own influence to pressure the original
country to change their course of action. While this model certainly does not guarantee
the successful realization of a movement’s goals, it does at the very least create the
potential for change that may very well not have existed without such networks.
Clearly, the impact of internet technologies in this process within in authoritarian
society can be profound. Of course, these types of transnational advocacy networks could
certainly exist in a less digitalized world, as information can spread in a variety of
different ways as it has for all of human history. That said, means of communication like
text, phone, email, and social media allow information to spread exponentially more
quickly than it ever could before, and likewise, the efficiency of today’s advocacy
networks is simply unmatched. An autocratic state may be able to seal its physical
borders, but as long as the internet remains accessible to members of the general
Ibid, 9.
Ibid, 13.
population the regime is essentially unable to stop the transfer of information abroad. For
a state unable to weather forms of international pressure like economic sanctions, this
could be a death sentence for regime stability.
Theories like these demonstrate clearly that internet technologies have absolutely
opened up opportunities to dissenters that were simply not available in the past. Taken at
face value, such a fact may even suggest that on this basis, the existence of these
technologies must therefore be an overall positive factor in the democratization process.
However, this claim fails to take into account that the same characteristics that potentially
make these technologies so powerful for social movements can also be utilized by the
powers being rebelled against. Without a doubt, a fuller understanding of internet
technologies from the authoritarian perspective is required in order to achieve a more
complete analysis.
Though Guriev and Treisman are the first to coin the specific term “informational
autocracy” in the academic realm, there is much related literature that also aids in
painting a clearer picture of the dynamics and motivations that drive contemporary
autocratic regimes. Gandhi and Lust-Okar, for example, eschew traditionally broader
scholarship to explicitly study the purposes of holding elections in a dictatorship.
of Roberts’ work seeks to illustrate the lessons learned by regimes when implementing
censorship, and what the potential consequences of such actions can be.
Others such as
Egorov and Sonin have even gone as far as to study how the size and composition of an
Jennifer Gandhi, Ellen Lust-Okar, “Elections Under Authoritarianism,” Annual Review of Political
Science, no. 12 (2009), 403-422.
Margaret Roberts, “Resilience to Online Censorship,” Annual Review of Political Science, no, 23 (2020),
autocrat’s inner support circle can affect the overall regime’s stability.
Guriev and
Treisman’s most recent work stands out, though, in its ability to tie such a wide variety of
factors under the singular umbrella of informational autocracy theory.
In essence, the central argument Guriev and Treisman make is that autocrats
remain in power by proving their competence to the general populace.
While such
leaders have a vast array of means to convince the public of this fact, the empirical
evidence shows that modern dictators have overwhelmingly embraced nonviolent
measures of suppression in stark contrast to their historically violent counterparts. These
informational autocrats manipulate information rather than kill, and Guriev and Treisman
contend that it is this transition that has allowed so many regimes to survive well into the
twenty-first century.
They also cite that the core threat to such a regime’s stability is the ability to
continually manage control over the informed elite, and balance modernization without
too greatly enabling its inherent facilitation of democratization.
This quandary of
modernization at the potential expense of liberalization has been recognized in academia
as the “dictator’s dilemma,” and was brought to the political spotlight in 1985 by United
States Secretary of State George Shultz:
Totalitarian societies face a dilemma: either they try to stifle these
technologies and thereby fall further behind in the new industrial
revolution, or else they permit these technologies and see their totalitarian
control inevitably eroded. In fact, they do not have a choice, because they
will never be able to entirely block the tide of technological advance.
Georgy Egorov, Konstantin Sonin, “Dictators and Their Viziers: Endogenizing the Loyalty Competence
Trade-off,” Journal of the European Economic Association 9, no. 2 (2011), 903-930.
Sergei Guriev; Daniel Treisman, “Informational Autocrats,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 33, no. 4
(Fall 2019), 101.
Ibid, 124.
George Shultz, “Shaping American Foreign Policy: New Realities and New Ways of Thinking,” Foreign
Affairs, Spring 1985.
While this these words may have been largely directed at the Soviet Union near the
turning point of the Cold War, Shultz’s sentiment rings true perhaps even more greatly
thirty-five years later. It is nearly impossible to maintain a successful twenty-first century
economy without the use of the internet in at least some way, and as concepts like the
boomerang effect suggest, once this technology truly connects the public to the outside
world a regime can quickly suffer attacks on its legitimacy. If legitimacy is severely
undermined, in the eyes of Guriev and Treisman, a transition of power is almost
inevitable. Hence, there is a real incentive for dictators to adopt and effectively utilize the
strategy of informational autocracy.
Generally in political science, the process of oppression using digital information
technology has been termed digital authoritarianism.
In recent years, much of the
subject’s relevant scholarship has been focused on the exportation of such technologies
around the world—particularly by Russia and China.
Certainly, the tracking of such
developments is of extreme importance as it relates to the promotion of democratic
ideals—and likewise, the rejection of authoritarianism—around the world. However,
some scholars have begun to push back on the way that the concept is commonly
understood and applied. Gunitsky, for one, contends that the specific strategies typically
associated with nondemocratic regimes are increasingly finding usage in democratic
states as well.
Regardless of which terminology one prefers, it is still paramount to both
Alina Polyakova, Chris Meserole, “Exporting digital authoritarianism,” Brookings Institute, 2020. 1.
Valentin Weber, “The Worldwide Web of Chinese and Russian Information Controls,” Centre for
Technology and Global Affairs, University of Oxford, May 2019.
Seva Gunitsky, “Is Digital Authoritarianism Still a Useful Concept?” University of Toronto, 2019,
define and describe the four main strategies of digital oppression in order to fully
recognize the threats they pose.
To start, filtering is a complex process where a regime will systematically deny
access to some—but not all—internet content. To be clear, filtering is not a technique that
follows a uniform set of principles from country to country; instead, the practice can vary
widely in each case due to factors such as the existing power’s priorities, degree of social
unrest, and the technological capability of the regime.
Though this strategy requires a
high degree of effort to maintain due to the constant need to surveil and shift access, it
can be considered a softer measure than its closely related “blocking” counterpart.
This technique goes by many different names, and is also commonly known as an
“internet shutdown” or “blackout.” When a regime chooses to block the internet as a
whole, it benefits by severing the network-based means of communication across an
entire city, region, or even the country as a whole. This can be particularly useful in
situations where other forms of non-localized contact may be limited, or when the goal is
to isolate a certain group of people—such as a protest. In a macro-sense, this isolation
can also help a regime mitigate the effects of developments like the boomerang pattern as
access to international allies, media, and NGOs are assumedly inaccessible.
While the impacts of this bolder, more absolute tactic are far reaching—and the
actual effectiveness heavily debated—there seems to be a few key indicators of when a
Sebastian Hellmeier, “The Dictator’s Digital Toolkit: Explaining Variation in Internet Filtering in
Authoritarian Regimes,” Politics & Policy 44, no. 6 (2016), 1177.
shutdown may occur. Primarily, the existence of conflict seems to be at the top of this
Additionally, as the amount of foreign aid sent from the United States rises, the
likelihood that country will blackout their internet significantly falls. Also, if a state has a
past history of shutting down its internet—especially within the last year—it has a much
higher chance of taking such action again than countries who have little to no blackout
track record.
Conversely, the process of co-opting does not actually seek to limit the spread
information at all. Instead, governments will “proactively subvert […] social media for
their own purposes,” which typically entails the gauging of public sentiment, bolstering
of regime legitimacy, and the enhancement of mobilization and support.
identifies a myriad of implications stemming from this process, chiefly among them the
fact that “citizen participation in social media may not signal regime weakness, but may
in fact enhance regime strength and adaptability.”
The final of these four methods is known as flooding. Roberts defines this
technique as “the promotion of information, which changes the relative costs of access by
making competing information cheaper and off-limits information relatively more
In simplest terms, when faced with a story or event that a government may
Elizabeth Sutterlin, “Flipping the Kill Switch: Why Governments Shut Down the Internet,Honors
Thesis, (William and Mary, 2020), 43-47.
Gunitsky, 2.
Margaret Roberts, Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall, (New Jersey:
Princeton University Press, 2018), 193.
view as damaging or destabilizing, it may choose to oversaturate the information space
with its own content to the point where the initial matter becomes exceedingly difficult to
access—and if accessed, potentially significantly delegitimized. Gunitsky contends that
“the goal of flooding is not to dominate the informational space but to dilute it.”
On this
note, it should be recognized that the use of such a tactic on a specific population is not
necessarily confined to the leaders of the people itself: the nature of an open internet
inherently allows for this to be weaponized by groups, organizations, and even external,
foreign influences.
This last point carries significance for all four tactics. For sure, use of the first two
strategies is much rarer in democratic states than their autocratic counterparts. That said,
the number of countries that utilized blocking alone rose from 2018 to 2019, and both
India, the United Kingdom, and the United States were democracies that contributed to
this trend.
Furthermore, the final two techniques are not only existent in democracies—
their current use in countries such as the United States can be seen openly by domestic
and foreign actors alike. In an environment where information has the ability to flow
freely, the only thing stopping techniques like flooding and co-opting from flourishing is
lack of action from interested parties. While this matter presents many pertinent questions
itself, the most relevant consideration should be that the means of information
manipulation (and depending on the lengths taken, digital oppression) are not just
potentialities in a country connected to the web—they are current realities.
Gunitsky, 2.
BBerhan Taye, Targeted, Cut off, And Left in the Dark: The #KeepItOn report on internet shutdowns in
2019, Access Now, 2020.
Taken altogether, it is clear that that progression of internet technologies has
opened up new channels of opportunity to authoritarian regimes that simply had not
existed historically. So, as it relates to the larger research question, does this mean that
these new opportunities truly supplant the traditional means of violent state action, as
scholars like Guriev and Treisman suggest? Or is something more sinister perhaps at
play: the reality that these technologies may actually complement the use of violent
repression? In the ensuing literature review, a deeper look into the empirical evidence
demonstrates that while the former argument certainly has its merits, it is impossible to
ignore the validity of the latter.
The state is using a mix of harassment, intimidation, surveillance and online
information control to silence critical voices and force journalists to resort to
-Ravi R Prasad, IPI Director of Advocacy
March 2020
Guriev and Treisman’s work takes a forward role in the review of the existing
literature as this thesis undoubtedly owes an intellectual debt to their theory of
informational autocracy. The main scope of this thesis’ analysis is centered around
Guriev and Treisman’s core contention that repression is on the decline throughout the
world, and what role internet technologies play in this trend. A particularly constructive
way of achieving this is by viewing state action through the lens of autocratic regime
goals: namely, surveillance of dissidents, dissemination of misinformation, regime
legitimization, creation of fear, and elimination of dissenter’s operational capacity. In
short, if one can begin to understand the underlying intentions of an autocrat, it can then
be reasoned whether advances in modern technologies make the realization of these aims
more efficient. If so, not only can the prevalence of state violence and digital
authoritarianism be determined, but their interworking role in enabling regime
stabilization may be discovered as well.
Minna Heikura, “Journalism in Kashmir: State of repression,” International Press Institute, March 17,
Admittedly, the classification of these goals strictly within the confines of
“autocracy” and “authoritarianism” is somewhat problematic. Much of this relates to the
argument made by Gunitsky as it pertains to the term “digital authoritarianism.” Simply
put, associating the use of internet technologies to achieve the above five aims would
improperly exclude many within democratic societies who do the very same.
In the United States, for example, a June 2020 leak revealed that local and federal
law enforcement agencies were tracking protestors during the summer’s Black Lives
Matter demonstrations: surveilling personal communications as well as monitoring public
forums like Facebook event RSVPs to log future protests and specific individuals.
falls neatly within the constraints of the aforementioned “surveillance of dissidents”
category. Furthermore, President Donald Trump spent much of the leadup and wake of
the 2020 election spreading misinformation about clear and established electoral
processes; Trump employed this strategy so much so that the platform actually began to
label his tweets as “disputed” or “misleading”—eventually permanently suspending his
account after his rhetoric helped incite the January 2021 Capitol attack. By utilizing
Twitter as a means to systematically disseminate falsehoods about mail-in voting, vote
tabulation, and election results, the President sought to legitimize an ongoing incumbency
at a point he perceived himself to be losing control. While this still may have been
possible without the use of internet technologies, the capability to instantaneously reach
hundreds of millions of Twitter users substantially increased his ability to achieve the
second and third categories of the goals list.
Mara Hvistendahl; Alleen Brown, “Law Enforcement Scoured Protester Communications and
Exaggerated Threats to Minneapolis Cops, Leaked Documents Show,” The Intercept, June 26, 2020.
In spite of this, these goals are still worthy of consideration under the umbrella of
authoritarianism. While Gunitsky makes the strong assertion that terms like “digital
authoritarianism” can cause observers to overlook such instances within nonauthoritarian
states, his take does not detract from the reality that these cases are in fact incompatible
with the core tenets of liberalism regardless of whether they occur within a democratic
setting. In short, shying away from appropriately descriptive nomenclature could have the
unintended consequence of lessening the perceived nature of the threat these tactics pose.
As a final point prior to the examination of the relevant literature, clarification
regarding the usage of several key terms should be established outright. Though
“repression” and “violence” may seemingly be used interchangeably throughout this
piece, an important distinction should be drawn between the two. While violence can
absolutely be a manifestation of repression, repression can also include non-bloody
coercive acts such as “arrests, imprisonment…denial of due processes and
Simply put, all state violence is repressive, but not all repression is
explicitly violent. Recognizing this difference is crucial in determining the precise nature
of authoritarian action by the state.
Empirically, the theory of informational autocracy laid out by Guriev and
Treisman is strongly convincing. In their 2017 dataset on authoritarian control
techniques, the two were able to measure the average amount of state killings conducted
by autocrats ruling for at least five years in the period from 1945 to 2015. As finding
accurate statistics for topics like such human rights abuses is commonly difficult due to
widespread disputes and cover-ups, the dataset draws from over 950 sources across a
John M Richardson, “Violence and Repression: Neglected factors in development planning,” Futures 19,
no. 6, (1987), 652.
broad breadth of origins. Two main trends emerge: first, while the number of dictators
who were responsible for at least ten killings per year rose by over twenty percent from
the 1940s to the 1980s, this category of leader dropped sharply from that point forward—
down over thirty percent into the 2010s.
Secondly, outside of a brief reversion of the
1940s mean during the 1960s, the amount of dictators responsible for at least one
hundred killings has decreased consistently over the past seventy years.
The evidence for this decrease in killings becomes even stronger when accounting
for a variety of related factors and patterns. Though political killings have been shown to
increase during times of civil war and major insurgency, eliminating leaders who ruled
under such circumstances from the dataset actually sharpens the decrease.
instances of mass killings—defined by the deaths of at least one thousand
noncombatants—fell twenty-one percent from 1992 to 2013.
Certainly, political killings are far from the only method of repression—or even
violent repression—that regimes have at their disposal. However, the data that Guriev
and Treisman have collected suggests that these other tactics are also in meaningful
decline. To start, use of torture from regimes has decreased from 96 percent to 74 percent
over the course of the last thirty years—a point the two cite as especially surprising due
to the fact that modern human rights monitoring should unveil instances of such abuse far
more effectively than could be done in the past.
Guriev and Treisman, 103.
Ibid, 105.
As it relates to nonviolent yet still unmistakably repressive actions, Guriev and
Treisman plot political imprisonment much in the same way that they measure state
killings. The drops are even more remarkable: the number of autocrats who detained
more than one hundred political prisoners in a given year plummeted forty-four percent
from the 1970s to the present, and those who detained more than one thousand plunged
forty-three percent.
Overall, when viewed holistically, it seems that both violent and
nonviolent means of repression have fallen significantly and consistently into the twenty-
first century.
While this does not necessarily mean that repression cannot be a successful tool in
the arsenal of an authoritarian regime, it would be shortsighted to act as if this decline has
happened for no reason. One theory Guriev and Treisman posit is that this decrease may
stem from the decline of appeal for communist, authoritarian ideologies since the end of
the Cold War—a fairly strong potential explanation considering political killings and
imprisonments dropped most drastically in the waning and succeeding years of the
As it relates to the larger question of internet technology’s role in this decline,
this makes it reasonable to surmise it is in fact larger democratization trends—not
technological developments—that have been more responsible for such regime changes.
Recent research also strongly suggests that, in one way or another, autocrats
around the world have shifted to understand that there are more effective means of
maintaining power and controlling a populace than brute force. For many, these lessons
Ibid, 106.
Ibid, 102.
were reinforced during the initial stages of the Arab Spring at the beginning of the
2010s—perhaps in no case as greatly as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
At a point where other contemporary autocrats at the international level had
clearly begun to shift their tactics—as evidenced by Guriev and Treisman—Mubarak
comfortably doubled down on the traditional means of control. For instance, in his
penultimate year of rule, when the number of dictators who had imprisoned more than
one thousand political prisoners was only at sixteen percent of authoritarian rulers over
the course of the decade worldwide, Human Rights Watch reported that between five to
ten thousand were detained in Egypt.
Under his reign, torture by the security apparatus
was a regular occurrence, and freedom of assembly and expression were nonexistent.
While Mubarak had fostered discontent for decades, the newly developing political and
technological environment he faced in 2011 created the perfect conditions for political
upheaval. His lack of responsiveness to these changing factors allows for a case study
which illustrates the limitations of repression in the modern age plainly.
Against the backdrop of the uprising in Tunisia that had successfully displaced
Ben Ali from power, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians would take to the streets to
protest the state of their own regime in January. However, it was not Tunisia nor
spontaneity that were the sole drivers of such collective action: international NGOs had
been strengthening the capabilities of domestic opposition groups significantly since the
1990s through the documentation of human rights abuses, networking with local groups,
In China, for instance, the term “Egypt” was blocked by the CCPan action which strongly implies their
recognition that Mubarak’s situation represented a threat not unique to Egypt, North Africa, or the Middle
East. See Arnaudo et al., 16.
Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Events of 2009,” n.a., 2009,
and mobilization of public opinion within Egypt. While it would be inappropriate to
assign all credit for the 2011 protests to these international organizations—it was the
Egyptian people who ultimately rose up—it would be equally problematic to deny the
impact that these groups had on the process.
Such actions are entirely consistent with the concept of the boomerang effect as
they demonstrate a clear example of a people subverting their nonresponsive government
by working with international allies. Selim summarizes the effects on the movement—
and Mubarak’s options—succinctly:
…These organizations played an important role in mobilizing Egyptian
public opinion against the oppressive nature of the Mubarak regime. As
the content of [their] reports became widely covered by local and
international media, opposition newspapers and social media forums,
opposition and civil society groups were able to attract larger domestic
audiences from diverse political and socioeconomic backgrounds in
support of their battle against the regime. This, in turn, put the Mubarak
regime under increasing pressure as it found it more difficult to proceed
with its oppressive measures without being detected and exposed, thereby
undermining its legitimacy.
This erosion of legitimacy that Selim describes is the exact development that Guriev and
Treisman cite as the principle threat a regime faces in the preservation of its power.
Despite the dangers of doing so, though, Mubarak would again resort to the same,
overt repressive tactics that had put him in such a position in the first place: digital
authoritarianism would manifest in the form of internet blackouts, and use of force
against protestors would result in nearly seven thousand casualties over the course of
eighteen days—including eight hundred and forty-six deaths.
By the time Mubarak did
seek to reconcile with the population through constitutional and legislative reforms, he
Gamal Selim, “Global Civil Society and the Egyptian 2011 Uprising: Assessing the Boomerang Effect,”
Mediterranean Review 7, no. 2. (2014), 102.
Jon Leyne, “Egypt: Cairo’s Tahrir Square fills with protestors,” BBC, July 8, 2011.
had lost the will of not just his people, but also the security forces which had legitimized
his power in the first place. Bellin’s research identifies the coercive apparatus as a pivotal
force in the determination of regime durability, and Mubarak’s strategy of utilizing
repression without considering the position and motivations of his own was ultimately
central to his demise.
Much scholarly insight has been gained by examining these themes of repression
and regime legitimacy through the lens of Mubarak’s Egypt. Echoing the points above,
Hussein argues that the regime’s use of repression—in tandem with its poor political and
economic performance—was counterproductive in quelling dissent, and ultimately served
to delegitimize its reign rather than secure its longevity.
He compounds these findings
by adding that the expansion of previously unavailable internet technologies were
integral in exposing this lack of legitimacy, and created a window of opportunity for
regime change that could not have existed before. Danju et al. are among many who
mirror this latter idea, contending that social media was “catalytic” in sparking Arab
Spring revolts like Egypt’s.
That said, a glaring question remains from such literature:
does this mean there is a direct correlation between internet diffusion and decreases in
state violence, or do these “catalytic” effects only occur when the regime has been
delegitimized to the point of no return?
Certainly, some leaders have continued to maintain their traditional modes of
repression as a means to quell dissent a decade after the Arab Spring. However, research
Eva Bellin, “Reconsidering the Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Lessons from the
Arab Spring,” Comparative Politics 44, no. 2 (January 2012), 143.
Ebtisam Hussein, “Rationalizing Public Repression: Mubarak’s Self-Toppling Regime,” Middle East
Policy Council XXV, no. 1, (Spring 2018).
Ipek Danju, Yasar Maasoglu, Nahide Maasoglu, “From Autocracy to Democracy: The Impact of Social
Media on the Transformation Process in North Africa and Middle East,” Procedia Social and Behavioral
Sciences 81, (2013), 678.
is increasingly backing the viewpoint drawn from Mubarak’s case that repression is
ineffective in this overall mission. Pan and Siegel, for example, compiled tweets and
Google search results originating from Saudi Arabia between 2010 and 2017 in an effort
to measure whether the volume of public discourse and level of government criticism was
reduced repressive government action. They came to two main conclusions: physical
repression does have a direct deterrent effect on targeted dissenters, nevertheless, news of
such actions not only fails to suppress movements, but actually generates increased
public attention and engagement with existing opposition coalitions.
King, Pan, and
Roberts cite this very reality as the basis for the Chinese Communist Party’s own
domestic strategy, and even the impetus for their avoidance of hard censorship beyond
evidence of collective action.
Surely, the Saudi’s failure as one of the world’s harshest
autocratic regimes to stop the growth of outcry both internationally and within its own
borders is proof that the traditional authoritarian playbook is outdated—at least when
relied on nearly exclusively.
Global statistics suggest that this message does seem to have resonated with many
of the world’s autocrats. Beyond China, Chenoweth and Perkoski found that nonviolent
protest movements are about three times less likely to be met with the most overt method
of repression—mass killings—than their violent counterparts.
Some have sought to
expand on this idea that nonviolent protest is less likely to draw violent repression;
Larsson, for instance, presents evidence that higher levels of gender equality also account
Jennifer Pan; Alexandra Siegel, “How Saudi Crackdowns Fail to Silence Online Dissent,” American
Political Science Review 114, no. 1 (2020), 123.
Gary King; Jennifer Pan; Margaret Roberts, “How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism
but Silences Collective Expression,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 2 (May 2013), 326.
Erika Chenoweth, Evan Perkoski,“Nonviolent resistance and prevention of mass killings during popular
uprisings,” International Center on Nonviolent Conflict Special Report Series no. 2, (May 2018), 23.
for a significant decrease in extreme repression.
Overall, though, this relationship
between nonviolence and use of repression is consistent with trends of decreased state
violence that Guriev and Treisman have pointed to over the past half century. That said,
Chenoweth and Perkoski also state unequivocally that repression itself has not been
abandoned entirely, and in its lesser forms can still be common against peaceful
Furthermore, cases studies like Saudi Arabia implicitly raise one equally
important point: use of such playbooks is not always driving regime change either.
Without a doubt, in the post-Cold War years it is not autocracy on the backtrack at the
global stage—it is democracy. 2020 marked the fourteenth consecutive year of decline in
worldwide freedom according to Freedom House, and while 64 countries were part of
this negative trend, only 37 saw marked improvements. This was all despite a boom in
new protest movements around the world.
Repression may be ineffective at stabilizing
regimes on its own, but when combined with more modern practices the pairing is clearly
not failing either.
In the previous chapter, it was illustrated that autocrats have a myriad of such
individual techniques available to seek self-preservation through weaponizing internet
technologies. In general, these tactics can largely be broken into the four main strategic
categories of filtering, blocking, co-opting, and flooding. As these technologies have
rapidly developed over the course of the 2010s, one clear focus that has emerged within
Jenny Larsson, “Understanding state repression in the light of gender equality,” Uppsala University,
(Spring 2018), 45.
Sarah Repucci, “Freedom in the World 2020: A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy,” Freedom House,
the literature of authoritarianism has been the study of the specific goals these techniques
set out to achieve. Effectively, these findings can be broken down into five primary
themes: surveillance of dissidents, dissemination of misinformation, regime
legitimization, creation of fear, and elimination of dissenters’ operational capacity.
Surveillance of dissidents
Prior to the time where populations could be connected by the internet, much of
the most valuable information a regime could seek was largely buried from view. At the
most fundamental level, democratization stems from discontent, and without adequate
knowledge of what specific grievances spur discontent in a respective country a regime is
simply unable to respond—whether through actual, perceived, or further repressive
changes. Therefore, the existence of social media as a public forum for all thoughts
positive and negative results in an informational goldmine for autocrats seeking to
address problems before they grow too large. In a larger qualitative discussion about how
social media can act as a tool of autocratic stability, Gunitsky states that tapping into the
raw, unfiltered dialogue of the overall populace acts as a “continuous feedback loop
between the rulers and the ruled,” and both policy and regime response can easily be
altered as deemed necessary.
The potential of these spaces for authoritarians grows
even further when considering that surveillance of such spheres is essentially costless due
to their open, public nature.
Social media is far from the only way that a regime can reveal the preferences of
the masses. For generations, elections have been utilized to measure public attitudes by
Seva Gunitsky, “Corrupting the Cyber-Commons: Social Media as a Tool of Autocratic Stability,
Perspectives on Politics 13, no. 1, (2015), 47.
showing what percentage of the country backs the opposition over the existing power,
and autocrats can simply misrepresent the true results while reaping the benefits of the
gathered information.
Still, the benefits of a constantly updating digital public forum
versus elections are obvious. For starters, elections in authoritarian states may only occur
once every several years. This severely hampers the frequency in which an autocrat can
track public opinion, which directly correlates to the relevance and accuracy of derived
results. Furthermore, while scholarly debate is contentious, some have even argued that
elections may actually help facilitate democratization in authoritarian states—a
development completely opposite of the objective to stabilize autocratic rule.
such as these act as striking examples of the power of these social media technologies.
Dissemination of misinformation
The proliferation of misinformation in the modern age is staggering, and even in
the most anecdotal sense it is nearly impossible to spend any significant time on the
internet without encountering falsehoods or propaganda. Part of the reasons for this is
simply the nature of the internet: in order for a message to spread—true or false—it does
not necessarily require the effort of the originator beyond its initial posting. Indeed, once
a Tweet, website, or post is sent, it is their shareability by and to the masses that allows
for the spread across states, territories, and oceans. Recent research has further supported
this theory: technologies like bots spread true and false information at the identical rate,
strongly implying that humans bear primary responsibility for the spread of
Beatriz Magaloni, Voting for Autocracy: Hegemonic Party Survival and Its Demise in Mexico, New
York: Cambridge University Press (2006).
Ruchan Kaya; Michael Bernhard, “Are Elections Mechanisms of Authoritarian Stability or
Democratization? Evidence from Postcommunist Eurasia,” Perspectives on Politics 11, no. 3, (September
2013), 735.
The disparity between misinformation and truth spread cannot be
clearer: false news stories are seventy percent more likely to be shared than their true
counterparts, and spread approximately six times more quickly.
These digital realities play straight to the advantage of authoritarian regimes, and
create an environment primed for the dissemination of disinformation that benefits the
long-term stability of the existing power. One method that regimes have traditionally
used to propagate their own narratives is the broadcasting of such messages through
state-run or controlled media. This distinction is important: as just one example, in the
realm of television it is common practice for an authoritarian state to own its own
station(s), which in tandem with restrictions on outside programming effectively
monopolizes the airwaves. Still, this monopolization is not necessarily predicated on state
ownership of television networks: Hem contends that the weaponization of media
licensing has emerged as an increasingly attractive alternative for the state. In his
research, he investigates the case studies of Singapore, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Russia,
and finds that if publishers stray too far from the state’s line—which itself is uncommon
due to the fact the interests of the two are often firmly aligned—they can be replaced
quickly and efficiently.
This effectively results in self-censorship that makes direct
regime action unnecessary.
Overall, in both scenarios of state control, the information
being broadcasted is effectively beholden to the regime rather than the truth.
Soroush Vosoughi; Deb Roy; Sinan Aral, “The spread of true and false news online,” Science 359,
(2018), 1146.
Mikal Hern, “Evading the censors: Critical journalism in authoritarian states,” University of Oxford,
(2014), 16.
The natural extension in the digital age has been the presence of state-controlled
media on the internet. Examples such as China’s “Great Firewall” demonstrate how
easily a robust mix of digital authoritarianism tools allows a regime to control the flow of
information within its own borders, but what may be perhaps less obvious is the power
that state-controlled media can have internationally as well. When exposed to the state-
owned propaganda outlet Russia Today (RT), Americans are up to twenty percent more
likely to “support withdrawing from America’s role as a cooperative global leader”—a
repeated, stated foreign policy desire of the Russian government.
Even more strikingly,
these figures were consistent across party lines, and did not change upon disclosure of
RT’s financial backing.
Misinformation does not always come in the form of blatant
lies: often it manifests as an incomplete or intentionally misleading depiction of a larger
picture. In this more encompassing light, the effectiveness of pro-regime misinformation
campaigns becomes clearer, graver, and greater with the aid of modern internet
Regime legitimization
This goal is largely intertwined with the prior: if regimes use internet technologies
with the goal of spreading misinformation, such communications are typically part of the
larger mission to legitimize the existing power. However, the use of misinformation is
certainly not the only way a state can accomplish this—hence the value of distinguishing
between the two.
Erin Baggott Carter; Brett L Carter, “Questioning More: RT, Outward Facing Propaganda, and the Post-
West World Order,” forthcoming in Security Studies, (August 21, 2020), 25.
Like before, regime legitimization was a practice that existed long before the
advent of the digital age. Similar to the discussion regarding surveillance of dissidents,
elections have often been at the forefront of attaining this goal: if a regime can maintain
the appearance that its elections are fair, it gives credence to the levers and institutions
that put a power in place. In turn, if the autocrat in power is perceived to have been
elected freely and fairly, it legitimizes their rule as a leader popular enough to gain the
state’s highest office. Of course, the challenge for the regime is to successfully portray a
fraudulent election as genuine, and the causes and effects of each outcome are covered
extensively throughout the literature. However, for the purpose of this work, such basic
aforementioned knowledge of the strategy is perfectly adequate.
In discussing the potential of social media to bolster regime legitimacy, Gunitsky
expands past the strategy of misinformation dissemination by addressing the technology’s
capability to countermobilize state allies in the face of opposition movements. It is
impossible for a regime to exist without at least some popular support, and this is often
most heavily concentrated within the business sector, military, and ideologically aligned
Even if the true base of support is dwarfed in reality by the forces of dissent,
social networks allow the regime to connect, recruit, and rally supporters in a way not
unlike the processes protestors themselves employ.
When aided by the other tactics of
digital authoritarianism, this disparity in size can quickly disappear as pro-government
voices are elevated and eventually dominate the airspace. Gunitsky points to Russia and
China as two particular states where significant domestic regime appeal stems from
organic, ideological roots (in other words, propaganda was unnecessary to gain these
Gunitsky, Corrupting the Cyber Commons, 45.
supporters), and highlights MacKinnon’s concept of “digital Bonapartism” as the means
in which this initial base can help drown out voices of opposition.
Create fear
As networks such as Facebook and Twitter continue their exponential growth into
the new decade, their potential to be used as a means to spread fear is becoming
increasingly apparent. Furthermore, examples such as Myanmar prove that the regime
does not even have to act as the primary promoter for such developments—it can often
just act as the enabler.
In the current scholarship, two key implications of globalism in Myanmar are
being raised. Firstly, due to low costs and high demand for connectedness, there has been
an explosion of cheap cellphones in the hands of citizens previously barred from even
accessing such means of digital communications in the first place.
Secondly, due to its
preinstallation on most devices and exemption to data quotas on many plans, Facebook
has rapidly dominated the populace.
In short, Facebook has effectively become the
internet in Myanmar, so nationalist, anti-Muslim propaganda that seeks to exploit the
nature of social media has the ability to reach even greater proportions of the population
than it could in other countries.
By using the platform to spread dangerous speech and
organize against the Muslim minority, the movement has started a genocide which has
MacKinnon defines her term as the use of “populist rhetoric, combined with control over private
enterprise and the legal system, to marginalize the opposition and manipulate public opinion much more
subtly than in the old days.” See MacKinnon, xxiv.
Christina Fink, “Dangerous Speech, Anti-Muslim Violence, and Facebook in Myanmar,Journal of
International Affairs 74, no 1.5 (2018), 44-45.
Ibid, 44.
wiped out villages, killed thousands, and forced over one million to flee abroad—Asia’s
largest human exodus since the Vietnam War.
These human rights atrocities may not be the main doing of the Myanmar
government, but their failure to condemn and forcefully end the crisis has been damning.
This may stem from the fact that the rhetoric used by the nationalist movement is not
dissimilar from past propaganda by the military government aimed at creating “unity.’
Regardless, the primary lesson to be drawn from Myanmar is not only the degree to
which internet technologies can stoke fear—both for “insiders” of “outsiders” and
“outsiders” of “insiders”—but how easily it can be created by nongovernment forces.
While the military arm of the government certainly has accumulated more direct blood on
its hands than the civilian government, it is the civilian government’s inaction that has
been the root of international outcry. It is deeply disturbing to imagine the degree to
which this fear—as well as its effects—could be amplified if the government chose to
actively aid the process with its own means of digital authoritarianism.
For the purposes of regime survival, a widespread domestic fear of outsiders can
work to divert attention away from the existing power. When attention is focused on the
regime itself, however, the value of fear for a regime should not be dismissed either. In
fairness, the ineffectiveness of repression as a blanket strategy to quell dissent has been
examined multiple times thus far—particularly by Chenoweth and Perkoski—so it can be
reasonably argued that reliance on fear from this source is not in the best interest of an
autocrat attempting to maintain power. On one hand, Aldama et al. do create a formalized
Todd Pitman, “Myanmar attacks, sea voyage rob young father of everything,” Associated Press, (October
27, 2017).
Fink, 45.
model for how an increase in civilian risk aversion can increase the probability of large-
scale mobilization.
However, their models also show that fear can be successful at
increasing dissidents’ pessimism for the movement’s potential success in the face of
perceived regime strength, as well as pessimism for the likelihood of attaining necessary
levels of participation from other dissenters—a formula that in some cases can indeed
hamper opposition mobilization.
With this knowledge in mind, authoritarians may have
a real incentive to instill fear not just of outsiders, but of their own rule as well. While
traditional means of repression certainly can achieve this, the aforementioned examples
of this work clearly show the capability of internet technologies to support this goal as
Elimination of dissenters’ operational capacity
At an abstract level, the elimination of the opposition’s ability to continue
operating is the end goal of any authoritarian action. In short, if a movement no longer
has the means to operate—whether that be through loss of popular support, fear of
repercussions, or other negative outcomes—the threat of regime change to the existing
power drops to a substantially low level. That said, digital authoritarianism also provides
the means for the immediate, literal severing of much of a movement’s operations—
namely, through internet blackouts.
