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Democratic Values and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from a National Survey of Pakistan

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Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


A long-standing research tradition on political culture argues that greater support for core liberal values leads to a rejection of destructive political activities and reduced support for violent politics. In this vein, many contemporary analysts of security policy contend that a lack of democratic values in the Middle East promotes the development of violent political organizations. Unfortunately, there have been few direct tests of the hypothesis that an individual’s rejection of democratic values correlates with support for militant groups. We conduct such a test in Pakistan using an original 6,000-person provincially representative survey. We find that strong supporters of democratic values are actually more supportive of militant groups and that this relationship is strongest among those who believe that Muslim rights and sovereignty are being violated in Kashmir. This is consistent with the context of Pakistani politics, where many militant groups use the principle of azadi (i.e., freedom and self-determination) to justify their actions. These results challenge the conventional wisdom about the roots of militancy and underscore the importance of understanding how local context mediates the influence of civic culture on political stability and violence.