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The Fallacy of the Pakistani Moral Outrage on the Kashmir Issue: An essay on the political-geography of an emotional dog and its rational tail

Usman Mahar

Usman Mahar


By Usman Mahar

Heidelberg University, Germany

6th March 2016

The Fallacy of the Pakistani Moral Outrage on the Kashmir Issue: An essay on the political-geography of an emotional dog and its rational tail


Jonathan Haidt (2001) explains his social Intuitionist model (SIM) in a social psychology essay titled: ‘the emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral judgement’. According to his model, moral judgements are very similar to aesthetic judgements, in that they commonly arise from intuition. Much like instinctual ‘gut feelings’, automatic ‘moral intuitions’ then, are what lead an individual to make moral judgements. Moral reasoning, he argues is merely a posthoc justification of an individuals ‘emotional’ or ‘intuitional’ moral judgement. In the text that follows, I shall try to use Hadith’s (2001) social intuitionist model (SIM) to explain the mainstream, folk understanding of the Kashmir issue in Pakistan and the moral outrage that it happens to elicit in many Pakistanis (which politicians and military leaders with nationalist agendas exploit). Deriving arguments from a huge body of work that highlight the extent to which intuitions, as opposed to reasoning, play a role in determining moral judgements (Greene and Haidt, 2002; Pizarro and Bloom, 2003). This essay is going to draw from the example of the intuitive Pakistani stance on Kashmir and how it perfectly fits into Haidt’s (2001) model. As there is a significant amount of academic work and evidence that supports how nationalism breeds a fear of the ‘other’ – the people who are considered a threat to the national project i.e. minorities, ‘rival’ neighbouring nations etc. (see Appadurai, 2006) as well as its emotional and social construction (for more on social construction; see Mallon, 2008), the essay will not delve too deep into the fact that the intuitive stance (Pakistani and in general) is an emotional and social construction and garnered through deliberate nationalist propaganda and “education.” It will only try to explain how this intuitive stance on the Kashmir issue is justified through posthoc rationalisation.

The Social Intuition Model (SIM)

David Hume was perhaps the first philosopher to challenge the long-standing domination of rationalism with regards to moral judgements. He argued that a moral judgement is an “immediate feeling and finer internal sense,” and not a “chain of argument and induction” as the rationalist model proposes (Hume, 1960, p. 2). This is in essence, the underlying principle of the SIM; individuals make (moral) judgements and thereafter, reason or rationalise the already made judgements. Haidt (2001, p.814) begins his paper on SIM with the example of a consensual incestuous act that brings no harm to the two the individuals involved, nor anyone else. The act of sex between two consenting adults actually brings them closer, however, the incest scenario elicits a very strong reaction in people who are asked to imagine it – the process is shown in the diagram below. When asked to explain why these people are not entirely sure; they go on to make up reasons that seem to support their initial judgement. Haidt (2001; 2012) furthers his theory based on evidence from behavioural studies of ‘moral dumbfounding’, in which people fail to establish any rational principle to strong moral judgements.


Let us take another fairly simple and real example of attitudes towards public nudity. Though the idea of an  of a nude beach, a common changing room, or open showers may be totally appropriate for western Europeans, people in other parts of the world who are not accustomed to nude public spaces (beaches, changing rooms, showers etc.) perhaps because of socio-cultural or religious learning are likely to disagree – to the point of having a moral disgust with the idea. This emotional and moral disgust will lead to them making a moral judgement against the idea of public nudity and reason will not play a big role until their moral judgements are questioned – at which point a reason is made up to justify the judgement. What is even more strange is that western Europeans, though fine with their own social practices of nudity are likely to make moral judgements about a culture in which people do not practice any sort of covering of the body at all.

Haidt goes on to explain that a reasoned judgement is quite rare and even more rare is a reasoned intuition. For example, a person coming from a culture where public nudity is a taboo asked about a nude beach will never reason first and pass a judgement later. Even more so, he/she is not likely to question the (socio-cultural and religious) basis for his or her moral intuitions.