Mubarak again retains relevance here—though he is certainly far from the only
example. By shutting down the internet, Egypt’s dictator sought to isolate dissenters from
each other, discourage further mobilization through both fear and impracticability of
Abraham Aldama; Mateo Vásquez-Cortés; Lauren Elyssa Young, “Fear and citizen coordination against
dictatorship,” Journal of Theoretical Politics 31, no. 1, (2019), 103.
distanced organizing, and ultimately end the protests that had begun to take to the streets.
Of course, this vision was not what transpired. Hassanpour notes that the communications
blackout caused those who were previously absent from the demonstrations to actually
join the crowds in an effort to reconnect with family, friends, and other contacts.
Apolitical and uninterested citizens were also implicated.
Furthermore, ground level
activists were not only emboldened, but actually became more effective due to their
ability to contact individuals directly.
The final counterproductive result, according to
Hassanpour, was the fact that the movement become much more decentralized without a
core communications space (i.e. Facebook or Twitter), which in turn exponentially
increased the difficulty of suppression by the Egyptian government
However, in approaching the question of operational capacity it is not the results
of Mubarak’s actions that is of chief importance: it is the motivation. For him, it was a
final, desperate resort to reclaim control over the situation upon the realization that the
power and speed of internet technologies was as extraordinary as the degree to which he
was unprepared to confront it.
In the post-Mubarak world, the cost remains
exceptionally high—both politically and economically—for a full internet blackout,
which seemingly suggests that autocrats will only resort to the measure for the most
existential of threats.
While this may be true for some leaders, it fails to account for the
significant and constant rise of blackouts around the world—particularly in India and its
Navid Hassanpour, “Media Disruption and Revolutionary Unrest: Evidence From Mubarak’s Quasi-
Experiment,” Political Communication 31, no. 1, (2014), 10.
Nahed Eltantawy; Julie Wiest, “Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution: Reconsidering Resource
Mobilization Theory,” International Journal of Communication 5, (2011), 1216
Sutterlin, 20.
contested territories. If blackouts are truly so likely to end catastrophically for a regime,
why would their use continue to rise globally? Perhaps a key gap in the literature is the
absence of a conclusive answer to whether states have realized the limits of the technique
as a singular means of ending widespread, ongoing dissent, while concurrently
discovering the effectiveness of severing operational capacity before such movements
can ever reach critical mass.
As a point of emphasis, these five goals that have been outlined are both fluid and
interconnected in their nature. To recall the comparison between misinformation
dissemination and regime legitimization, the purpose of one goal may ultimately be to
realize the fuller attainment of another. Furthermore, this list of goals could assuredly be
broken down into numerous more subcategories and priorities, for a complete evaluation
of an authoritarian power’s objectives could encompass a thesis in of itself. However,
even an initial identification of these goals helps more effectively elucidate the current
situation in Kashmir.
Since its first iteration in 2015, Guriev and Treisman’s theory of informational
autocracy has been repeatedly cited in the larger scholarship of authoritarian governance.
Typically, the piece has been referenced in three main contexts. Firstly, it is used to
establish the counterproductivity of repression in securing public support.
Secondly, it
is invoked to demonstrate that the manipulation of information has become a favored
technique amongst the world’s autocrats.
Thirdly, it is referred to when identifying the
Elias Dinas, Ksenia Northmore-Ball, “The Ideological Shadow of Authoritarianism,” Comparative
Political Studies 53, no. 12. (2020), 8.
Luis Martinez, “How Much Should We Trust the Dictator’s GDP Growth Estimates?,” University of
Chicago, (2019), 3.
importance of managing a regime’s “informed elites,” and the threat that they can pose to
the existing power’s overall longevity.
To this point, however, there has yet to be a truly comprehensive analysis of the
relationship between repression and informational autocracy as it relates to the transition
between the two strategies. One can reasonably surmise that this, at least in part, may be
due to the relevant recency of Guriev and Treisman’s work. As of 2020, the piece has
been expanded and revised several times—including twice in the past year alone.
Moreover, in fairness to Guriev and Treisman, a deeper study of the intersection between
these two competing strategies was not the intention of their work at all: the specific
purpose of the theory was to illustrate that a shift away from traditional means of
repression has occurred in autocratic regimes, and it accomplishes this quite
The research on authoritarianism does not assert that the availability of the tools
of informational autocracy results in blanket abandonment of violence to facilitate regime
preservation—Chenoweth and Perkoski are just two scholars who affirm the prevalence
of such methods. Moreover, Guriev and Treisman themselves explicitly acknowledge this
as they introduce their theory:
…Today’s softer dictatorships do not forswear repression completely.
Informational autocrats may use considerable violence in fighting ethnic
insurgencies and civil wars—as, in fact, do some democracies. They may
also punish journalists as a mode of censorship (although they seek to
camouflage the purpose or to conceal the state’s role in violent acts). Such
states can revert to overt dictatorship, as may have happened after the
2016 coup attempt in Turkey, where the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan
detained tens of thousands.
Fei Li; Yangbo Song; Mofei Zhao, “Global Manipulation by Local Obfuscation,” accessed at:, (2019), 21.
Guriev and Treisman, 102.
Especially deserving of attention is their note on democracies. At a population well over
one billion, India will comfortably maintain the title of “the world’s largest democracy”
for many years to come. At the same time, the country’s actions in the areas it feels least
control over—namely, the Kashmir Valley and the Indian northeast—frequently veer
away from the fundamental principles of liberalized democracy.
This final point has particular relevance for research that has suggested a positive
correlation between the existence of internet technologies and increased democratization
within a nondemocratic landscape. Bak et al., for example, propose that “high internet
penetration rates have deterring effects on state repression,” and that “extending internet
access to citizens will yield protective effects.”
Though they stipulate these effects are
strongest in competitive democracies, their sentiment that these technologies are
inherently liberalizing has been shared by many—including Zang et. al. who argue that
“Internet penetration can remarkably increase democratization over a period of time in a
Even if Kashmir was unique in its failure to democratize and see reductions in
repression through the diffusion of the internet—it is not
—the existence of its reality
alone necessitates thorough examination. For this repressive informational autocracy to
come from a democracy like India accentuates the need even more.
For both the free and unfree world, it is imperative that a greater understanding of
the intersection between informational autocracy and traditional state repression is
examined. It is not enough to simply identify an inverse proportionality between the two,
Daehee Bak; Surachanee Sriyai; Stephen A. Meserve, “The internet and state repression: A cross-
national analysis of the limits of digital constraint,” Journal of Human Rights 17, no. 5, (2018), 1475
Leizhen Zang; Feng Xiong; Yanjan Gao, “Reversing the U: New Evidence on the Internet and
Democracy Relationship,” Social Science Computer Review 37, no. 3 (2018), 15.
Jacob Groshek, Kate K. Mays, “A Time-Series, Multinational Analysis of Democratic Forecasts and
Emerging Media Diffusion, 1994-2014,” International Journal of Communication 11, (2017), 429.
as while this trend may be present at the global scale it may also be wholly
unrepresentative of the true situation at a domestic level in specific cases. The potential
of informational autocracy to abet violence rather than replace it has grave implications
for the pursuit of a just global society, and even graver ones for the citizens who must
bear the effects.
Now and again there comes a moment in the affairs of men when courage is
greater than prudence and a great act of faith uplifting the minds and moving the
hearts of men achieves miracles that no act of statesmanship can encompass.
Early Development of Kashmir
The vast, mountainous swath of land that makes up the modern-day region of
“Kashmir” has changed hands many times over the course of its civilized history. For
sure, the Kashmiris are no strangers to occupation from great, foreign powers, dating
back to the Mughal conquest, years of British colonialism, and through today’s current
division as it stands between India, Pakistan, and China. Alongside this history, the
people have also spent periods of time enjoying the fruits of their own sovereignty.
Regardless, the larger point to be made is that the Kashmiris are a proud, distinct people
that have closely held onto their own identity from ancient times to the present, and that
any analysis of the current conflict that ignores this reality in favor of the external
belligerents risks painting an incomplete—or even inaccurate—picture of the real
Today, the term “Kashmir” has become associated with the roughly 85,800 square
miles of mountains, valleys, plains, and forests that are bordered by India proper to the
south, Pakistan proper to the east, Afghanistan to the northwest, and the Chinese-
A. G. Noorani, The Kashmir Question (Bombay: P. C. Manaktala and Sons Private LTD, 1964), 87.
controlled autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Tibet to its north and northeast.
As a
significant portion of the territory lies within the Himalayan region, the towering
mountains which are the predominant, defining feature of Kashmir’s geography split the
land into the valleys where its people have generally resided. This harsh landscape is
largely responsible for the degree to which the many different peoples of the broader
region—including Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Tibetans—were able to be separated
throughout history. As late as the mid-twentieth century, Birdwood described the region
as “a mountainous country of no roads, whose isolated groups are conscious only of their
own existence,” and argued that this fact accounted for much of the reason its people
were susceptible to invasion and occupation throughout the centuries.
Kashmir’s first experience with imperialism can be traced back to the third
century BC, when Ashoka the Great’s Maurya Dynasty would go on to stretch across the
near entirety of the Indian subcontinent. After Ashoka’s death and an ensuing period of
reestablished sovereignty, Kushan invaders from northwest China would arrive in the
first century AD and bring with them the Buddhist tradition that Ashoka had originally
spread throughout Kashmir after his conversion from Hinduism. This time would later
take on the legacy as Kashmir’s “golden age,” as its people enjoyed cultural and
economic fame that stretched far throughout Asia.
Like much of the rest of the continent, Kashmir and India proper would go on to
succumb to the seemingly unstoppable tide of Genghis Kahn’s Mongol Empire—first
Britannica, s.v. “Kashmir,” accessed September 12, 2020,
Lord Birdwood, Two Nations and Kashmir (London: Robert Hale Limited, 1956), 20.
Victoria Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War, (New York: I.B.Tauris
& Co. Ltd., 2003), 2.
coming under attack in 1320. Though the Mongol occupation was relatively brief, its
importance to Kashmir’s development cannot be understated. To start, the human and
material costs suffered by the Kashmiris—who had already been weakened by
progressively diminishing resources due to isolationism—were extraordinarily damaging
and would be felt long into the future.
On a more positive note, the Mongol invasion did
bring forth both the Cultural Revolution and further fame and appreciation for the area’s
picturesque landscape. However, the most impactful consequence by far was the fact that
this event would be seen as the final act of dominant Buddhist and Hindu rule in the
region; indeed, such traditions were soon eschewed by the ideology that had been
knocking on Kashmir’s doorstep for quite some time, which has since gone on to find
itself at the center of the modern IndoPak identity crisis: Islam.
Though the first formal instance of Muslim rule would occur in 1339, Kashmir’s
first great Islamic king, Shahab-ud Din, would ascend the throne in 1354.
It was during
his reign that Kashmir would begin to expand into many of the territories the region is
associated with today, and under subsequent rulers the region began to increasingly
convert to Islam—though Hinduism certainly did not fade away entirely. Habibullah
makes this pointed commentary of the effect of this period of time:
“the history of Islam is inextricable from the history of Kashmir. The faith
developed a distinct identity: the Hindi Muslim world was deeply
influenced by the ancient heritage of Hinduism. India saw a surge in the
spiritual form of Islam in the various schools of Sufi thought, which
Sameer Ahmad Sofi, “The Mongol Invasion of Kashmir (AD..1320),” International Journal Advances in
Social Science and Humanities 4, no. 2 (2016), 22.
Schofield, 2.
preceded Turkish invasions from the northwest and went on to become the
foundation of the vibrant form that Islam took in India.”
Of particular note here should be the means by which Islam spread throughout Kashmir:
not through an autocratic culture war where traditional religious philosophies were
squashed, but instead through an inclusive blend that respected the fundamentals of
practices that existed before.
By fully appreciating this fact, one can start better contextualize the current
situation on the subcontinent. Too often, the Kashmir question has been mischaracterized
as a conflict between the forces of Islam, secularism, and Hindu nationalism in which the
people and traditions are incompatible, and where victory must be a zero-sum game.
However, as the region’s rich history of multiculturalism demonstrates, this could not be
further from the case. For sure, this is not to say that religious tensions play no role: this
fact becomes increasingly clear in the mid-twentieth century. That said, the more
consistent pattern throughout history has been the prevalence of external rule over the
Kashmiris—and the population’s clear discontent.
It would be over two hundred years later that this ‘middle age’ of Kashmiri
history—and larger era of Kashmir as its own kingdom—would eventually transition into
‘modern history,’ brought forth by the Mughal conquest of 1586. Though this specific
rule did bring aspects of liberalism, prosperity, and stability which have generally been
seen as positive, it also marked a distinct embrace of the pattern of external
administration and taxes that has lasted through the current moment.
By the turn of the
Wajahat Habibullah, My Kashmir: Conflict and the Prospects of Enduring Peace, (Washington DC: US
Institute of Peace, 2008), 16
Schofield, 3.
19th century, Hindus had begun leaving Kashmir en masse for a variety of reasons
ranging from persecution to greater economic potential elsewhere, and this exodus would
only be exacerbated in ensuing Afghan and Sikh tenures of rule. However, this time
under the shadow of the Sikh Empire would be extremely short lived, as by this point
both the power and influence of the East India Company were enough to now tip the
balance of power in Kashmir.
The amount of scholarship dedicated to the East India Company, the British Raj,
and overall Crown Rule is both extensive and deeply complex. It is impossible to ignore
the impact that the British have had on the subcontinent, as the implications of their time
and actions leading up to the Partition of India are central to how the situation has
unfolded today. Yet, for the purpose of this thesis, Lamb provides an adequate synthesis
of Britain’s motivations moving into the twentieth century:
The British had originally established themselves along the Indian shores
for purposes of trade. In order to protect that trade they had built up an
Empire. Once created, however, the Empire became an objective in its
own right and British policy became increasingly directed towards
keeping the Empire in being. Some thinkers like Seeley might ask
themselves what it was all for; but most English statesmen ceased to
question the value of the brightest jewel in the British Crown. Like the
other Crown Jewels, it should be guarded. It was in this frame of mind that
the British faced the problem of Indian self-government.
This is a view supported by Schofield, who argues that “British imperial policy towards
the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the late 19th century was guided primarily by fear of a
Russian advance towards India through the Pamir mountains,” in addition to threats from
Afghanistan and China.
In short, Kashmir represented not only a part of the Empire the
Alastair Lamb, The Kashmir Problem: A Historical Survey, (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967), 9.
Schofield, 10.
British were prideful of, but in the bigger picture served as both the gateway and
geostrategic buffer zone for the rest of the subcontinent. Even at that point in history, the
rugged terrain of Kashmir was of crucial strategic importance.
By the start of the 1900s, Britain had been in control of Kashmir for a little over a
half century following the Sikh’s ceding of the territory per the conditions of the Treaty
of Peace—and sale of the region to the subordinate Dogras in the Treaty of Amritsar. At
this point, there was a very real level of animosity towards the ruling class by the
Kashmiris that had dated back through hundreds of years of external occupation. Much of
this stemmed from just how reliant they had become on these forces: even as far into the
late 1940s, there were only sixteen miles of railroad connecting Kashmir to the outside,
and only a single all-weather road which lead directly to the Punjab capital of Lahore—a
city which not only had a “stranglehold on Kashmir’s business,” but had also historically
been the heart of Punjabi oppression over them.
Schofield describes the state of 1930s Kashmir as “a proverbial powder keg.”
Muslims were barred from owning firearms and joining the military, and had even been
stripped of their right to own land; in no uncertain terms, the socioeconomic state of
Kashmiri Muslims was nothing short of destitute. Under the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh,
both Muslims and Hindus protested against his autocratic rule. However, tensions
between the two groups were unmistakable: in 1931, Hindu shops were the victims of
protests, riots, and looting stemming from a call “to fight against oppression,” and even
Habibullah, 18-19.
Schofield, 18.
the reform measures brought on by the government to meet the cries for change
amounted to little than more symbolic measures.
It is in this context that Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah would go on to found the
Muslim Conference in 1931 with the clear purpose of aligning opposition against the
autocracy of the maharaja, and ultimately, securing autonomy for Kashmir. In the next
decade, however, this movement would split into two main factions: the National
Conference and the Muslim Conference. While the two groups certainly had many
differences, the two largest were where each drew their support from. The former, the
National Conference, enjoyed backing from Muslims within the Kashmir Valley, while
the latter organization’s support came from Muslims outside of the valley. In addition,
the Muslim Conference was tied to the Muslim League—who advocated for the creation
of a separate Muslim state. Meanwhile, the Congress Party—a nationalist movement
dating back to the late 19th century—stood firmly in support of independence for each of
the Indian states.
By the 1940s, it was clear that a partition was on the horizon for the subcontinent.
While the Second World War largely drew Britain’s attention away from Calcutta and
Kashmir and instead to Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo, it was now impossible to look away
from the forces of Muslim discontent, Hindu nationalism, and the general fervor for
Indian independence. In 1942, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill tasked Sir
Stafford Cripps with traveling to India with a ‘draft declaration’ regarding post-war
independence for India, and as the war neared its end, Field-Marshal Lord Wavell faced
the dual task of finishing the fight against the Japanese and preparing the subcontinent for
The Partition of India and the First IndoPak War
Britain had much experience with the tactics of ‘divide and rule’ over the lifespan
of its Empire—and the success of such measures undoubtedly accounted for much of
how the country was able to control such an overwhelming amount of territory. But
Britain had fewer answers as to the question of how to best navigate the resulting
political landscape when it came time to leave. It also faced the competing philosophies
of the ‘one-nation’ vs ‘two-nation’ theories: the first contested that future of the
subcontinent should materialize into a secular, unified India, whereas the second argued
that two separate countries needed forming for two “separate, incompatible” peoples.
