NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND INDIAN SECURITY by Bharat Karnad. Macmillan, Delhi, 2002.
MOST writers on national security who examine India’s historic record will agree on one aspect – that since the invasion of Alexander, Indians have fought heroically on land and sea, but never won a war (before 1857). Karnad sets out to prove that although India was ‘a strong civilizational presence,’ it has consistently ‘been found wanting in decisive military capability to deter and dissuade more powerful countries from taking liberties with it.’ Historically, he argues, nations have become great through military power, since that power generates national self-confidence, provides diplomatic and political leverage, creates economic opportunities and ‘expands civilizational efflorescence.’ The book explores early literature to examine whether any indigenous writing merits study and how comprehensive such writing is. Less clear is whether any of this writing permeates the Indian subconscious or whether Indian politico-military behaviour today it influenced by any indigenous school of strategic thought. Readers familiar with the Arthashastra will be interested to learn that the Yudhakandam, a section of the Ramacharitamanas, gives a more lucid treatment to transnational power politics than the simpler mandala of the Arthashastra. Nevertheless, with the passing away of these early writers died the only era of genuine macht (power) politik in India.
Two thousand years of continuous invasion left the Indian psyche in too poor a state to muster the fighting resources to wage a violent revolt against robust British colonialism. But cometh the hour, cometh the man, and hence Gandhi’s satyagraha, non-violence and civil disobedience were part of a carefully constructed strategy tailored to achieve the goal of independence, given the Indian and the British strengths and weaknesses. Karnad calls this the use of morality in realpolitik, a policy that should not be confused with moralpolitik, which Gandhi, and later Nehru, used to advantage in international affairs, while retaining the former for the internal struggle against the British. If one accepts Gandhi’s overarching philosophy as being politics, rather than idealism, there doesn’t appear to be any break between the Gandhian and Nehruvian eras. Karnad holds the view that Nehru plainly followed realpolitik, while simultaneously traversing the moral high ground purely as a stratagem.
If Nehru played a lone hand in realpolitik while seemingly travelling in the clouds, he must have had access to more information that was or is generally in the public domain. One such area is the supposedly smooth handing over of the control of the armed forces by the British to Indian officers, along with the hardware that was available. Karnad’s research brings out a rather vicious story of the RAF deliberately ignoring the advice of their own brilliant chief Slessor to strengthen the RIAF, and instead wrecking 50 Liberator bombers in Kanpur just so that the Indians wouldn’t use them. A similar story unfolds as India’s navy is kept dependent, first by giving us none of the Japanese naval vessels available for distribution at the end of World War II, then by denying India submarines either on purchase, lend-lease or on deferred credit, and finally by pressurising the U.S. to deny naval equipment after the Chinese invasion of 1962.
Karnad contends that India entered the eventful years of the mid ’60s with a seemingly two track policy. An extremely ultra-realist line, known only to Nehru and Bhabha, and a public consumption line of idealism, morality, universal disarmament and Gandhian rhetoric. While the public line soon enmeshed Indian foreign policy in a morality straitjacket, Nehru continued to give full but clandestine support to an Indian nuclear weapons programme. None of this was handed over to Shastri, who, taken in by the public posture, and squeezed on both sides by the anti-bomb Menon and Morarji, caved in when offered the opportunity to test a bomb after Lop Nor. The factual narrative so far is used by Karnad to dissect the dilatory and unrealistic manner in which Indians have shied away from the tough decisions surrounding national security. After 1974, the scientists at BARC were given free rein to do as they pleased, without any political directive, but the country thereby transferred the rationale for making a bomb from the original Chinese threat to the imminent materialisation of a Pakistani bomb.
India has plainly lost its way. The BJP’s promise of making India a nuclear power is hardly achieved by Pokhran II, where more national effort has gone into fudging the results than in exploding the bombs. Unable to accept that the thermonuclear test was a failure, many analysts have rallied to BARC’s support in glossing over what is a perilous future for India’s deterrence.
