Evolution of Relationship
THE term ‘intractable rivalry’ captures the flavor of the India–Pakistan relationship over the decades since the two countries became independent of British rule in 1947
The bitter Partition that separated them at the time was marked by mass migration amidst horrendous violence as Muslims fled to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs to India in the millions.
The Sources of Conflict
- Identity: The 1947 Partition arose from contrasting conceptions of national identity. India under Jawaharlal Nehru espoused a secular identity which sought to embrace its diverse religious and other social groups. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who led the movement for the creation of Pakistan, sought political space for Muslims rather than an Islamic state.
- The tug of war over Kashmir essentially represented—and still does—the contest between these identities, with Pakistan claiming ownership of Kashmir because it is a Muslim-majority territory and India making its own claim for precisely the same reason.
- But while India was relatively status quo-ist, Pakistan tried hard to alter the status quo. India was content to retain its portion of Kashmir without making serious efforts to change the situation on the ground because its control of the Kashmir Valley, a Muslim-majority area, allowed it to retain its claim to being a state which can accommodate Muslims. In contrast, Pakistan, always vulnerable and rendered even more so by the breaking away of Bangladesh in 1971, found the physical alienation of Kashmir deeply hurtful and tried repeatedly to extract the territory from India by force and by diplomacy.
- Political systems: The identity issue surrounding Kashmir is closely related to the larger problem of the two political systems.
- The internal weaknesses of both countries made them prone to consolidate their identities with regard to other states. The Indian post- colonial state sought to protect itself from the West, especially the United States, while Pakistan did likewise with India.
- Neither was internally stable. The apparent dominance of Nehru’s Congress Party was quickly revealed to be superficial and India’s democracy was subject to severe pressure under his daughter, Indira Gandhi, whose effort to personalize the political system culminated in the declaration of an Emergency (June 1975 to March 1977). India recovered quite quickly from the setback and its electoral process and democratic institutions took root over the years.
- In contrast, Pakistan faced more severe difficulties. Grafting a ‘fundamentally non-territorial vision of nationality’ on to a physically bounded space without the benefit of a history was hard enough
- To attempt it in an ethnically divided society demanded a Herculean effort and neither the leadership (after the early demise of Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan) nor the institutional framework for this was available.
- Thanks to its fractured polity, Pakistan was unable to develop the inner confidence that would have permitted a more sanguine approach towards India, especially towards Kashmir. Besides, as its army became increasingly entrenched in Pakistani politics, it developed a vested interest in sustaining hostility with India in order to justify its dominance.
India’s Policy Efforts
The options available to India in responding to Pakistan’s revisionist policy may be outlined as follows: defeat, contain, negotiate, and concede.
- Defeat: Given the difference in size between them, this was something India never quite understood. India’s resort to war was both reactive and proactive. Pakistan, though the weaker state, took the initiative immediately after independence in 1947 and again in 1965. India’s relative weakness was revealed by its failure to win a decisive victory on both occasions. In 1971 India was proactive in aiding the breakaway movement in East Pakistan and followed up with a military victory that helped create Bangladesh.
- Contain: A policy of containment has two main facets: direct military deterrence and indirect power balancing with the support of other powers. In both respects, Indian policy was hamstrung by significant limitations. India remained relatively weak for the initial decades. Besides, while India consciously tried to avoid alliances, Pakistan was quick to bolster its position by means of alliances with the United States and China. Islamabad began exercising the ‘asymmetric option’ by providing support for a militant secessionist movement in the Indian province of Punjab
- Pakistan’s acquisition of the atomic bomb enabled it to raise the stakes, especially after the rise of a militant independence movement in the Indian-held portion of Kashmir known as Jammu and Kashmir or J&K . Pakistan also attempted to coerce India by sending its troops in civilian garb to occupy large tracts of land on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), which officially divides the two forces. The Kargil crisis, or ‘war’ as it is sometimes known, and a series of major jihadi attacks on Indian targets clearly showed that Pakistan could not be deterred.
- Negotiate: Nehru was amenable to a plebiscite in Kashmir, but the war of 1947–8 more or less killed the option. India’s negotiating strategy over the years underlined its status quo position on Kashmir. India’s willingness to make a deal and limit its demands appears to have been interpreted as a symptom of weakness. Moreover, Pakistan’s deep internal fissures made it difficult for its leaders to abandon their revisionist stance; nor was it in the army’s interest to do so. The failure of the Indian negotiating strategy was dramatically evident in the Kargil crisis, which erupted barely three months after Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee traveled to Lahore to initiate what was thought to be a breakthrough in the relationship.