Inherent in the ‘one-nation’ theory is the fundamental principle that the eventual Muslim
state that emerged—Pakistan—has no justification for existing as a state at all, which
alone represents a massive obstacle for meaningful negotiations between the two
The 1947 Partition of India is a substantial subject in its own right, but as it
related to Kashmir, a few key issues were particularly at the forefront. To start, the 1941
census found that the population of Jammu and Kashmir was seventy-seven percent
Muslim, twenty percent Hindu, and one percent Sikh.
For the Islamic state of Pakistan,
this alone would represent a clear mandate for irredentism. The fact that the state lay
directly next to the Pakistani border only strengthened this argument. However, this
Ibid, 23.
Lamb, 13.
Habibullah. 20.
school of thought is inconsistent with the rights granted to each of the princely states as
outlined by the Cabinet Mission’s Memorandum of May 12th, 1946, which stated “The
rights of the States which flow from their relationship with the Crown will no longer exist
and that all the rights surrendered by the States to the paramount power will return to the
In essence, the newly independent states gained full powers of autonomy upon
signing of the Partition, and this interpretation is further supported by the statement from
Lord Mountbatten to the Princes on July 25th, 1947 that “the Indian Independence Act
releases the States from all their obligations to the Crown. The States have complete
freedom—technically and legally they are independent.” In no uncertain terms, Pakistan
has never had legal entitlement to Kashmir outside the case of a potential accession that
directly stemmed from Srinagar. This has never occurred.
Furthermore, the assumption that the Kashmiris and their territory would neatly
assimilate into Pakistan is flawed in its own right. The Kashmiris historically had a
tremendous amount of distrust and disdain for the Punjabis—who were the dominant
force of Pakistan and its leadership—and joining the country would likely result in a
fierce hostility to the Kashmiri identity and traditions.
In contrast, Kashmir could join a
secular India and enjoy both protection of their distinctiveness and the superior
socioeconomic opportunities—though this would come at the cost of joining a
predominantly Hindu India as a stark Islamic outlier. When these dueling fates were
paired with the option of simply maintaining independent Kashmiri sovereignty, it
presented Maharaja Hari Singh with a challenging decision.
Noorani, 21.
Habibullah, 19.
Which leads directly into another significant issue: the idea of who exactly should
decide Kashmir’s fate. Britain had clearly outlined that this power reside with each newly
independent state, but within that framework such power was specifically given to the
respective state’s ruler. Lamb argues that this was a massive oversight by the British:
Above all, the British had it in their power to do something about the
Indian States. They could have at least ensured that the major Princely
States acquired workable representative governments. This, alone, might
well have avoided the Kashmir problem. A popular Kashmir Government
could have made decisions about its future which both India and Pakistan
would have respected. An autocratic and unpopular Maharaja…was in no
position to make such decisions.
In fairness, Lamb’s assertion that Pakistan and India would have both entirely respected
the decision of a fully democratic government may be wishful thinking, but it is difficult
to defend the legitimacy of a decision made by an autocrat—one belonging to Kashmir’s
overwhelming Hindu minority, no less—over that made by a popularly elected
government of his citizens. While the holding of a plebiscite very clearly became part of
future negotiations over Kashmir’s future, some sort of similarly democratic process from
the start could indeed have had a very different impact than what unfolded in reality.
Both Pakistan’s and India’s cases and motivations for controlling Kashmir cut
deep into the fabric of their identities. For Pakistan, Lamb points to three main grounds,
starting with the religious implications which have already been stated. In short, from a
strictly demographical standpoint, Kashmir’s clear Muslim majority mirrored that of its
own religious composition. Secondly, Lamb cites the fact that Kashmir’s economy was
more closely intertwined with Pakistan: “Its best communication with the outside world
Lamb, 12.
lay through Pakistan, and this was the route taken by the bulk of its exports.”
His third
and final contention was that Pakistan’s agricultural sector—which was vitally important
to the survival of the state—was heavily reliant on the waters of the Indus, Jhelum, and
Chenab, and Kashmir was home to all three.
For India, Korbel argued that the importance of Kashmir was rooted in the fact
that the territory represented a battleground over which light and darkness—Indian
secularity and Pakistani Islamic theocracy, respectively—fought for supremacy. A loss in
this duel is not simply a cession of territory, but quite literally an affront to the very
foundation of Indian liberalism and democracy.
This fact cuts deep enough into the
Indian identity that it alone—even disregarding the various other political and economic
factors at play—serves as more than enough merit for an absolutist orientation.
Under this backdrop, the Maharaja faced an imminent dilemma: in the late
summer and fall of 1947, Pakistani trained and armed paramilitary forces joined together
with rebellious Kashmiri Muslims and began raiding the northwesternmost front of
Kashmir, with Pakistan hoping to strongarm the leader into ultimately acceding to them.
With no chance to repel the invaders on his own—by October these tribesmen had
captured and massacred their way to within four miles of Srinagar—the Maharaja and his
family fled the capital and turned to India for assistance.
Without consultation with
Kashmir as a whole—a condition that was supposed to be part of the arrangement—the
Maharaja signed an instrument of accession to India. Under this agreement, India would
Ibid, 22.
Joseph Korbel, Danger in Kashmir, (United States: Princeton University Press, 19
Mushtaqur Rahman, Divided Kashmir: Old Problems, New Opportunities for India, Pakistan, and the
Kashmiri People, (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996), 2.
send in its own military to repel enemy forces from Kashmir, and upon the end of
hostilities would withdraw and allow for a plebiscite by the Kashmiri people.
This central fact has been repeatedly established in multiple official documents
and testimonies. India’s reply to the Maharaja’s accession request read, in part, “The
question of accession should be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people of
the State, it is my Government’s wish that as soon as law and order have been restored in
Kashmir and her soil cleared of the invader, the question of the State’s accession should
be settled by a reference to the people.”
The Government White Paper on Jammu and
Kashmir affirmed this sentiment, saying, “in accepting the accession the Government of
India made it clear that they would regard it as purely provisional until such time as the
will of the people could be ascertained.”
Furthermore, the Government of India’s
official statement on October 30th clearly stated, “It is desirable to draw attention to the
conditions on which the Government of India have accepted Kashmir’s accession…[the]
people of the State should decide the question of accession.”
It is abundantly clear from these quotations that Kashmir’s accession to India had
two main characteristics: it was entirely legal, and it was indisputably temporary. These
two points are extremely important, and both Pakistan and India would have done well to
acknowledge them moving forward. The same day as India’s October 30th statement,
Pakistan responded that “the accession of Kashmir to the Indian Union is based on fraud
and violence, and as such cannot be recognized.”
The previously outlined evidence
clearly points to the contrary. In the years that have followed, however, India has clearly
Noorani, 32-33.
Ibid, 33.
violated its own terms as well: Indian forces should have retreated following the formal
end of hostilities, and the failure to do so into the modern day—not to even mention the
2019 decision to revoke Article 370 and claim Kashmir as India proper—is an equal
violation of objective truth.
Nevertheless, it was under these conditions that Indian troops would be airlifted
into Srinagar in late October 1947 to defend against the invading forces. While Pakistan
certainly had a hand in aiding the attacking forces—this would take the form of both
logistical help as well the sending of disguised, active Pakistani military forces into the
front lines—it was denied formal entry into the conflict by British commanding officers
until 1948.
Over the course of the war, Pakistan would make significant gains into
Kashmir’s northern, High Himalayas range, but its forces would fail to break into the
Kashmir Valley proper. Here, Indian forces would hold the line, and as 1948 progressed
its army was able to take back much of the area previously captured by the Pakistani
army. As the battle lines had largely frozen by late November, India and Pakistan would
eventually agree to a ceasefire on December 31st that would be adopted by the United
Nations Commission on India and Pakistan on January 5th. When the dust had settled,
Pakistan had taken control of about one-third of Kashmir—but failed to capture the core
cities and regions that made up the very fabric of the state. For this reason, the conflict is
largely viewed as either inconclusive or a slight Indian victory due to the defender’s
ability to maintain control of the war’s most hotly contested areas.
Britannica. s.v. “Kashmir.”
Pongsak Hoontrakul, The Global Rise of Asian Transformation: Trends and Developments in Economic
Growth Dynamics, (United States: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 37.
The UN resolution that brought an end to the war was initially adopted by the
Commission in mid-August 1948. As it would later go on to be adopted in its final form,
the proposal can effectively be broken down into three main phases: ceasefire, truce, and
plebiscite. For at least the time being, India and Pakistan were able to successfully realize
this first goal. However, it was the final two pillars that would prove harder to achieve. In
essence, part two stated that as hostilities between the two belligerents had ended—along
with the justification for occupying Indian forces to begin with—India would “withdraw
the bulk” of its forces from Kashmir, leaving only just enough to adequately maintain law
and order in the region.
The third phase, the plebiscite, laid out the moral and already
mutually agreed reasons for the need of Kashmiri self-determination, and presented a
framework for the eventual referendum.
Immediately, the resolution hit several snares. To start, while the original wording
of the agreement stated that Pakistani forces would withdraw from the region in the final
phase, India argued that the size of Pakistan’s presence had since increased and thus
demanded the withdrawal of the Azad fighters prior to their own. Pakistan pushed back
on this argument. Furthermore, both countries fervently disagreed on the exact definition
of the Commission’s vaguely defined “bulk” of Indian forces subject to removal. Clearly,
the issues that had arisen stemmed from a lack of adequate trust on either side towards
the other. This trust problem was not just limited between the two states, however:
Mukherjee cites the external factors of the concurrent Cold War as playing a significant
role as well.
In short, Pakistan had already aligned itself with the Western powers,
Noorani, 41.
Kunal Mukherjee, “The Kashmir conflict in South Asia: voices from Srinagar,” Defense & Security
Analysis30, no. 1 (2013): 48.
while India had declined to choose between either the West or the Soviet Union.
Contending that the UN represented an extension of American power, he argues that
India viewed any plebiscite supervised by the organization as one that would unfairly
favor Pakistan over itself.
While these talks stalled throughout 1949, India and Kashmir took two massive
steps—the repercussions of which are still central to the conflict today. First, on the
Indian government’s basis that “it would have been unfair to the Government and the
people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to deny them the opportunity of participating
in the discussion of” India’s new constitution while technically still under Indian
accession, India admitted four Kashmiri representatives to the country’s Constituent
Assembly—a move that drew outcry from Karachi.
Second—and perhaps the most
relevant—was the eventual move to adopt the Indian Constitution: namely, along with
the inclusion of a special Article 370.
During debate over the formation of said Constitution, it became clear that
Kashmir, though legally part of the Indian Union, required unique consideration due to
the universally accepted temporary status of such membership. With this in mind, Article
370 would grant the region semi-autonomous status that the other Indian states would not
enjoy. For example, Kashmir would be able to fly its own flag, pass and enforce its own
laws, and even adopt its own constitution. As such, India would only maintain control
over the state in three particular areas: communications, foreign affairs, and defense.
Similarly to India’s previous admittance of Kashmiri representatives to the Constituent
Assembly, there were no actual legal barriers to taking such action; nothing about the text
Noorani, 45.
of this article prevented an eventual plebiscite, and public statements from the
government maintained that such a referendum was still the necessary path forward:
At present, the legislature which was known as the Praja Sabha in the
State is dead. But neither that legislature nor the Constituent Assembly can
be convoked or can function until complete peace comes to prevail in that
State. We have, therefore, to deal with the Government of the State which,
as represented in its Council of Ministers, reflects the opinion of the
largest political party in the State. Till a Constituent Assembly comes into
being only an interim arrangement is possible and not an arrangement
which could at once be brought into line with the arrangements existing in
the case of other States. Now, if you remember the viewpoints that I have
mentioned, it is an inevitable conclusion that, at the present moment, we
could establish only an interim system. [Article 370] is an attempt to
establish such a system.
In the following years, India, Pakistan, and the UN would continue to
unsuccessfully negotiate the terms that would bring forth a plebiscite—and the dignity of
self-determination—for the Kashmiri people. It also was during this very time that the
Kashmiris would begin to see a pattern that would continue well into the future: the
gradual erosion of Article 370. For example, in 1964, Indian president Sarvepalli
Radhakrishnan would issue a proclamation that transferred the power of government and
legislation from Kashmir to the central government.
Asserting that “the state’s
inclusion in the union was complete, final and irrevocable,” the Indian government would
continually back up Radhakrishnan’s sentiment, even going as far as to pressure the
Kashmir state assembly to pass a bill that effectively eliminated the Kashmiri’s separate
constitution in favor of falling under the jurisprudence of India’s in 1965.
Pakistan repeatedly cried foul at the international stage with each emergent step, much of
Ibid, 47.
Rahman, 106.
the issue laid within the Kashmir constituent assembly’s decision to dissolve in 1957
without specifying whether Article 370 should be amended or abrogated—a reality that
would go on to grant India’s judicial and political systems the “grey area” and flexibility
needed to define the article in more Indian-favorable terms.
Kashmir in Decline
By 1965, it was clear that the current state of IndoPak relations was untenable.
Sheikh Abdullah, who by now had previously served—and been dismissed from—the
role of Chief Minister of Kashmir, remained one of the most prominent and influential
figures in the Kashmiri Muslim community. In response to a police shooting of protestors
in Srinagar, he beseeched his compatriots to “defeat the purpose of those (Indians) who
were trying to tighten the chains of slavery on the Muslims of Kashmir.”
He would
continue, “You cannot achieve freedom by imploring anybody, and in view of India’s
present attitude, you have to think how to face her effectively.”
His subsequent arrest
only served to further fan the flames of domestic discontent, and India’s increasingly
unstable position was only exacerbated by economic downturn and the recent loss to
China in the Sino-Indian War just three years earlier.
Acutely aware of both the fruitlessness of further negotiations and their rival’s
weakened position, Pakistan sent undercover troops across the Line of Control to train
Kashmiri locals hoping to eventually incite a rebellion that would help Pakistan finally
take Kashmir. When this plan—Operation Gibraltar—was uncovered by India, it, along
with multiple explicit Pakistani offensives into Indian-controlled Kashmir, sparked the
Ibid, 107.
second of the four eventual IndoPak wars. Though Pakistan had been careful to align its
actions with what it perceived was a critically weak point in India’s young new history, it
was quickly and easily defeated in the matter of about one month.
From an IndoPak point of view, the War of 1965 did not change much. While a
lack of trust following the unravelling of Operation Gibraltar was inevitable, the existing
deficit between the two sides was already substantial. The conflict certainly did nothing
to improve relations, yet tempers would not immediately flare to the point of war again
for several years. However, expanding the focus of examination here is key: as it pertains
to the international stage, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to cut off arms
shipments to both sides was seen as abandonment by India and Pakistan. Britain and the
rest of the western powers largely followed America’s suit, and Riedel contends that both
Pakistan and India still view this situation as proof that the United States and its allies
will not come to their respective aid when the moment of need truly comes.
Definitively, he argues that “the legacy of the U.S. ‘betrayal’ still haunts [U.S.-Pakistan
and U.S.-Indian] relations today."
In an increasingly globalist international stage,
situations like “The Troubles” in the British Isles have demonstrated the potential value
of foreign intermediaries in resolving long standing, violent conflicts. This blemish in the
relations between IndoPak and the West represents just one more obstacle in the already
deeply complex struggle for peace in Kashmir.
The third IndoPak war would occur six years later in 1971. With aid from the
Soviet Union—the Soviets had since aligned with the Indians and the Chinese with the
Bruce Riedel, Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, and Pakistan to the Brink and Back, (Washington
D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2013), 69-70.
Pakistanis following the political fallout of the 1965 war—India sought to launch its own
version of Operation Gibraltar in East Pakistan (the territory known today as
Bangladesh). By this point, it was clear that the circumstances of each country had
flipped. Pakistan was now embroiled in its own economic and political upheaval after
failing to secure decisive victories in two straight IndoPak wars, and a comparatively
strong India now recognized a window of opportunity to topple Pakistan’s eastern threat
and narrow the battlefield of any future conflict to just one front: Kashmir. Though
Pakistan had previously warned their neighbor that any incursion into East Pakistan
would result in war, this did not deter India: officials in India expressed confidence that
“India would enjoy the benefits, both within the region and beyond, of what would be an
easy and humiliating defeat of Pakistan.”
With this sentiment, Indian forces entered East Pakistan to support local guerrilla
fighters in late November, and Pakistan indeed followed through with its response by
attacking India from the west. The United States and its allies immediately called for
peace upon the rekindling of hostilities for the third time in just 24 years, though their
concerns would be short lived: the war would end just two weeks later when Pakistan
signed what effectively amounted to a surrender—and with it the agreed secession of
East Pakistan. Not only would the Indian hopes of a “humiliating defeat of Pakistan” be
largely realized, the country had also captured a staggering ninety-one thousand prisoners
of war in the fourteen days of fighting—an enormous embarrassment for Pakistan and a
point of pride for the Indian military. Furthermore, the reworking of the original 1949
Line of Control in Kashmir would be redrawn to represent the Line of Actual Control,
Rahman, 128.
which granted India additional territorial claims on the west bank of the Kishinganga and
the north bank of the Indus at the expense of Pakistan.
This overall agreement would
become known as the Simla Accord, and its terms left no doubt as to which country now
enjoyed superiority over the Indian subcontinent.
The aftermath of the third IndoPak war would also have significant implications
as it pertained to Article 370 and the prospects of Kashmiri self-determination. Though
Part Six of the Simla Accord explicitly stated that “a final settlement of Jammu and
Kashmir” was one of several issues that would be diplomatically determined at a later
date, the rhetoric that would come from New Delhi took an increasingly hardline, pro-
India stance. Sheikh Abdullah was a leading Kashmiri voice pushing back against the
Simla Accord’s implication that the future of Kashmir rested in the hands of anyone other
than the Kashmiris themselves, but Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had seen her
public standing and political capital skyrocket in the wake of a definitive Indian victory.