Karnad cannot live with the idea of a minimum deterrence strategy and there is perhaps good reason, for the government has confused the word minimum with ‘a few’, which is not what the word should mean when describing deterrence. Advocating a credible thermonuclear deterrent, by breaking the test moratorium, is the only answer to deterring the other nuclear powers, none of whom even consider yields below 200 kt to be relevant. Karnad converts his idea of a credible thermonuclear deterrent into a triad and calculates its cost at Rs 84352 crores spread over 15 years, the total amounting to just 0.74% of the GDP.
Karnad also links the history of India’s poor strategic culture with the current tendency to pursue ‘deterrence by half measures.’ If nuclear weapons are never meant to be used, then deterring the big players requires weapons that genuinely terrify. India’s pathetic arsenal, he feels, might just irritate China rather than deter it.
Karnad’s research is stupendous. There are many who will undoubtedly disagree with his conclusions, but they will have to do much better than stating, ‘I think 15-20 bombs are enough’ as their version of nuclear strategy. This book will become a permanent reference for any discussion or study on national security and nuclear strategy.
CONFLICT UNENDING: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947 by Sumit Ganguly. Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2002.
CONVERSANT as they are in the art of maintaining prudent silence, diplomats are particularly careful about what they say in the company of journalists. But just a few weeks ago before his imminent departure from India, one senior Pakistani diplomat decided to throw caution to the wind. During the course of a ‘meet-the-press’ reception he took me aside and said in confidence, ‘Excuse the impertinence of the analogy but I have always believed that the Indo-Pakistan dispute performs a function not very different from the one performed by (believe it or not) lingerie! For what lingerie has done for the female form, the conflict has done for India and Pakistan – it has helped influence, shape and define the contours of the dominant political discourse within the two nations. Moreover, like its sartorial counterpart, it has withstood the winds of change.’
Though the remark is by itself a telling comment on the diplomat’s sense of occasion, it is anything but frivolous. Indeed, the Indo-Pakistan conflict has raged unabated for the last five and a half decades inflicting crippling blows on each of its two principal antagonists. And yet despite the costs incurred and despite the fact that numerous well-intentioned attempts have been made at settling the dispute, it is nowhere near being resolved.
But what are these peculiarities that have allowed the seemingly intractable Indo-Pak dispute to so completely overwhelm and consume – like no other before it – the body politic of the two nation states? And more importantly, what is that which compels India and Pakistan to shun peace and seek conflict?
Fortunately and thanks to the tireless efforts of a veritable legion of diplomatic historians, political scientists and security experts, the answers to these questions are now well documented. So much so, that unless a scholar has tread on previously uncharted ground, it has become almost impossible to furnish an original perspective on the dynamics that have fashioned Indo-Pak relations. It is not surprising then, that the latest treatise on the subject, Conflict Unending – A Study of India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947, has an unmistakable sense of deja vu about it.
To be honest, its author, the accomplished academic and writer Sumit Ganguly, could not have strayed too far from the beaten track. Not after having opted to confine his investigations to proving ‘on the basis of standard and novel (emphasis added) historical scholarship how certain structural features of both polities, embodied in their nationalist agendas, predisposed them toward conflict over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir.’
In other words, by initially building his thesis upon the two-nation theory, which we hardly need to be reminded still holds hostage the relationship between India and Pakistan, Ganguly has been forced to preclude options which, if considered, would have prevented him from revisiting the same old arguments – ‘Indian nationalist leadership chose to hold on to this Muslim-majority state (J&K) to demonstrate that all minorities could thrive under the aegis of a plural and secular polity. Pakistani nationalists argued with equal force that they could not part with Kashmir because Pakistan had been created as a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia.’
This is not to suggest that Ganguly’s entire book is a study devoted to examining the ramifications of the two-nation theory for the political destinies of the two recalcitrant neighbours. He has to his credit at least attempted to take the argument forward and explain, ‘why tension, hostility and violence have persisted long after the pristine ideological visions of the two states had dissipated.’ Never mind the fact that he hasn’t done so with imagination or conviction.