A brief history of the Kashmir issue

The Indian-administered region of Jammu and Kashmir, along with the Pakistanadministered Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir (as well as Chinese-administered regions), used to be predominantly Shamanistic, Hindu and Buddhist well into the first millennium (Albinia, 2010). The region saw the advent of Islam in the beginning of the second millennium with certain areas becoming predominantly Muslim towards the end of the millennium. Whether by hook or crook; through political alliances and gains or Sufi mysticism that appealed to the local ‘pagans’ – Islam had triumphed in certain areas of the region. This shift in the religious beliefs of the region was a slow evolutionary process and of a dialectic nature in most cases; in that, the community had proponents and opponents of change within and reached a new equilibrium after an internal struggle. However, that was not the case at the time of the partition of India and the events leading up to it. In August 1947, the Indian subcontinent gained independence, and the rulers of various ‘Princely States’ were encouraged to accede their territory to either India or Pakistan. Ideally, this should have been done based on factors such as geographical contiguity and the wishes of the people that reside within that region. The Maharaja of Kashmir (Maharaja Hari Singh) however, decided to delay the decision, perhaps in an effort to remain an independent ruler. Not only that but he tactlessly decided not to take the majority of his (Muslim) subjects into confidence. Instead, he resorted to oppressive taxing and authoritarian force in order to maintain control in the region (Rai, 2004; Ganguly, 2005). The marginalisation of the majority of Kashmiris (who happened to be Muslims by 1947), the division politics of the British (for over a century) and the lack of foresight and finesse in the approach that the Hindu rulers took, were but a few reasons for the complication of the Jammu and Kashmir accession (Rai, 2004). The growth of “Muslim religious and Political consciousness” during the early part of the twentieth century as Rai (2004) points out by exemplifying the tension that existed between key political figures in the region (the likes of Yusuf Shah and Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah) and Maharaja Hari Singh was another major factor. The Maharaja faced the consequence of his poor rule at the hands of Poonch rebels who declared the area west of Poonch (Punch) “Azad” Kashmir on the  (Kashmir Library Org, n.d.). The Poonch rebels with help from certain tribesmen from Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (then North-West Frontier Province) attacked and looted parts of Jammu and Kashmir in order to ‘free’ their Muslim brothers (Schofield, 2002). The Pakistani establishment’s complacency in events that further deteriorated the law and order situation in the Maharaja’s dominion, coupled with little or no support from the (Muslim) population, the feckless ruler had no choice but to request assistance from India (Schofield, 2002). The British supported this ‘temporary’ control by India until some sort of “a referendum, plebiscite, election” could be carried out, in the words of Lord Mountbatten.

The fallacy of the Pakistani moral outrage

It is in no way my aim nor the prerogative to justify India’s militarization of Kashmir and the human rights violations in the area. I stand on the side of the oppressed, as is my stance on other such disputes; Baluchistan and Gaza, for example. I am merely arguing that the Indian actions in the region (and the suffering of the Kashmiri people) have little or no relevance to the Kashmir discourse in Pakistan and the moral outrage that exists. Discussing the Kashmir issue with an average Pakistani (politician or citizen) is likely to evoke as strong a reaction as someone who is asked to discuss an incestuous relation. Not only that, I further argue that the reaction of a Pakistani is be based on a deluded intuition rather than rational thought. Now, one may argue that unlike the incest scenario, in the Kashmir case, people are actually getting hurt and as such, moral outrage makes sense. Yes, it certainly would if the people who are morally outraged actually derived their stance or moral judgement from a consequentialist or any other ethical or moral philosophical perspective – in which case, the suffering of the Baluchis, the Sindhis, the Saraikis and Pashtuns at the hands of Punjabi elite should be of equal concern. The essay will address the argument of Kashmiri suffering as a cause for moral outrage in light of consequentialism and some other moral philosophical schools of thought in greater detail at a later point. The majority of Pakistanis do not have any historical or rational understanding of the Kashmir issue; even within the educated class, the narrative is uncritically nationalist, to say the least. By and large the assumption is that Kashmir somehow belongs to Pakistan and has been unjustly occupied by India, and the suffering of the Kashmiri people is merely a tool, utilised to rationalise or justify why Pakistan should have control of the region. The nationalist agenda of the Islamic Republic is not just the “tail that wags the dog” in this case, but also the “rational” tail of an emotional dog. Where people are first and foremost aware of the gut ‘fact’ that Kashmir is their god given right and then go on to rationalise why, just as the SIM argues. “Look at what the Indians are doing in Kashmir” is one such posthoc rationalisation, which is only employed to justify the intuition or the emotional understanding that Kashmir should somehow be a part of Pakistan. The irony of the situation is highlighted by the fact that the most avid propagators of this rationale (the Pakistani military and its sympathisers) are also the ones committing similar atrocities in Baluchistan. The common denominator, and the only rational justification that can be made in both the cases – is – the Pakistani national project.