She rejected the outcry from Kashmir, arguing vehemently that when it came to restoring
Kashmir’s autonomy to levels seen in the early 1950s, “the clock could not be put back in
this manner.”
Understanding the reality that a great discrepancy in power existed between India
and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah would eventually relent and sign the Indira-Sheikh
Accord, which dropped the demand for a Kashmiri plebiscite in return for the retention of
Article 370 and its uniquely semi-autonomous characteristics. In addition, Sheikh
Abdullah was put back into the position of Chief Minister of Kashmir. Unsurprisingly,
Ibid, 133.
Nyla Ali Khan, The Life of a Kashmiri Woman: Dialectic of Resistance and Accommodation, (United
States: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 103.
when the terms of this agreement were made public in July 1975, there was large-scale
outrage in both Kashmir and Pakistan. Particularly problematic was the language that
Kashmir was now officially “a constituent unit of India,” and that the Indian government
would retain significant ability to influence and exert its own lawmaking priorities in the
To this day, the move by Sheikh Abdullah has been described disparagingly
as a major, damaging “capitulation” of Kashmiri rights to India.
Though he would
attempt to distance himself from the accord in the coming weeks, Sheikh Abdullah would
watch as widespread protests, increasing fundamentalism, and undeniable instability
began to unfold.
These trends would only become exacerbated in the years that would follow. The
final years of Sheikh Abdullah’s life and tenure of rule over Kashmir were defined by
state violence and autocracy, and the administrations that would follow accomplished
little in the way of restoring peace and stability. Allegations of fraudulent elections
undermined Kashmiri faith in both their own leaders as well as India’s larger promise of
democracy, and militancy was gradually becoming a more frequent outlet for the locals’
frustrations. Little would come in the way of positive developments for Kashmir—nor
IndoPak relations—throughout the next decade, but the stakes would rise to an entirely
new level by 1998.
In mid-May, the Indian government conducted five, unannounced underground
tests of nuclear weapons. Though the international community was swift and severe in
Rahman, 138.
Sumantra Bose, Kashmir: Roots of Conflict, Paths to Peace, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
2003), 88
Rahman, 139.
denouncing India’s actions, Pakistan responded by conducting six tests of its own tests by
the end of the month. The consequences of nuclear capabilities being introduced to a
historically tense relationship that had already resulted in war three times in the last fifty
years were plain—particularly as it related to the Kashmir question. In the words of
Amidst the renewed belligerency between India and Pakistan, the demands
of the Kashmiri activists were rapidly receding from international
consciousness. As both countries continued to test their long range
missiles, which were capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the fear of a
renewed arms race between India and Pakistan appeared to be far more
alarming than the undefined and apparently unrealizable demands for self-
determination of the Kashmiris.
Such fears hit new heights starting in the spring of the following year, when
troops crossed the Line of Control into the Kargil district of Indian-controlled Kashmir,
secured defense positions that the Indian military routinely left vacant during the winter
months, and battled strongly against the ensuing counteroffensive. While Pakistan
maintained firmly that these troops were simply “freedom fighters” with the goal of
liberation for Kashmir, the Indian government was adamant that these troops had been
trained, outfitted by, and even partially composed of Pakistani military personnel. On the
international stage, sympathy for the Pakistani position was limited: the United States’
intelligence community largely corroborated India’s accusations, and even Pakistan’s
most traditional allies like China were hesitant to come to its defense. Perhaps most
damning, however, was the reality that even the Pakistani people “did not believe their
[own] government’s explanation.”
The fact that the militants were able to somewhat
Schofield, 206.
Ibid, 215.
hold their own against a superior Indian military worried many that this could lead to the
conflict spilling across the Pakistani border, and it was widely understood that another
conventional IndoPak war could lead to the first use of nuclear weapons since the Second
World War.
Fighting would continue until July, when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif—after deliberations with U.S. President Bill Clinton—made an adamant plea to
the militants to withdraw from their positions. Central to this appeal was the fact that the
conflict was no longer necessary as the world had once again turned its attention to the
explosive potential of the Kashmir problem—the main goal of these fighters. While this
announcement was met with anger from domestic Islamic fundamentalists who felt that
the cause of annexing Kashmir was being abandoned, the argument that the fighters could
technically claim victory did find its place in the political discourse. Meanwhile, across
the border India was also able to claim victory due to the withdrawal of enemy forces
from the battlefield—though the damage and losses suffered by its military were not to be
understated. In October, Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf led a bloodless coup which
replaced Nawaz Sharif, and though this move attracted its own wave of international
criticism, Musharraf quickly laid out a seven-point plan for the de-escalation of border
hostilities and improvement of overall IndoPak relations.
In the end, India and Pakistan
were able to avoid a full-blown, formally declared conventional war in the summer of
1999, but the answer to the Kashmir question remained no closer to being answered than
Ibid, 224.
Since the turn of the millennium, IndoPak relations have not returned to the same
level of tensions seen throughout the twentieth century. Internally, however, Kashmir has
continued to resemble a territory gripped by conflict—one that at many points seems to
be directed at the civilians themselves by the occupying forces. While this is certainly not
a trend that began in the early 2000s, it is one that is becoming increasingly apparent in
the modern, digital, globalized age.
State-sponsored violence and oppression against the Kashmiris are issues that
stretch back to the earliest days after the accession to India in 1947. From the start, it was
clear that opposition to India’s vision of the state’s future would hardly be tolerated.
Sheikh Abdullah—who had initially gained New Delhi’s favor due to his early support of
an accession to India and rejection of the “two-nations” theory—was dismissed and
arrested from his post as elected chief minister once doubts began to arise as to his
loyalty to India. Upon his eventual release four years later, he would almost instantly be
imprisoned again for an additional six after taking a public stand in favor of a
plebiscite—and this time his detention would be paired with a large trial of twenty-five
other dissenters on the grounds of conspiracy.
The hardline stance against dissent that the government of Bakshi Ghulam
Muhammad took over the next decade would resemble few characteristics of a healthy
democracy. Against the backdrop of 1962’s illegitimate election that served to preserve
the status of the autocratic regime, freedom of the press was stripped away to quell the
spread of information critical of those in power. As for the citizens themselves, one of
Bakshi’s former associates turned political opponent commented that “the government
Ibid, 95.
agents forced hot potatoes into the mouths of their opponents, put heavy stones on their
chest; and branded them with hot irons.”
The year 1978 was particularly notable define Kashmiri’s present state of civil
society. On April 8th, the once again Sheikh Abdullah-led government would introduce
the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act. Though similar preventative detention acts
had existed in the region in the form of the Public Security Act of 1946 and the
Preventative Detention Act of 1954, this method of policing soared under Sheikh
Abdullah as a tool to detain his political rivals—a strategy that would continue to be
embraced by future leaders.
Specifically, the language of the law allowed for the
imprisonment of a suspect without trial for a maximum of two years for acting against the
“security of the state,” and one year for “acting in any manner prejudicial to the
maintenance of public order;” these terms would only be amended to a respective six
months and three months by default in 2012.
A clearer picture of the law’s power
emerged in 2015 when the Indian government released the statistic that 16,329
individuals had been detained in this manner since 1988.
Almost all of these arrests
occurred in Kashmir.
A few other laws originating from the twentieth century play in important role in
modern Kashmir. The first of which, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA),
was first enacted in 1958 and evolved into a Kashmir-specific piece of legislation in
1990. In essence, the law allows Indian armed forces to declare a “disturbed area” where
Ibid, 96.
Mohmad Aabid Bhat, Insight Turkey 21, no. 4, (2019), 55.
Ibid, 56.
Mudasir Ahmad, "How the Public Safety Act Continues to Haunt Kashmir," The Wire, January 28,
public order is perceived to be lacking. Within these areas, soldiers are permitted to
search homes or make arrests without a warrant, and even open fire on those seen as a
threat. Of particular note, those involved with killings of civilians associated with the law
are granted immunity from future prosecution. This final point in particular has raised the
ire of human rights advocates around the world, as they argue it has prevented justice in
countless unjust civilian killings over the years.
A related law is the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act: a counterterrorism law
from 1967 that was most recently amended in August 2019. While already decried as
draconian for its alleged misuse in targeting social activists and religious minorities, the
2019 changes now allow individuals to be designated as “terrorists” and likewise
detained without charges nor trial for six months with no opportunity for bail.
Described as India’s now foremost anti-terror law, use has escalated dramatically as an
alternative to the PSA due to the facts that PSA detentions are much easier to overturn
and that the UAPA ultimately allows the security forces to remove individuals for longer.
“Now armed with a more draconian law, the government uses it to detain people who are
a political threat or dissenting,” according to Khurram Parvez, chairman of the Jammu
and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies.
Violent crackdowns on protests like the aforementioned 1965 incident have been
common throughout Kashmir’s occupied history. In the eyes of the Indian government,
militant insurgencies like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front have created a
Meenakshi Ganguly, “India: Replace AFSPA with a better, rights-respecting law,” Human Rights
Watch, (August 24, 2014).
Qadri Inzamam; Mohammad Haziq, “Empty Fields: The Use (and Abuse) of UAPA in Kashmir, The
Diplomat, (September 25, 2020).
justification for the use of deadly force in securing the territory; one stark example of this
sentiment came from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who, after the 2010
discovery that three villagers near the Line of Control had been murdered “in cold blood”
by soldiers, argued that “in a difficult situation, innocent people sometimes ‘have to
The modern insurgency in Kashmir began to take on its modern form by the
end of the 1980s, and in the period from 1990-2010, 70,000 Kashmiri civilians were
killed by India’s security apparatus in their own “war on terror.”
While such death tolls may be able to provide some empirical evidence as to the
situation in Kashmir—though the credibility of the government’s estimates is another
debate in of itself—these figures are simply unable to demonstrate the full extent of what
the civilian population has been endured. Human rights abuses in the region by
paramilitary outfits have attracted international criticism, and though allegations of rape,
torture, murder, and more are common, no clear statistics regarding their prevalence are
readily available as legislation like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act grants impunity
those even accused of such acts. With over 500,000 Indian troops present in Kashmir
even before the events of 2019, life in and around the valley resembled that of a country
at war. While India may view its occupation as one premised on the need for peace,
order, and stability, those who have lived under its rule for over seventy years have yet to
see any of these buzzwords truly realized. And with the advent and development of
digital means of oppression like internet blackouts, India has discovered the potential of
these technologies to supplement—not replace—their current repressive strategies.
Parvaisz Bukhari, “Kashmir 2010: The Year of Killing Youth,” The Nation, September 22, 2010.
Don’t beat us, just shoot us.
-Anonymous Kashmiri
For the purpose of this analysis, Chapter Four is broken down into two main
thematic sections: instances where the Indian government utilized physical repression
(violence, torture, imprisonments, etc.), and instances where the Indian government
utilized digital authoritarianism. In Chapter Five, discussion will center on how these two
styles of oppression have intertwined, what the impact is for the people of Kashmir, and
what the implications are for these developments at the international level. Both thematic
sections will examine the respective associated techniques within the context of Chapter
Two’s five aforementioned goals of autocrats; understanding each’s strengths and
weaknesses will further unveil where the two styles of oppression overlap—as well as
how one may help bolster the effectiveness of the other.
To achieve this, information was compiled from a variety of different sources,
including but not limited to activists, reporters, the global diaspora, and firsthand
accounts from Kashmiris on social media platforms like Twitter. As alluded to in the
prior chapter, attaining exact statistics of human rights abuses is essentially impossible
due to the closed nature of Kashmir to the outside world by India, so the body and quality
Sameer Hashmi, “’Don’t beat us, just shoot us’: Kashmiris allege violent army crackdown,” BBC,
(August 29, 2019).
of available information is frequently fragmentary and only estimable. Figures are often
sourced from NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Jammu Kashmir
Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS). Additionally, a limitation of this study is the author’s
unilinguality: because of this, the available pool of resources is further narrowed to those
written in the English language.
The initial aim of this thesis was to focus primarily on the Twitter activity of
Kashmiris immediately following the March restoration of internet services in the valley.
By scraping the body of Tweets originating from Kashmir over a period of one week and
analyzing a sample of about one hundred per day, one could begin to understand the
immediate priorities of the Kashmiri people once they were again connected to the
outside world. Furthermore, it is within this early timeframe that personal accounts of
abuse by Indian security forces would most likely arise due to concerns of another
shutdown and the resultant inability to tell one’s story in the near future. With this
dataset, it could begin to be extrapolated just how prevalent these negative experiences
with security forces were during the shutdown, and what impact the shutdown had in
achieving the autocratic goals laid out in Chapter two.
However, several significant issues quickly arose with this approach. To start,
Twitter has recently removed access to much of the tweet metadata that would be
necessary in order to conduct such a review (such as location, even as broadly defined as
“Kashmir”). Even if this metadata could still be retrieved, the growing popularity of
VPNs in Kashmir would have masked the true extent of the body of Kashmiri tweets.
This fact alone would make the prospect of claiming an accurate measurement dubious at
Irfan Amin Malik, “In Kashmir, VPNs Allow Residents to Slip Past the Region’s Firewall,” The Wire,
(February 8, 2020).
best, especially as it would be impossible to gauge just how many tweets were missing in
Moreover, to scrape tweets in this nature in the first place, only an original
computer code could properly run and execute the task; the author did not have the
knowledge to create this, and practical and logistical obstacles stood in the way of hiring
a computer scientist. Therefore, the original proposal of using a large swath of Twitter
data as the central focus of the thesis shifted into utilizing a smaller, narrower sample for
supplementary purposes instead.
Over the course of the project, a collection of relevant Kashmiri journalists,
activists, NGOs, and local politicians were identified through a process similar in nature
to snowball sampling, After the creation of an initial list of 23 prominent Kashmiri
Twitter accounts ranging from the categories above—primarily discovered by mining the
popular hashtags #Kashmir and #PrayForKashmir—these accounts were analyzed one-
by-one with Twitter’s advanced search feature. The terms searched for included the
verbatim queries of “killings,” “torture,” “rape,” “state violence,” “surveillance,”
“drones,” “mass imprisonments,” and “internet shutdown”—along with varied
synonymous phrasings in order to both increased relevant results as well as ensure the
data was not overly skewed towards a sample of individuals only critical of the
government. By analyzing the content of the results stemming from these initial accounts
(which typically came in the form of links to external sites), a much greater body of
information became available for the ensuing research. Among the dozens of new
Kashmiri activists, journalists, and media accounts yielded by this search method, NGO
reports, studies, and data were particularly referenced—especially the Jammu and
Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.
As alluded to above, such a method of sampling does create the potential that the
information being analyzed could be overly biased against the Indian government. To
help account for this, responses from the Indian government towards specific allegations
cited in the thesis were sought wherever possible and included alongside the specific
accusation. Though the bias and credibility of those making allegations could somewhat
reasonably be called into question, many of their accounts have been cited from
internationally recognized publications such as The Washington Post. These same news
organizations were faced with the same questions before running each respective story,
especially in the earliest days of the lockdown where information leaving the valley was
dramatically reduced. In large part due to the systematic effort of the central government
to suppress non-Indian supported narratives, these organizations found that these stories
met the criteria necessary for publication; oftentimes, this journalistic justification would
preface said story. Overall, this active effort to pair allegations with opposing
viewpoints—specifically seeking out accusations that accredited, career journalists found
reputable for publication—was to ensure that the analysis produced as fair and easily
replicable of a conclusion as possible.
Of course, the combination of all the above factors makes it impossible that this
project or its collection of sources could ever provide a complete picture of the true state
of Kashmir. Nevertheless, both the ongoing nature of Kashmir’s 2019 blackout and the
lack of comprehensive academia on the subject (two dynamics which are surely related)
demands that some level of analysis be undertaken—even if it may be imperfect. Ideally,
this preliminary investigation into the subject will highlight deeper, more specific
questions that future research can address with the benefit of greater time and resources.
Physical Repression
Extrajudicial Killings
When examining physical repression in Kashmir, it makes sense to begin with the
technique first analyzed by Guriev and Treisman: politically motivated killings. To be
clear, the “mass killings” that the two specify as the deaths of more than one thousand
noncombatants are not currently happening, nor have they in any recent history. In 2019,
368 individuals were killed during Indian counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir;
among those, only 80 have been classified as civilians.
While this by no means makes
these deaths any less tragic or reprehensible, it is also not indicative of a reality where the
Indian government is targeting Kashmiris at a rate which can justifiably be classified as
mass killing. In observing the larger trend over the 21st century, civilian deaths had been
falling dramatically since 2002. While JKCCS identified 968 cases that year, the annual
figure has not exceeded 200 since 2006.
That said, what has not diminished over this period is the effect of these killings
on the Kashmiri people. Last year, JKCCS wrote that “while extra-judicial killings of
civilians in 2019 saw a downward trend, the pattern has remained the same. Civilians
continue to be the direct target of the armed forces as well as, [are] seen at par with
Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society; Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, “Annual
Human Rights Review 2019,” n.a., (2019),
Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, “Peace and Processes of Violence: An observation on
situation in Jammu and Kashmir from 2002 to 2009,” n.a., (2010),
armed militants, as data has shown.”
This contention that civilians are being
deliberately targeted by India is consistent with findings by HRW as far back as the
earlier stages of the insurgency in 1995:
While attempting to reassure the international community that they have
taken steps to curb human rights abuses in Kashmir, Indian forces have in
effect subcontracted some of their abusive tactics to groups with no
official accountability. The extrajudicial killings, abductions and assaults
committed by these groups against suspected militants are instead
described as resulting from “intergroup rivalries.” But civilians have also
been their victims, and the militia groups have singled out journalists,
human rights activists and medical workers for attack.