Assessing the Strategy
- For the most part, the use or threat of use of instruments of war from 1947 to 2002 was reactive; 1971 was the one exception. India’s evident military weakness prior to the 1971 war gave Pakistani leaders ground for optimism, even if this proved to be—as one scholar notes—‘false optimism’
- India been much stronger militarily at the early stage of the relationship, Pakistan’s capacity to push its agenda would have been weaker. And had Pakistan been internally more stable, its interest in defining itself via Kashmir would have been less powerful.
- Prior to obtaining nuclear weapons, Pakistan still had the option, which it exercised regularly, to bolster its material position by aligning with relatively strong states. During the first phase of the Cold War (from the 1950s to the mid-1970s), it was able to acquire American military equipment (including fighter aircraft and tanks). In the second phase, after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in late 1979, it received even more military aid by assuming the role of a frontline state.
- India, of course, was able to counter Pakistan’s strategy by obtaining arms from a variety of sources, primarily the Soviet Union. But the overall effect was to allow Pakistan to maintain a relatively strong position, both militarily and politically, which enabled it to sustain its challenge to India.
- Nehru’s grand strategy, deeply influenced by the colonial experience, was predicated on maximizing Indian autonomy. Accordingly, he sought simultaneously to keep a distance from the ‘imperial’ capitalist powers by adopting an autarkic, socialistic economic policy and to avoid entanglement in Cold War alliance politics by adopting a non- aligned stance.
THE CHANGING STRATEGIC LANDSCAPE
India–Pakistan relations reached the apogee of hostility with the crisis of 2001–2.
Nuclear Weapons Effects
- The advent of nuclear weapons, it seems, had generated the kind of hostility on the subcontinent that is common to nuclear-armed rivals. On the positive side, nuclear rivalries also exhibit learning: the contenders discover that the risks associated with these weapons are sufficiently severe to require rethinking about their possible ‘uses’ with regard to manipulating them for political advantage.
- In 1999, India refrained from crossing the LoC, though this hampered its use of air power, slowed down its counterattack and meant a higher cost in lives lost. Pakistan, still claiming that the intruders who had occupied Indian territory were ‘freedom fighters,’ did not back up its troops when they were forced into a politically damaging retreat.
- In both crises, back channel negotiations were initiated and the United States played a mediating role. Clearly, the lesson was quickly learned that rivals with nuclear weapons must cooperate to avoid war. Indian and Pakistani leaders subsequently made serious attempts to find political solutions though a sustained ‘composite dialogue.’
Globalization and Economics
- Developments in the world economy had a significant effect on India and Pakistan. The key feature of the system was and also what is loosely referred to as ‘globalization’, a process that was prominent by the mid-1980s.
- For developing countries, the old Third World-ism characterized by autarkic policies was no longer viable: to get ahead, states had to shift to more open and competitive economies. India entered the brave new world of liberalization reluctantly.
- It was only after the 2001–2 crisis was behind them that trade between the two countries began to increase. Along with the growing awareness that nuclear weapons had made confrontation a negative game came the recognition that there was much to be gained through enhanced trade. The opening of trade between the separated portions of Kashmir in 2008 brought mutual economic benefit and a lessening of tension.
Domestic Politics and Changing Worldviews
- There is evidence that, though Kashmir remained important to the collective personalities of the two countries, this was slowly changing. India had been more status quo-ist because, for all its defects, its internal make-up as a participatory democracy had steadily consolidated. Despite its recurrent religious, linguistic, and caste conflicts, the Indian polity had gradually evolved into a relatively stable democracy.
- The Pakistani state faced greater difficulties and its prospects for evolving a workable democracy were repeatedly disrupted by military rule and by ethnic and sectarian divisions. But there is room for a positive view. The military failed repeatedly to stabilize and develop Pakistan’s state and society.
Assessing Indian Policy
- One policy tactic that does not appear to have been explored was the ‘symmetric option’, i.e. the backing of radical groups fighting the Pakistani state. The obvious criticism that India could not possibly risk Pakistani state failure (which might result in radicals acquiring control of the bomb) is arguably exaggerated. India could have enhanced its bargaining power by encouraging nationalist (as opposed to religious fundamentalist) forces in a calibrated way without seriously threatening the survival of the government in Islamabad.
- In power terms, India also failed to build a strategic partnership with the United States that would have enhanced New Delhi’s position. A decade after the offer of military bases to Washington (in the wake of 9/11), India was attempting to keep it at arm’s length by avoiding agreements that would have fostered closer military cooperation, for instance on mutual logistics support and on communications inter-operability.
- Nehru’s failed Cold War era strategy was not necessarily incongruent in the new era: military alliances are not commensurate with a world of growing interdependence. But the notion that India should keep its distance and avoid entanglement with the United States reflected a certain lack of confidence carried over from the past.
- A closer strategic partnership with the United States need not have dragged into conflict with China; rather, it had the potential not only to offset Chinese power (which was clearly pulling away from India’s), but to put greater pressure on Pakistan—which was dependent on American aid— to be more circumspect vis-à-vis India.