Moral philosophy and the Kashmir issue

As promised in this section I will address the Kashmir issue in light of some of the main schools of thought on moral philosophy. Although, from a consequentialist point of view, the argument could be made that any disgust in the Pakistani discourse or according to the Pakistani narrative is due to the fact that the outcome of the Indian actions in Kashmir is bad and as such, be condemned. One can even condemn the Indian action from the opposite end of the moral philosophy spectrum i.e. based on a deontological perspective, a person could potentially disagree with the Indian actions as part of a rule-based system or practice which disagrees with violence and/or oppression. However, an average Pakistani cannot support his/her disagreement (more appropriately; disgust) of the Indian action in Kashmir using these two opposing moral principles. Of course, they can justify their disgust through a posthoc rationalisation that uses one of the principles, but that does not make it an actual consequential or deontological argument. As I have mentioned above, these are the same people who are more likely to favour the oppression of the Baluchis and support the military action in Baluchistan – how does that fit into their argument against the human suffering in Kashmir or a rule based practice to avoid violence? Furthermore, any moral principle must take into account the right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination, which the Pakistanis, as well as the Indians, conveniently ignore. The tug-of-war between two nationalist narratives, based on emotions and intuition, easily forget the single most important stakeholder in the whole issue – the Kashmiri people. No school of moral philosophy would be able to justify the course of actions taken be the two claimants of Kashmir – which are plain and simply based on narrow nationalism.

Concluding Remarks

The fact that intuitions are there and affect our judgments from the most trivial of matters for example, the preference of a colour, to the most important of matters, for example, the opinion on capital punishment is a universal human phenomenon and cannot be ignored. Haidt (2001) outlines three main processes through which moral intuitions are influenced  by (different) cultures to create a ‘local’ set of morality: by ‘selective loss’, by ‘immersion in custom complexes’ and by ‘peer socialisation’. All humans make moral judgements, but the stance on a particular moral issue greatly depends on our “moral tribe” as Greene (2013) terms it, for example, your view on very important issues such as homosexuality, abortion, armed conflicts, the death patently so on and so forth depends on your “moral tribe” than logic or reason. Two (somewhat interrelated) processes are of more importance for the purpose of this essay; namely immersion in custom complexes and by peer socialisation. The Pakistani national project has an intricate system of customs and practices (see Bourdieu, 1977; Ortner, 2006 for more on practice theory) that a child is immersed in throughout his/her life. These practices and customs form the foundation of this person’s emotions, intuitions (and morality in general) – where as – logic and rationalisation play little part in it. Peer socialisation has a similar effect on the intuitions and emotions of an individual, take the typical case of a teenagers rebelliousness toward parents or figures of authority as a result of learning from peers. By the time an individual is old enough to participate in a social and/or political action, he/she has already developed an intuition based morality that is similar to that of the group (sociocultural, political, ideological etc). The case of the Pakistani outrage at 6 the Kashmir issue, (or anything related to India) is no different. It is based on pure intuition and gut feeling, as such, an acceptance that the intuition shapes how the Pakista 7 nis view their neighbour could be the first step towards a peaceful solution for many of 8 the issues with a neighbour that is not going away anytime soon.


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Writer: Usman Mahar

The writer is an editor with THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is an M.A(Res.) medical anthropology student at the Heidelberg University (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg). He studies the place healthcare within and across different socioeconomic structures and cultural settings. Of particular interest to him is the issue of ageing. His alma maters include Aitchison College, University of Toronto and Utrecht University. His other interests include; issues of identity in a globalised world, a moral-philosophical approach towards politics and human rights and issues of gender and sexuality.

His interest in the human condition is deeply shaped by his personal experiences and circumstance. Having lived under various socioeconomic conditions and amongst people from all walks of life, he has an intrinsic understanding of human suffering and the way it is experienced by different people. Living in drastically different places like Pakistan, Canada, Singapore and the Netherlands over the past decade has only strengthened his understanding of the culturally variant ideas of pleasure, pain, suffering, power, freedom and violence. He can be reached at



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