This observation that India is sponsoring third parties to commit violence on the
government’s behalf is extremely important. Frankly, it is impossible to absolve India of
blame in civilian deaths in Kashmir on the sole basis that official state security forces
were not present during an incident if the groups carrying out such actions have been
greenlighted by the state in the first place. HRW emphasizes this relationship in the same
In some cases, attacks by these paramilitary groups appear to have been
carried out on orders from security officers; in other cases, the groups
appear to operate on their own, within broadly defined limits to their
discretionary powers and the full expectation on the part of the security
forces that they will use their discretion to take initiatives within the
overall counterinsurgency strategy of fighting terror with terror. Their
actions are taken with the knowledge and complicity of official security
At the very least, this may mean India could be considered an accessory for Kashmiri
deaths at the hands of any militarized forces. One may even be able to argue that India
bears almost complete responsibility for such bloodshed.
JKCCS et. al, “2019,” 10.
Human Rights Watch, “India’s Secret Army in Kashmir: New Patterns of Abused Emerge in the
Conflict,” India 8, no. 4, (May 1996),, Chapter 1.
Indian explanations for civilian deaths often run contrary to family and
eyewitness accounts. For example, when a twenty-five-year-old was shot and killed in
May at a security checkpoint in Srinagar, India’s Central Reserve Police Force released a
statement that the victim was shot “when the car didn’t stop despite warning shots.”
This was refuted by a witness who, in an interview with Deutsche Welle, explained that
the car had indeed stopped, and that “a security official told him something to which he
replied that he had some emergency. They let him go but as he was getting into his
vehicle, they shot him in the back. He was killed deliberately.”
The victim’s father
corroborated this: “Had soldiers fired at his vehicle while fleeing any checkpoint, his car
would have got bullet marks.”
A remarkably similar incident occurred in July, when a sixty-five-year-old was
killed in front of his three-year-old grandson. When police initially identified the victim,
they explained that the man had been caught in crossfire of a skirmish between militants
and state security forces while trying to flee the scene.
The man’s family disputed this
with their own accusation that the security forces had removed the man from his car and
shot him on the spot. They also question why the car had not been touched if it had truly
been caught in crossfire.
Mass killings are almost impossible to completely cover up: China failed to do so
with its massacre at Tiananmen Square, and it is arguably the most successful regime in
the world at controlling the flow of information. This reality makes it is unsurprising that
n.a., “Clashes in Kashmir after Indian soldiers kill civilian,” DW, (May 13, 2020.)
Nusrat Sidiq, “Indian forces killed civilian in Kashmir, family says,” Anadolu Agency, (July 2, 2020).
India would decide against such measures within Kashmir. Instead, they have largely
opted for mostly nonlethal measures such as tear gas and shotgun pellets when
confronted by large crowds, saving lethal encounters for more isolated incidents where
eyewitnesses are few and the circumstances allow for the story to be muddied in the
eventual aftermath. Just as JKCCS previously stated, the trend of extrajudicial killings as
a state strategy of repression has remained consistent throughout the conflict, and it has
shown no indication of receding in the near future.
In terms of the five goals of autocrats, these targeted killings may not serve the
interests of surveillance, regime legitimization, or spreading misinformation, but they
absolutely succeed in creating fear and eliminating operational capacity. On the subject
of regime legitimization alone, civilian deaths were outlined in previous chapters as
actually delegitimizing a standing regime in the eyes of its people. As it relates to fear,
though, it is not hard to draw the line between how a Kashmiri may be fearful of
interactions with security forces when a friend, family member, or person in the news has
been slain. Uzma Javed—a twenty-year-old from Srinagar—described this very fear to Al
Jazeera shortly after the abrogation of Article 370: “The sight of armed forces ‘petrifies
me,’ she said, adding ‘I don’t even want my brother and father to go out at all but there is
no option. They need to go to get bread and other daily necessities.’”
The hesitancy to
even put oneself in a position of interaction with these forces plays directly into the
elimination of dissident operational capacity as well: if there are not enough willing to
directly push back at the state, the critical mass needed to force change may be
Adnan Bhat, “Kashmir women are the biggest victims of this inhumane siege,” Al Jazeera, (August 21,
Torture and Rape
Just as state killings have remained a consistent strategy of repression, other gross
human rights violations such as torture and rape have found continued usage over the
years by the security apparatus as well. Last year, the Washington Post reported one such
incident that had allegedly occurred the day after the abrogation of Article 370. After
being questioned by Indian soldiers, 25-year-old Yassin Bhat was ordered to remove his
clothes in the middle of a road.
He was subsequently held down and beaten, and
shocked by electrical wires which had been forced on his chest and genitals. He and four
other naked men were beaten for about two hours, and soon after being forced to lie on
top of each other Bhat fainted. Though he told the Post that “I thought it would be my
last night,” he was eventually retrieved by neighbors upon the soldiers’ departure.
Photographic evidence and hospital records challenge the Indian army’s statement that
the cases outlined the Post’s story are “baseless.”
Less than one month after the August 2019 crackdown, the BBC managed to
circumvent India’s ban on international media in Kashmir and speak to local residents
regarding their experiences with the security forces. In a story eerily similar to Bhat’s,
one young man recounted being asked to “name the stone-throwers.” After responding
that he did not know any, he was stripped of his clothing and beaten with rods and sticks
for two hours—electrocuted awake when slipping into unconsciousness.
Another man
described being beaten by “15-16 soldiers,” with “cables, guns, sticks and probably iron
Niha Masih; Joanna Slater; Shams Irfan, “The night the soldiers came: Allegations of abuse surface in
Kashmir,” The Washington Post (September 30, 2019).
Hashmi, “’Don’t beat us.”
While he said that his beard was pulled so hard “it felt like my teeth would fall
out,” he was later told by a witness that one solider attempted to act further by setting the
beard on fire—only stopped by another solider. Still another described being beaten so
badly that he was still unable to lie on his back weeks after.
In their own interviews,
two brothers said they pleaded with their torturers, “don’t beat us, just shoot us.”
While all the interviewees stated that they believed the security forces did this in
an attempt to scare villagers from participating in protests—one even alleged his village
was specifically threatened with future beatings if protests occurred—the Indian army
responded just as they had to the Post’s questioning: “No specific allegations of this
nature have been brough to our notice,” and that the accusations were “baseless and
Such allegations against India are anything but uncommon in Kashmir. In late
2010, WikiLeaks published private dispatches from the US embassy in Delhi that
detailed secret Red Cross briefings on human rights abuses in Kashmir. In 177 visits
between 2002 and 2004 where the organization privately interviewed 1,296 detainees,
681 reported anywhere from one to over six different forms of torture—including ceiling
suspension, leg crushing and stretching, electrocutions, water-based, and sexual acts.
These 681 detainees reported over 1,890 separate personal incidents, and the Red Cross
concluded that the victims were all civilians as militants were typically killed instead of
Jason Burke, “WikiLeaks cables: India accused of systematic use of torture in Kashmir,” The Guardian
(December 16, 2010).
Though this report focused particularly on detainees, accounts such as Bhat’s
demonstrate how torture can happen as spontaneously as finding someone walking in the
street. His story also illustrates how torture has clearly not been abandoned since the Red
Cross’s investigation in 2004. The United Nations has repeatedly been audience to torture
allegations against Indian security forces, and in May published its own findings that the
status of human rights in Kashmir was not just poor, but in a “continued [state of]
JKCCS’s 2019 report on Kashmir takes this assessment further, arguing
that torture is not only “used indiscriminately by the Indian armed forces and J&K Police
in J&K to punish or intimidate people,” but that the practice has become so normalized
that it is rarely reported in Kashmiri media anymore.
While each year brings with it a
new set of stories and allegations, this reality JKCCS illuminates strongly suggests that
the outside world will never learn the true extent of torture in Kashmir.
Many similarities can also be drawn to the weaponization of rape by Indian
security forces. Even when counterinsurgency operations were just in the process of
intensifying in the early 1990s, Asia Watch was among many sounding the alarm bell as
to the prevalence of this tactic. In their comprehensive 1993 report on the matter, the
organization called the usage of rape by security forces as “frequent,” and that it most
commonly occurred during cordon-and-search operations where men were temporarily
taken from their homes and the women left alone—as well as for a retaliatory measure
following nearby militant ambushes.
The motivation, according to Asia Watch, is to
Nils Melzer et al. to India, May 4, 2020, 1.
JKCCS, “2019”, 53.
Asia Watch; Physicians for Human Rights, “Rape in Kashmir: A Crime of War,” India 5, no. 9, (1993),
“punish and humiliate the entire community.”
Their reporting on this issue illustrates
the consistency of this tactic’s use by Indian security forces throughout Kashmir’s recent
history; this consistency may suggest that the forces’ leaders perceive that rape still holds
value as a means to quell dissent.
While there are already distinct challenges in finding accurate empirical evidence
for crimes as underreported as rape, it is especially important to understand the
circumstances that amplify this reality in Kashmir. To start, the Indian government’s lack
of urgency in addressing the issue—or perhaps more appropriately, the demonstrated
pattern of condoning such actions through coverups and lack of accountability—
immediately turns off victims from even raising the issue in the first place. Though the
Kunan Poshpora mass rape of 1991 remains one of the most infamous human rights
violations by Indian security forces throughout the conflict, the Indian government still
refuses to acknowledge the incident and has actively impeded investigations and court
proceedings to this day.
Looking at the weaponization of rape more broadly, Fatima particularly cites the
fetishization and dehumanization of Kashmiri women—a trend she argues has been
exacerbated and encouraged by Indian legislative policy like the AFSPA
—as the
foundation of an environment where these crimes can run rampant.
This is especially
dangerous when paired with dismissive attitudes towards rape by authority figures, such
as former Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta’s comments in
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Update of the Situation of Human
Rights in Indian-Administered Kashmir and Pakistan-Administered Kashmir from May 2018 to April
2019,” (July 8, 2019), 23.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Hana Fatima, “Women’s bodies as battlegrounds: Social media discourse and the weaponization of rape
in Kashmir,” The American Bazaar, (February 24, 2020).
response to a 2018 accusation against security forces: “[it was] a minor incident and need
not be hyped.”
Mushtaq contends that the combination of these factors and more
suggests that “the act of sexual violence and murder cannot and must not be seen outside
of the Indian state’s nation-building project over a territory that questions the legitimacy
of its rule.”
All of this speaks to much of why the Indian security force’s reputation to torture
and rape is so effective at stoking fear in Kashmir: under the current environment of
impunity, it is unlikely that past, present, or future victims will ever receive true justice
for their tribulations. Furthermore, the lack of meaningful progress on the issue since the
Red Cross’ 2004 warning proves that the issue is not a strong priority of Western powers
that could potentially force change from the outside through tariffs and other means.
Without external pressure, there is no real incentive for India to change a largely effective
behavior. In the valley, there is an immense cost not just for acting against the
government, but sometimes simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time as the case
of Bhat shows. As JKCCS stated, torture is expressly used by the security apparatus to
intimidate, and the isolated social media and journalistic accounts that do manage to
emerge from a suppressed Kashmir prove that the tactic is working.
This creation of a culture of fear also aids in the goal of eliminating the organized
dissent’s operational capacity: similarly to the effect of killings, if the security forces can
scare potential protestors enough that they will not act against the state, the critical mass
needed to facilitate change becomes much more difficult to attain. Beyond these to
Samreen Mushtaq, “Why the Kathua Case Cannot Be Seen Outside of India’s Nation-building Project,”
Economic & Political Weekly 53, no. 19, (May 12, 2018), 7.
achievements, though, such human rights violations are unable to help in the realization
of the other four autocratic goals. Torture and rape do not spread misinformation, help
surveille the population, or legitimize the regime. This indicates that while torture may be
a powerful tool within the niche it does fill, it needs to fit within a larger, holistic strategy
to reach its maximum effectiveness.
Physical Surveillance
One technique that can augment torture and rape in this way is the substantial
escalation of physical surveillance since the revocation of Article 370. Prior to last
August, drones were a valuable tool for patrolling the Line of Control as well the valley’s
biggest protests, but ownership and usage was largely exclusive to the Indian military.
Since the crackdown, though, police have been rapidly outfitted with the most up-to-date
equipment available. In October 2019, an anonymous Indian official told Outlook that
“The drone MAVIC2 has an excellent speed; 75 km per hour and it can carry 1.2 kg
payload. I think it has sensors that can also detect weapons. If you are able to fly it like an
expert, it is of great use for the law and order and surveillance.”
Perhaps ominously for
the Kashmiri people, he added that “we are just in the process of learning its benefits.”
One year later, the evidence that India has embraced these benefits is clear. In
December 2020, one hundred more drones were budgeted out for local police to be
dispersed in the coming months.
Another anonymous Indian source stated that “The
procurement of 100 drones is just a beginning and in the months ahead, each police
Naseer Ganai, “Police Use Drones To Shadow And Identify Protestors In Kashmir,” Outlook, (October
2, 2019).
Press Desk, “With MHA’s nod, J&K police to procure 100 drones in phases,” The Kashmir Press,
(December 10, 2020).
station will be covered…The UAVs or drone system will be of category three which is
considered the latest and equipped with the technology required by the police especially
in Kashmir given its terrain and mountainous region.”
At the start of the crackdown, these drones were mostly utilized in southern
Kashmir where protests were most fervent. In Anchar, for instance, security forces used
them to fly above roadblocks that made the village inaccessible from the outside and
scout the identity of protestors along with their most likely routes.
Kashmiris would
soon learn the fruitlessness of attempting to reach high-flying drones or covering their
faces when outside, though. Last year in Srinagar, a woman named Aliya was arrested
and interrogated after being identified by the color of her dress.
In another part of the
city, several men were surrounded on a bridge by security forces and attempted to flee by
jumping into the river—resulting in the drowning of one.
The effectiveness of the
police’s drone usage will only increase in the future as in-depth training from experts is
expected to be part of the new drone rollout in 2021 and beyond, according to other
officials speaking off the record.
Drones are far from the only means in which security forces have sought to track
the Kashmiri population. As part of a more widespread, static surveillance infrastructure,
thousands of CCTV cameras have been installed throughout the valley since last August.
In October, Bandipora deputy commissioner Owais Ahmad implemented the following
order: “to keep an eye on anti-social elements and their acts thereof, there is a need for
Ganai, “Police Use Drones.
Suddaf Chaudry, “Masked soldiers, barred mosques and constant surveillance: Inside Kashmir under
lockdown,” Open Democracy, (September 12, 2019).
Press Desk, “With MHA’s nod.”
additional surveillance measures which include installation & extensive usage of CCTV
cameras in public places, offices with adequate data storage capacity.”
Particularly of
note is the demand that “the CCTV HDD (storage device) shall be always kept available
for the usage of Law Enforcing Agencies as and when requisitioned.”
This directive
aligns closely with the Kashmir Police’s larger December initiative, which plans for the
installation of three thousand cameras in all twenty districts and along the Jammu-
Srinagar National Highway—an effort aided in large part by the United Kingdom-based
consultant company Ernst and Young.
The effectiveness of these combined surveillance measures has not been lost on
the Kashmiris. One Anchar resident discussed the progression of Kashmiri attitudes in an
anonymous interview. At first, he said that “people were surprised as they saw the drones
flying over their heads during protests. They would cover their faces on spotting the
drone. Some would try to chase it but it flew too high.”
However, as these technologies
have expanded, he explained that people no longer even bother to cover their faces.
“Drones are here now every day,” according to Nazir Ahmad, another resident. “They are
tracking our every movement in this area…On Eid, we had five helicopters in the area for
aerial surveillance. We heard Ajit Doval [India’s national security advisor] was in
Owais Farooqi, “Eye on ‘anti-social elements,’ DC Bandipora orders installation of CCTV cameras in
offices, busy places,” Greater Kashmir, (October 13, 2020).
News Desk, “Police to install 3000 CCTV cameras in all districts of Jammu and Kashmir: Report,” The
Kashmir Walla, (December 1, 2020).
Ganai, “Police Use Drones.”
Ahmer Khan; Adnan Bhat, “In Kashmir, the Indian Government is always watching,” This Week In
Asia, (September 8, 2019).
Obviously, the main purpose of these measures is to surveille the Kashmiri
population—something neither extrajudicial killings nor torture and rape are particularly
helpful in achieving. While the technique fails to accomplish two of the other main
autocratic goals—misinformation spread and regime legitimization—its ability to
promote the other two are less clear. On the subject of creating fear, it is easy to imagine
how the state of constant surveillance would make a potential protestor fearful of
demonstrating as security forces would likely be able to later track them down—resulting
in a prolonged detention, inescapable torture, or even death. That said, the relative
dismissiveness of the everyday Kashmiri in hiding their face from drones suggests that
the tactic is no longer as feared by the public—though this would seemingly increase the
effectiveness of future surveillance exponentially. As it relates to elimination of
dissenters’ operational capacity, cameras are quite clearly unable to achieve this on their
own. However, the opportunities opened up by the information they collect make this
goal much more easily attained through the use of other techniques: namely,
imprisonments and detentions.
Mass Imprisonments and Detentions
One of the most immediate action items of the Indian government in Kashmir
following the revocation of Article 370 was the swift, targeted, and widespread detention
of civilians in every corner of the valley. Though the laws that provided a legal path for
these mass imprisonments have been existent for decades—namely, the PSA and
—the extent to which they were utilized was consistent with the government’s
traditional strategy of weaponizing them most in times of significant political unrest or
Public Safety Act and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, respectively.
civilian uprisings.
For instance, JKCCS reported “hundreds of fresh detentions under
PSA” had taken place in 2018; this is an unmistakably large number for any society
operating under the pretense of “democracy,” but one dwarfed by more politically
turbulent years like 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2016 (the latter of which saw over eight
thousand arrests alone).
In an alarmingly rapid blow to Kashmiri civil society, up to four thousand people
were immediately arrested and held under the PSA in the first two weeks after Article
370’s revocation—a figure constituting at least half of the total number previously
arrested in all of 2016.
