Review of Deadly Impasse,a book that looks at the India-Pakistan conflict

Peace in South Asia is likely to be elusive, and conflict on issues that define Indo-Pakistan relations will probably persist. This is mainly because the Pakistani state is “greedy” and its security establishment is fixated on Kashmir. It has deftly manipulated Sino-Pakistan relations to its advantage, and also the Indian fear of nuclear war in case things escalate. Furthermore, it is determined to bleed India with a “war with a thousand cuts.” Broadly, this is what Sumit Ganguly surmises in this important book. These conclusions sound terrible and pessimistic, but that is what reality looks like. Ganguly has arrived at this set of conclusions based on decade-long research informed by several interviews with the actors of the political and security establishments from both countries, and also from other regions.

He does present two alternative possibilities that could change the present scenario: firstly, if there is a material gap between India and Pakistan so large that India could deal with any provocation from the Pakistan side without too many consequences; and secondly, if any exogenous or endogenous shocks alter the hegemonic position that Pakistan’s security establishment enjoys over its polity thus leading to some kind of convergence in the security perceptions between the two countries. Given that both these probabilities are unlikely to occur in the near future, the potential for conflicts between the two countries remains high though their contours are difficult to predict.

The scholarship on Indo-Pakistan relations – unlike other themes of South Asian politics – is rich and diverse. Its varied nature is manifested in writings by diplomats, politicians, journalists, members of the army, and scholars. However, its theoretical analysis in the context of major debates in the theories of international relations has been rare. From that point of view, this book stands out as a crucial intervention on the subject. We learn that there are two models for the analysis of the Indo-Pakistan conflict: the security dilemma, and the deterrence model. The author rejects the security dilemma as a probable way of analysing the conflict.

More specifically, he examines Indo-Pakistan relations between 1999 and 2009, though he does also reflect on the recent developments under the Modi regime. Using the historical perspective, he analyzes various dimensions of the conflict and provides a detailed discussion of key episodes such as the Agra summit, the Kargil conflict, composite dialogue, and the 26/11 Mumbai attack, and examines how they have shaped the evolving terrain of Indo-Pak relations. The analysis of composite dialogue is exceptionally refreshing. The author has previously published a few volumes on the subject and these earlier writings provide a comprehensive reflection on this analysis.

India and Pakistan have fought four major wars (1947-48, 1965, 1971, and 1999) and other forms of crises have also impacted this relationship. On two occasions, in 2001-2 and 2008, crises did not escalate to war. The reader may make sense of the region’s future by understanding what Sumit Ganguly points out about the past three major conflicts. Firstly, both countries have mostly adhered to international law and Geneva conventions in dealing with their prisoners of war. Secondly, both have maintained strategic restraint. However, the arrival of nuclear weapons has drastically changed strategic realities.

The author explains how Pakistan was able to deftly manoeuvre its relationship with China to neutralize whatever advantages India has enjoyed militarily. The growing Pakistan-China friendship, and China’s pro-active interest in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka has made the emerging security scenario more complex. While Ganguly has shared his insights, there is sure to be further debate on this aspect among security experts. How the Sino-Indian relationship develops will also determine Pakistan’s possible advantages. Given India’s support for the Dalai Lama and for Tibet, how China views India’s dealings in Kashmir and in Arunachal Pradesh, in which it has begun to take further interest, will also determine the future relationship. In other words, there seems to be a paradigmatic change in the region’s security scenario.

Additionally, Ganguly shares four propositions about these two warring neighbours. Firstly, both have very divergent perceptions of regional security; secondly, these perceptions are widely shared by different stakeholders on both sides; thirdly, Pakistan’s military doctrine is driven by the desire to upset the conventional approach through alliance making; and finally, Pakistan’s decision makers know how to use to their advantage India’s fear about nuclear escalation. The Laskar-e-Taiba(LeT)-led attack on Mumbai in November 2008, emblematic of the last case, was part of the intention to bleed India with a “war of a thousand cuts.”

I would, however, respectfully disagree with Ganguly’s formulation that a significant number of Indian Muslims have been radicalized in recent years. I am inclined to say that radicalization among Muslims remains an insignificant trend in comparison to Hindu militancy these days. India’s Muslim population is larger than the population of England and France put together.

Fewer than half a dozen Muslims have, apparently, joined ISIS or travelled to Syria. The number is by no means a significant one. According to media reports, a few dozens have been arrested in different parts of India on the suspicion that they were intending to join ISIS or Daesh. These claims of the Indian state need to be taken with a pinch of salt for the simple reason that Muslims have long been victims of stereotypes and biases. This has been the case even during the so-called secular governments, when young Muslims were arrested on false grounds only to later be released by the judiciary after serving years in jail. This is akin to the treatment of African-Americans in the US. Sadly, secular governments barely showed an interest in addressing this.

The Article First Appeared In Hindustan Times

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