However, that number fluctuated depending on the source:
while one anonymous security official was responsible for leaking that four thousand
figure, another told AFP off-the-record that “around 6,000 people were medically
examined at a couple of places in Srinagar after they were detained.”
Still another
anonymously estimated “thousands,” jailed, but stressed that this number “did not include
other residents whose detentions at police stations had not been recorded.
One of the
highest figures has come from an all-woman fact-finding team whose on-the-ground
research contended that about thirteen thousand had been taken in the weeks immediately
before and after the lockdown—many of who had not been documented.
Jammu Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society; Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, “Annual
Human rights Review: 2018,” (December 31. 2018),
Report-2018.pdf, 15.
n.a., “About. 4,000 people arrested in Kashmir since August 5: govt sources to AFP,” The Hindu,
(August 18, 2019).
Annie Raja; Kawaljit, Kaur et al., “Women’s Voice: Fact Finding Report on Kashmir,” (September 17th-
21st 2019), Accessed at
Though the targets varied widely in background and occupation—including but
not limited to academics, journalists, political leaders, and activists—they all had one
trait in common: their freedom was deemed threatening to the attempted submission of
Kashmir by the Indian government. While some of these arrested in the first wave had a
history of participation in local protests, those who practice nonviolence were not spared
from the ones taken into custody under suspicion of violent action. The police official
responsible for the six thousand figure disclosed the process in which these detentions are
carried out, explaining that after being sent to the central jail in Srinagar detainees are
flown thousands of miles away by military aircraft to India proper.
In the bigger
picture, the broadness of the net the Indian government has casted when designating such
threats is especially concerning as almost anyone could be seemingly painted as
“dangerous” when free.
An internal government report from September 6 seen by Reuters pegged the
number of arrested Kashmiris at 3,800, though it was estimated that 2,600 had been
released within the month.
However, international NGOs continued to plea for justice
in 2020, demanding that the “hundreds” still detained in the jails and prisons scattered
across India be released. These calls would become greatly amplified after March as the
spread of COVID-19 exploded globally, and those confined within the Indian prison
system were not spared from exposure.
Traditionally, Indian prisons have gained a reputation for operating well beyond
their intended capacity. In 2019, the average occupancy rate of those in India was 114
Devjyot Ghoshal; Alasdair Pal, “Thousands detained in Indian Kashmir crackdown, official data
reveals,” Reuters, (September 12, 2019).
percent, and Kashmir’s Director General of Prisons stated in July 2020 that “we have the
capacity to lodge 3,234 prisoners in our jails but presently our occupancy is above
Domestic activists have such as Khuram Parvez contended that the reluctance
to release Kashmiris awaiting trial was indicative of the government’s larger strategy to
harm and repress: “the approach of the government has been vindictive towards Kashmiri
prisoners. These people are being punished without trials and COVID-19 didn’t deter the
government from ending its belligerence when it comes to Kashmiris.”
Incremental progress was made early in the pandemic after an Indian Supreme
Court directive led a committee to order the release of jail inmates not involved in
militancy-related cases (236 were released between April 1st and April 19th), but to this
day a large number of Kashmiris remain missing from the valley—a count unlikely to
ever accurately surface. Aliya, the previously discussed Srinagar women who had been
identified and arrested from the color of her dress, is still missing her husband—one of
presumably thousands of Kashmiris who have no idea as to the whereabouts (not to
mention the status of their potentially jeopardized existence) of their loved ones. In an
op-ed published by The Guardian, one Kashmiri mother pleaded directly to the Indian
government at the start of the crackdown: “I want every single mother in Kashmir and
other places whose sons have been forcibly disappeared to get answers to the questions
that haunt them: where is my child? Where did you take them? Bring the dead body if
you killed them—but for God’s sake bring them back.”
Joe Wallen, “Overcrowded prisons in Kashmir are ‘incubators’ for Covid-19 as inmates are refused
release,” The Telegraph, (July 17, 2019).
Parveena Ahangar, “My son is one of Kashmir’s ‘disappeared.’ When will India tell the truth about their
fate?” The Guardian, (September 12, 2019).
In again relating India’s tactics to the five goals of autocrats, these mass
detentions do not legitimize the regime nor spread misinformation. On the other hand, the
risk of disappearance thousands of miles from home with no concrete timetable for return
quite easily creates fear among not just open dissenters, but the loved ones who care and
rely upon them as well. While one may be able to argue at an abstract, technical level that
imprisonments allow the Indian government to easily track their top perceived targets in a
jail cell, these measures do little on their own to increase surveillance over the population
as a whole. However, mass imprisonments’ ability to eliminate the dissent’s operational
capacity becomes much stronger by contextualizing the detentions within the larger
surveillance infrastructure of the Indian security apparatus. In this regard, it seems highly
likely that the effectiveness of the mass imprisonment tactic is strengthened exponentially
by the information gathered by constant drone and CCTV coverage.
At this point, the effectiveness of the differing means of repression in achieving
the five goals of autocrats has become much clearer. However, as valuable as this
information may be, it is not the main focus of the thesis; rather, how does the existence
of internet technologies and avenues of digital authoritarianism affect these tactics usage?
Considering these four tactics underneath the larger umbrella of “physical repression,”
does digital authoritarianism strengthen this broader strategy? Or does it instead weaken
it? Does digital authoritarianism augment physical repression in a way that may incline
an autocrat to maintain or increase their use of violence? Or, as scholars like Guriev and
Treisman suggest, is the potential effectiveness of digital authoritarianism enough to
actually warrant the gradual abandonment of physical repression in favor of technological
tactics? To appropriately answer these questions, the strengths and weaknesses of digital
authoritarianism as it relates to the five goals of autocrats must be fully analyzed. It is
from that point that these advantages and shortcomings can be compared to those of
physical repression, and the overall effects revealed from their intersection.
Digital authoritarianism
By no means should the focus of this section on internet shutdowns be
misconstrued as an implication that blackouts are the only digitally authoritarianist
measure worthy of academic consideration within the context of this thesis’ research
question. In fact, that is one major direction that future research on this subject should
take: how does the prevalence of other tactics such as filtering and flooding contribute to
the effectiveness and usage of physical repression in other regimes? That said, the
outsized attention given to internet shutdowns is largely predicated on the fact that by the
very nature of a blackout these tactics cannot truly coexist. Simply put, if a population
has no access to internet services, there is no body of information to filter or flood in the
first place.
Of course, this is not to say that the Kashmiris have been completely isolated
from the internet since the digital curtain fell in August 2019. Throughout the next year,
coverage gradually returned in certain areas of the valley, and trips to government-
approved computer terminals were at least somewhat common for numerous individuals
as months went by in order to complete time sensitive tasks like paying taxes and
applying for colleges. In those controlled environments, other forms of digital
authoritarianism were absolutely rampant.
Overall, though, the practically unusable internet speeds can effectively be
characterized as simply a newer manifestation of the blackout, and it would be inaccurate
to act as if the complete palate of digital authoritarianism has applied—or was ever even
truly accessible—to most. New Delhi-based digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa maintains
this very point: “frankly, let’s call it what it is: It’s still an internet shutdown and a
blanket censorship of the internet.”
Pranesh Prakash of Yale’s Information Society
Project echoes this claim, contending that “the internet shutdown in Kashmir is far worse
censorship than anywhere in the world. It even surpasses China’s. It is a step toward
demolishing democracy in India.”
For these reasons, Kashmir’s historically unprecedented internet blackout is the
focus of this thesis’ analysis of digital authoritarianism within this case study.
Internet shutdowns
The blackout began the day before Article 370’s revocation: alongside a military-
imposed curfew and hard restriction of movement, phone and internet services were
severed throughout the valley. With one flip of the kill switch, the Indian government had
isolated the Kashmiris from not just the outside world, but from each other in an
environment where security forces could and were arbitrarily torturing and detaining.
Local journalist Majid Maqbool—one who had not been preemptively taken away at the
opening of the shutdown—described the effects of losing access to his family in an
It was traumatic, and no date was given for when it might end… My
parents, who are in their mid 60s, left for the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca
two days before communication was cut. They couldn’t speak to us for
more than a month. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t greet them on
Aijaz Hussain; Sheikh Saaliq; “India keeps lid on Kashmir’s internet 6 months into lockdown,”
Associated Press, (February 14, 2020).
the day of Eid. Their once-in-a-lifetime experience was filled with added
anxieties and worries.
As mentioned earlier, unlike a scenario in which the internet is simply being filtered,
there are no workarounds for absolute blocking in this manner. In China, for instance,
usage of VPNs is a common way to circumvent the Great Firewall and access content
which the Communist Party has deemed unacceptable. However, for Kashmiris, the
underlying technology that allows a VPN to mask a user’s identity and connect to a
foreign server in the first place—the internet itself—was now absent. Short of access to
government approved connections under constant monitoring, the citizens of Kashmir
were alone.
Indeed, many would ultimately end up scrambling for short sessions of
connectivity—oftentimes traveling far distances to do so. In what would become
colloquially known as the “Internet Express,” an 8:15am train out of Srinagar would be
packed well over intended capacity as hundreds made a day trip out of the valley for the
opportunity to apply for a passport or renew a driver’s license. Khushboo Yaqoob, a
sixteen-year-old attempting to apply for a competitive medical exam, was forced to make
two trips in two days with her mother as lines at her home district headquarters were too
long: there were a total of four computers for one million people.
When she was finally
able to get her application through, she cried. “I was not sure I would ever be able to fill
it out. Because of the internet ban, I could see my dreams shattering.”
Yaqoob had
been preparing for the exam for two years.
Majid Maqbool, “I’m a journalist who lived through Kashmir’s traumatic internet blackout, which
started one year ago. Here’s what it’s like to have your freedoms ripped away for 213 days,” Business
Insider, (August 5, 2020).
Masih et al., “India’s Internet shutdown.
Weeks after the shutdown began, Maqbool was one of hundreds of journalists
who was forced to wait several hours for a few minutes of their own access on one of
twelve computers. He managed to email his brother and provide a brief update to his
family, before his parents could return over forty days later. Even once they had returned,
the pain and fear still lingered:
Whenever I went to the media centre…I’d download photos of my
nephew that my brother emailed to show my parents back home on my
laptop. Seeing him on the screen would moisten their eyes… Every time I
left home for work, they would worry about not being able to ring me to
check on me. There was no way I could contact them while I was out. Our
mobiles were useless, lying in a corner. My mother never forgot to remind
me to carry my ID card when I left home—just as she had when I was a
In a region where killings and disappearances could already happen in the blink of an
eye, the blackout introduced a level of increased uncertainty to a prolonged extent yet to
be seen in the internet age.
On January 25th, the internet ban was partially lifted—with a substantial caveat.
Those who were now able to connect only able to do so a 2G speeds. In a world already
transitioning from a 4G to 5G infrastructure, this was as good as nothing for many. Of
course, that is not to say that there were no benefits to the partial restoration: through
VPN use—though officially barred by the government under severe consequences under
the UAPA—there was now an opportunity to reach the outside world relatively
unfiltered. One student told the Associated Press “they made us silent for six months.
Now they’ve opened a window. We’ll tell the world what India has done to us.”
Maqbool, “I’m a journalist.”
Aijaz Hussain et al., “India keeps lid on Kashmir’s internet.”
That said, businesses, doctors, and students who relied on the transfer of large
files and consistent outside communication were largely unable to do their jobs. Within
Kashmir, for example, shopping online was nearly impossible due to the inordinate
amount of time it would take to load a picture of the product they sought to buy. For
those browsing Kashmiri digital retailers outside of the valley, prolonged shipping times
and inability to see consistently updated stocks—a process loading times made incredibly
burdensome for business owners in Kashmir—sent them away in droves. “When the
government imposed an information blackout following the abrogation of K&K’s special
status, I abruptly lost my customers from the rest of India,” said the owner of one
boutique. “When I could not operate my business, the customers across India switched to
other online shopping portals, due to which my business suffered badly… When your
business gets hit, it brings frustration and depression, and you start cursing yourself.”
Even before the partial access was restored, one report estimated that the shutdown had
already cost the Indian economy—Kashmir included—over $1.3 billion in 2019 alone.
As significant as this number was, though, it would be dwarfed by the nearly $3 billion
loss in 2020.
Even prior to the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic, the medical field was one of
the sectors of Kashmir most impacted by the shutdown. One urologist from Srinagar had
been treating a patient in the advanced-stage of pancreatic cancer since July 2019, and
relied on consultation with specialists in Mumbai for information. The shutdown instantly
Irfan Amin Malik, “A Year Without High-Speed Internet Has Been a Nightmare for J&K’s
Entrepreneurs,” The Wire, (August 2, 2020).
Samuel Woodhams; Simon Migliano, “The Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019,” Top 10 VPN,
(January 7, 2020),
Ananya Bhattacharya, “India’s internet shutdowns cost its economy nearly $3 billion in 2020,” Quartz
India, (January 5, 2021).
severed these communications, and the patient died in November. He told The
Washington Post in December 2019 he was overwhelmed with the knowledge that he
was unable to do everything possible to potentially save the patient’s life. “What hurts is
when [the government] claims things are normal,” he added. “This is not normal.”
understanding of such consequences was shared by doctors across the valley, who in
normal times were constantly connected and contacting each other through a volunteer
network of 1,200 on WhatsApp.
When COVID-19 did strike, many of the measures taken around the world were
simply impossible due to the limitation of local internet speeds. For contact tracing alone,
doctors had no way to track down those for whom they had received a positive test result.
Even the Indian government’s own official contact-tracing app was unable to be
downloaded by residents of Kashmir.
Healthcare officials were consistently kept out of
the loop of global knowledge on the pandemic by the crippled internet speeds, as online
conferences, programs, and medical journals were inaccessible. “It takes hours to
download an advisory document released by the World Health Organization,” said one
In spite of these limitations, the Indian government stated firmly in September
that “the 2G mobile internet speed is not an impediment in COVID control measures
including dissemination of information to the general public as well as health
As 2020 drew to a close, the government continued to ban high-speed
Masih et al, “India’s Internet Shutdown.”
Hannah Ellis-Petersen; anonymous local correspondent, “’Many lives have been lost:’ five-month
internet blackout plunges Kashmir into crisis,” The Guardian, (January 5, 2020).
Athar Parvaiz, “Kashmir internet blackouts hinder health services, contact tracing,” Reuters, (May 19,
Aditi Agrawal, “Internet Shutdown In J&K Had No Impact On COVID-19 Measures, Education,
Businesses: Home Ministry,” Medianama, (September 21, 2020).
Government of India Ministry of Home Affairs, “Lok Sabha Unstarred Question No. 1440,” (September
20, 2020),
internet for Kashmir at-large until January 8th, 2021—despite an order from India’s
Supreme Court to restore services across the territory back in August.
When framed within the context of the five goals of autocrats, blackouts are
plainly unable to increase the opportunities for surveillance on their own. However as
alluded to in the prior section and a topic subject for greater discussion in the final
chapter, its effects on surveillance may be much greater when combined with other
authoritarian tactics. Internet shutdowns also have a more complex answer as it relates to
the spread of misinformation. In short, while it is clear that it cannot possibly spread
misinformation domestically when there is an inherent absence of communication
networks to begin with, it is evident that the tactic can help spread misinformation abroad
as there are few internal sources to effectively counter claims made by the government
about the affected peoples.
The case of Kashmir particularly demonstrates that internet blackouts do not
legitimize a dominant regime. In fact, Kashmir is far from the only case study that has
taught this lesson. This was addressed earlier in this analysis, as the theoretical
framework identified Mubarak as one who learned how such heavy-handed measures can
delegitimize a regime instead. Nevertheless, stories such as Maqbool’s do prove that fear
is absolutely another outcome of internet blackouts, and that the tactic can achieve the
goal of creating it well.
However, when viewed in a vacuum, the goal most easily achieved through
internet blackouts is the elimination of the dissent’s operational capacity. With few local
voices able to share the true status of Kashmir internationally, the larger global
n.a., “High-Speed Internet Ban in Jammu and Kashmir Extended Till January 8; Ganderbal, Udhampur
Exempted,” Gadgets 360, (December 26, 2020).
community was kept in the proverbial dark. Furthermore, the types of connective action
that open up so many new opportunities to modern activists were briskly ripped away by
the simple flip of the internet kill switch. In short, elimination of the digital presence and
operational capacity of the Kashmiris’ movement was total and absolute.
To summarize, the findings of this chapter are presented in the table on the next
Table 1. Relative Usage and Effectiveness of Authoritarian Tactics Within Five Goals of Autocrats
Still, this does not tell the complete story. Blackouts may eliminate protestor’s
digital operational capacity absolutely, but what about their effects on the dissenters’
physical operational capacity? In accordance with the pattern that has clearly emerged in
this work, the answer lies in the intersection between the tools and tactics of the two main
autocratic strategies: digital authoritarianism and physical repression. This relationship is
the subject of the final chapter.
Till I am alive, I will continue to fight for justice and speak truth to power.
-Kashmiri torture survivor
To first address the concluding question of Chapter Five: how has the internet
blackout affected the physical operational capacity of Kashmir’s dissenters? In bluntest
terms, it has had an extraordinarily detrimental impact on the movement’s success. This
may not be immediately apparent when viewing shutdowns in a vacuum as the tactic’s
most obvious effects are the digital repercussions, but the situation in Kashmir is
operating within anything but a vacuum. The physical state action that has occurred
alongside the blackout is part of a larger, calculated, holistic strategy of repression by the
Indian government, which necessitates that the two be evaluated together.
In this vein, one of the most significant takeaways from the past year in Kashmir
is that, respectively, both physical repression and digital authoritarianism can be made
devastatingly more effective when implemented together. While the manifestation of this
process certainly may vary in different regimes around the world—as it should from the
autocrat’s perspective due to the unique circumstances of each’s situation —India seems
to have found a successful approach for its specific context.
Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society; Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, “Torture:
Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir,” (February 2019),’s-Instrument-of-Control-in-Indian-
Prior to revoking Article 370, the Indian government was clear-eyed about how
the move would exacerbate tensions in an already unstable Kashmir. Removing the
region’s special—though admittedly limited—autonomous status and incorporating it as
part of India proper would be the conflict’s most significant development since the
British partition of the subcontinent. If allowed, pushback from the Kashmiris would
almost certainly have reached an unprecedented height: failure at this juncture would be
existential in nature for the potentially free future Kashmir. Such protest would not
quickly nor easily dissipate, so the crackdown needed to stabilize the population would
need to be fierce. It is easy to see how this progression of events would be undesirable for
India, especially considering the country’s perceived status as the “world’s biggest
democracy” and the inherent sensitivity to international pressure that accompanies the
title—not to mention the desire to avoid being seen as a risky or unstable trading partner
as it attempts to more fully integrate itself as a dominant player in the international
Therefore, preventing this type of direct action before it could ever begin would
be much more proactive and effective for the government—and the unfolding of August
2019’s lockdown proved that an internet shutdown was the focal point of this strategy. In
short, by eliminating the potential for digital, connective action from the outset by
universally disconnecting internet access, the Indian government created an environment
where any and all action was forced to occur physically—whether that was as
comparatively small as meeting in an individual’s home to coordinate or large as
mobilizing a large group of protestors for a visible demonstration.
For sure, while an internet shutdown can block the valuable opportunities
afforded to protestors by digital networks, it certainly cannot stop physical direct action
on its own. However, in an environment without internet, the physical resources and
operational capacity of the dissent are directly pitted against the physical resources and
operational capacity of the regime—an uphill battle for the former in most optimistic
terms. Over the past year, the extent of this challenge has been made apparent by the
level of repression employed against the Kashmiri people: thousands immediately
imprisoned (particularly the most influential dissenting voices), a sudden and violent
freezing of movement across the region, as well as a widespread and growing
surveillance apparatus that can immediately identify potential and existent direct action.
Protests may have occurred in more isolated cases from the northernmost border
approaching Pakistan to the southernmost border near Punjab, but the Indian government
has been successfully able to limit their size, shorten their length, and exact repercussions
to a devastatingly effective level.
Without internet, the power of the boomerang effect is severely neutered.
paired with its ban on international media from entering Kashmir, India’s domestic
actions significantly limit the amount of information that could reach an international
audience and shed a light on human rights abuses occurring every day—and with that the
associated external pressure the boomerang effect can facilitate disappears. This is not to
mention how the prevalent environment of fear likely did—and still can—suppress the
stories of those who would otherwise be willing to speak out. When direct action could
be taken, Kashmiris could not reach the ear of a sympathetic international audience—nor
An explanation of the boomerang effect can found on page 8.
that of a concerned government. Largely, such action would just invite increased
oppression moving forward. In effect, Kashmir could only cry out to itself.
To be clear, the case of Kashmir does not suggest that internet blackouts can be an
effective way of eradicating direct action or achieving the regime’s overall goals when
implemented alone; Mubarak’s downfall in Egypt set the precedent for how internet
blackouts may actually be detrimental to a regime’s survival in this case when without
the support of the coercive apparatus. This is not to even mention other states where a
lack of infrastructural capacity would make this strategy impossible to truly realize.
Rather, Kashmir’s situation strongly suggests that the tactic can be extraordinarily
effective within its own niche (eliminating opportunities afforded by digital network) and
can powerfully augment physically repressive tactics as part of a larger holistic strategy.
Consequently, physical repression will continue to be an integral tool in the
authoritarian toolbox as long as physical and digital repression bolster the other’s
effectiveness when utilized in combination, and the international costs associated with
their use do not outweigh the domestic benefits. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a
scenario in the short term where either is not bound to be the case. As more countries like
India continue to refine and demonstrate the effectiveness of their repressive strategies, it
is seemingly inevitable that the proliferation of the technological infrastructure required
to fully implement them will allow more leaders across the world to take similar steps.
Moreover, the relative indifference of Western governments towards taking diplomatic
action against India’s blatant repression—alongside the willingness of Western
companies like Ernst and Young to help create autocratic infrastructure—points to the
likelihood that a shift in attitudes and priorities and attitudes may only occur in the long-
term—if at all. Without larger forces like COVID forcing India’s hand, for instance, it is
probable that that concessions it did make in reducing its number of jailed dissenters
would not have happened at all.
This all has significant implications as it relates to the work of Guriev and
Treisman. Certainly, the empirical evidence creates a compelling argument that global
trends of violence and physical repression on behalf of authoritarian governments are on
a downward trend. That said, this top-down view of the issue fails to capture the entire
story. Internet shutdowns—which would fall under the category of the digital means they
say autocrats now use to control and manipulate information—create an environment
where action must happen physically, and these circumstances facilitate state physical
repression making it not just more common, but considerably more effective as well.
The symbiosis of this relationship between digital authoritarianism and physical
repression is even more apparent when viewing the leadup to the events of August 2019:
how was the government so quickly able to gather the information necessary to target,
round up, and imprison thousands of Kashmiris in the days before and after August 5th?
Surely the presence of Kashmir’s dedicated internet police played a role in this regard. It
is clear that the opportunities afforded by digital authoritarianism—such as co-opting
social media to track potentially “dangerous” individuals for an eventual mass
imprisonment—greatly boosted the effectiveness of the ensuing physical repression.
In short, Guriev and Treisman’s core contention is that modern autocrats have
learned from the actions and failures of their predecessors, and now predominantly
choose to manipulate, not intimidate. However, since August 2019, Kashmir provides
strong evidence that this is not always—nor is it even typically—the case. Accounts from
those directly impacted demonstrate that this debate is not simply an argument about the
semantics of informational autocracy and repression at large: it is a direct contradiction of
their hypothesis as the actions taken by the Indian government are the exact same type of
mass, violent, repression that the two claim is being largely abandoned by contemporary
regimes. Therefore, Guriev and Treisman’s theory may have real merit within a general
discussion of authoritarian trends, but applying the concept without attentiveness to the
mixture of regime tactics is problematic. Any assertion of traditional autocratic strategies’
obsolescence is dubious and fails to capture the realities being experienced by millions of
such regimes’ victims.
Taken altogether, the factors examined in this thesis illuminate a few other points
of concern. To start, as discussed before, India is a country more responsive to
international pressure than most due to its status as the “world’s largest democracy”
and the desire of its government to maintain this reputable status for reasons of prestige,
diplomacy, and economics. This final point is especially noteworthy considering India’s
rapid economic ascension across the twentieth and twenty-first century, in large part due
to its integration within the global markets. If this country is as brazenly open to
embracing authoritarian strategies as it is under such circumstances, what is the
deterrent for a less globally integrated state resistant to such pressure—like a
Turkmenistan, for example—when it gains the capability to implement such strategies? Is
this danger not amplified when considering the rate at which countries like China and
Russia seek to export digital authoritarianism?
To take the discussion of democracy a step further, is it not alarming that a state
like India can take this type of action and still legitimately call itself a democracy in the
eyes of the rest of the world? India cannot have it both ways: if the conflict in Kashmir is
truly an “internal” issue as it claims, then the territory is being controlled through
indisputable authoritarian rule. With local elections unable to manifest the will of the
people, thousands unduly and lengthily detained without trial, and killings and torture
weaponized indiscriminately, Kashmir in no way resembles a healthy, functional
democracy. Perhaps this necessitates the need for the global community to reexamine its
measures of what democracy, authoritarianism, and repression truly mean, as well as
what the free world is willing to deem acceptable when characterizing states in these
By conceptualizing modern dictators as “informational autocrats,” Guriev and
Treisman present a largely compelling argument that violence and physical repression are
actively being -forgone in favor of manipulating information to the masses and gaining
the support—or at least not losing it—of the state’s elite. However, while that may be
generally true from a purely empirical standpoint, the past sixteen months in Kashmir is
proof that statistics can often fail to capture the full reality of circumstances on the
ground. As much as almost any other country in the world, India has an extensive array
of digital tools available at its disposal. Yet, as the Kashmiris have painfully discovered,
this access has not supplanted the traditional modes of state repression physically used
against them from their earliest days under imperial rule.
Instead, digital authoritarianism has combined with physical repression in a way
that is simply unprecedented for a professed democracy. Alone, each of the outlined
authoritarian tactics sees varied results in achieving the five main goals of longevity-
minded autocratic regime. Implemented together, digital and physical repression can be
devastatingly effective at preventing direct action and preserving the regime in the face of
dissent. The symbiotic nature of this relationship shows little sign of diminishing, and the
result is a grim outlook for future dissent movements if current developments continue to
be left unchecked.
Taken together, the findings of this thesis point to several fascinating and pressing
directions for future research on the subject. At the global level, how does the prevalence
of other digitally authoritarianist tactics such as filtering and flooding contribute to the
use and effectiveness of physical repression by the state against protestors? As mentioned
before, Kashmir’s internet blackout created an environment where use of additional
digital authoritarianism was effectively impossible. As internet speeds in the valley are
increased from 2G and the internet becomes more widely accessible, Kashmir itself
remains a valuable case for study—though the list of other relevant situations must be
extensive as well.
Furthermore, the unfolding of events in Kashmir strongly indicate that without
external drivers of change like COVID-19, India would most likely have continued down
its initial track with tactics such as indefinite, legally dubious imprisonment. Therefore,
for those concerned with the global preservation of human rights, it would be
extraordinarily valuable to examine the leverage that the rest of the world has at its
disposal to drive change in India—as well as any other country which utilizes digital
authoritarianism as a central mean of repression. India’s embeddedness within the world
economy and its aspirations for a greater global role demand particular attention in this
regard, and perhaps one immediate step the United States could take is curbing its recent
calls for an Indian seat on the United Nations Security Council. Activists may benefit
from actively lobbying their respective governments to take such hardline stances, and in
essence they would be accelerating the process of the widely recognized boomerang
effect. In addition, analyzing how Western private actors like Ernst and Young help
facilitate digital authoritarianism would be an especially useful contribution due to the
relative ease in which liberalized governments could exert pressure on their domestic
The road ahead for Kashmir will likely continue to be difficult. With American
polarization accelerating at unsustainable levels, Europe only just entering its post-Brexit
phase, and COVID-19 posing the greatest international crisis in generations, global
attention has been thoroughly diverted from the most militarized region of the world—
despite the significance of its own developments. That said, the history of the Kashmiris’
experience under oppressive rule proves that while the current moment may be new, it is
not fundamentally unique in nature. International support is unmistakably needed in order
to finally achieve peace in the valley, but the fervor and persistence of the resistance
should not be underestimated. Kashmir will continue persevere, and like any cat-and-
mouse conflict, dissenters will discover new ways to counter India’s repressive tactics. In
the meantime, it is the moral obligation of the rest of the world’s peacekeepers to
contextualize the circumstances that created the current situation, analyze the most
efficient short-term solutions, and determine how to prevent this weaponization of digital
and physical repression from ever happening again.
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Patrick A. White was born on November 20, 1998 and raised in Waldoboro,
Maine. He graduated from Medomak Valley High School in 2017, and during his time at
the University of Maine he played clarinet with the Screamin’ Black Bears Pep Band.
Majoring in Political Science with a minor in Leadership Studies, Patrick was a Charles
V. Stanhope ‘71 Study Abroad Fellow at Lancaster University in England, a 2019 Peter
Madigan ‘81 Congressional Intern, and is a Nickerson Scholar. In his free time, he can be
found playing music, sports, fishing, and watching the New York Yankees.
Upon graduation, Patrick plans to accept a job lobbying for bipartisan climate
legislation in Washington DC. After that, he hopes to return to Maine: the greatest place
in the world to call home.
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Medieval period of Kashmir history is the most neglected part of Indian History. This paper is an attempt to remove the confusion, with the support of the original contemporary sources, regarding Mongol invasion of Kashmir. Study discloses that due to invasions of Mongols as local armies could not put up resistance, Kashmir suffered immensely. It took years to recover politically and economically.
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Can propaganda produced by foreign adversaries shape public opinion in a target country? We develop a theoretical framework to understand outward-facing propaganda, which many autocrats employ to shape public opinion abroad. We argue that beliefs about foreign affairs are more susceptible to outward-facing propaganda than beliefs about domestic conditions. Empirically, we focus on RT (formerly Russia Today), a media platform the Russian government founded in 2005. After characterizing its content, we ask whether exposure to RT influences the beliefs of American consumers. Exposure to RT, we find, induces respondents to support America withdrawing from its role as a cooperative global leader by 10–20 percentage points. This effect is robust across measures, obtains across party lines, and persists even when we disclose that RT is financed by the Russian government. RT has no effect on Americans’ views of domestic politics or the Russian government.
The Kathua case is enmeshed in state violence and impunity that has seeped into the institutional fabric of Jammu and Kashmir, be it the judiciary, the executive, or the military. The media and civil society back this impunity by targetting those who resist participation in India’s “national imagination.” The unprecedented outrage about the rape and murder in India ignored the context within which it took place.
To what extent are Internet users resilient to online censorship? When does censorship influence consumption of information and when does it creates backlash? Drawing on a growing literature on Internet users’ reactions to censorship, I posit that awareness of censorship, incentives to seek out information, and resources to circumvent censorship are essential to resilience to censorship. I describe how authoritarian regimes have adapted their strategies of censorship to reduce both awareness of censorship and demand for uncensored information. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Political Science, Volume 23 is May 11, 2020. Please see for revised estimates.
en Following its global diffusion during the last decade, the Internet was expected to become a liberation technology and a threat for autocratic regimes by facilitating collective action. Recently, however, autocratic regimes took control of the Internet and filter online content. Building on the literature concerning the political economy of repression, this article argues that regime characteristics, economic conditions, and conflict in bordering states account for variation in Internet filtering levels among autocratic regimes. Using OLS‐regression, the article analyzes the determinants of Internet filtering as measured by the Open Net Initiative in 34 autocratic regimes. The results show that monarchies, regimes with higher levels of social unrest, regime changes in neighboring countries, and less oppositional competition in the political arena are more likely to filter the Internet. The article calls for a systematic data collection to analyze the causal mechanisms and the temporal dynamics of Internet filtering. Related Articles Glen, Carol M. 2014. “Internet Governance: Territorializing Cyberspace?” Politics & Policy 42 (5): 635‐657. Reynolds, Peter W. 2003. “Media and Communications Systems in the Balkans Conflicts.” Politics & Policy 31 (3): 512‐529. Fisher, Bonnie, Michael Margolis, and David Resnick. 1996. “Surveying the Internet: Democratic Theory and Civic Life in Cyberspace.” Southeastern Political Review 24 (3): 399‐429. Related Media Talks at Google. 2009. “Dr. Ronald Deibert, Director of the Citizen Lab at Toronto University and the Open Net Initiative Presents a Recently Completed Global Survey of more than 45 countries that Censor Online.” = BWMn7RzdIX0 Websites: Website of the Open Net Initiative including the data used in this paper, country reports and online access to further material. Abstract es Luego de la difusión del internet durante la última década, se espera que éste se convierta en una tecnología liberadora y una amenaza para los regímenes autocráticos al facilitar la acción colectiva. Sin embargo, recientemente los regímenes autocráticos han tomado control del internet y filtrado contenido en línea. Añadiendo a la literatura sobre la economía política de la represión, este artículo argumenta que las características de un régimen, las condiciones económicas y el nivel de conflicto con estados colindantes tiene un efecto en la variación de los niveles de censura del internet de un régimen autocrático. Usando una regresión de mínimos cuadrados ordinarios, este artículo analiza los determinantes de la censura de internet, basados en la iniciativa Open Net llevada a cabo en 34 regímenes autocráticos. Los resultados muestran que las monarquías, los regímenes con mayores niveles de disturbios sociales, cambio de régimen en países vecinos y con menor competencia la oposición política son más probables de censurar el internet. Este artículo convoca a una recolección sistemática de datos con la meta de analizar los mecanismos causales y las dinámicas temporales de la censura del internet.
This article traces the development of the Sino-Indian Boundary problems from their origins during the “Great Game” period during the British Empire in India to the present day. The article looks at both the Western and Eastern Sectors, and traces the development of the various putative frontiers (the Johnson-Ardagh/ Macartney-MacDonald Lines and the McMahon Line respectively). The article looks at recent tensions which have arisen over the frontier areas, as well as the prolonged but unsuccessful attempts to solve the disputes, and considers what moves might be necessary to bring a final resolution of the problems.
India and Pakistan will be among the most important countries in the twenty-first century. In Avoiding Armageddon, Bruce Riedel clearly explains the challenge and the importance of successfully managing America’s affairs with these two emerging powers and their toxic relationship. Born from the British Raj, the two nations share a common heritage, but they are different in many important ways. India is already the world’s largest democracy and will soon become the planet’s most populous nation. Pakistan, soon to be the fifth most populous country, has a troubled history of military coups, dictators, and harboring terrorists such as Osama bin Laden. The longtime rivals are nuclear powers, with tested weapons. They have fought four wars with each other and have gone to the brink of war several times. Meanwhile, U.S. presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have been increasingly involved in the region’s affairs. In the past two decades alone, the White House has intervened several times to prevent nuclear confrontation on the subcontinent. South Asia clearly is critical to American national security, and the volatile relationship between India and Pakistan is the crucial factor determining whether the region can ever be safe and stable. Based on extensive research and Riedel’s role in advising four U.S. presidents on the region, Avoiding Armageddon reviews the history of American diplomacy in South Asia, the crises that have flared in recent years, and the prospects for future crisis. Riedel provides an in-depth look at the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008, the worst terrorist outrage since 9/11, and he concludes with authoritative analysis on what the future is likely to hold for America and the South Asia puzzle as well as recommendations on how Washington should proceed.