Writing in the introduction to his book, Ganguly makes his first contention that though the fundamentally divergent ideological commitments of the states in question and Pakistan’s ‘irredentist’ claim to Kashmir must be seen as ‘predisposing conditions for conflict… they cannot explain discreet events.’
Indeed, according to the author the immediate precipitant for the outbreak of four wars, ‘were all opportunistic events: in each case, one or both parties saw significant opportunities at critical historical junctures to damage the other’s fundamental claim either to the territory of Kashmir or to the larger project of state construction.’
The author’s second contention is that the ‘opportunistic precipitants were augmented by false optimism, which in the Indo-Pakistan conflict falls into three basic categories, the misreading of an opponent’s (a) relative military strength, (b) relative will, and (c) allies, and their respective number, power, and will…’
Thus with the goal of substantiating his two principal arguments before him, Ganguly has set about capturing the story of Indo-Pakistan relations in six chapters sandwiched between the introduction and the epilogue.
In the first chapter, simply titled, ‘The First Kashmir War,’ the author while recounting the events that led to the accession of Kashmir to India, has contended that even though Pakistan’s social, organisational, political and military structures were in a state of disarray, its decision-makers genuinely believed that if they were to engage India in a war over Kashmir they would win because India lacked the will to fight. To substantiate this he quotes Major General Akbar Khan, who was not only the brain behind the Pakistani incursion but who also wrote rather presumptuously in his memoir Raiders in Kashmir that ‘in the remotest of our villages, the humblest of our people possess a self-confidence and ready willingness to march forward into India – a spirit the equivalent of which cannot be found on the other side. It may take many generations to create such a spirit (in India)…’
Though this may have indeed been a widely held opinion in Pakistani military circles at the time, it is at best unsophisticated and subjective, and could not have been the factor that motivated Pakistan to undertake its Kashmir adventure. To assume this would be to take a very simplistic view of the strategic planning that went into executing one of history’s most successful land grab operations. Of course, the only others in recent history who have come close to matching the Pakistani penchant for successfully usurping land that does not belong to them are the Israelis.
We know that the Indo-Pakistan conflict, or at least the genesis of that conflict, cannot be explained simply in terms of the prejudices and military capabilities of the antagonists. There was an entire range of factors – revealed elsewhere and beyond the scope of this book review – that have influenced and determined the strategies adopted and indeed even the outcome of any actions taken by the antagonists against one another in 1947-48 and later.
Unfortunately, Ganguly has continued to ignore these ‘other’ factors – even in the latter half of his book – preferring instead to dwell on the obvious, the near sighted political objectives of Indian and Pakistani leaders. Nowhere is this reliance on the mundane more apparent than in the fifth chapter, ‘The Nuclear Dimension’. Here, he ‘explores the ramifications of the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests of May 1998 for the future security and stability of the region’ by posing a question: ‘Has the overt nuclearisation of the region reduced the likelihood of war in the region or is the region more war-prone now?’
His conclusions are not very different from those arrived at by other scholars working in this field. Ganguly believes that though it may be too early to claim with absolute certainty that stable deterrence is here to stay in South Asia, he has nonetheless, by presenting an array of arguments and counter arguments, attempted to prove that the overt nuclearisation of the region may have contributed to nuclear security on the subcontinent while increasing the likelihood of lower level engagements. In other words, overt nuclearisation and its spinoff, deterrence, will give birth to what the author terms as the stability-instability paradox.
Though his assumption is premised on the cold (he uses the word ‘sanguine’) and unexceptionable logic of high nuclear strategy, some would argue that it is for this very reason not plausible – for in India and in Pakistan the decision to use a nuclear weapon will ultimately be a political one. And politics and logic don’t always go hand in hand.
One only has to turn to the events of the last few months to seek a confirmation of this. Did not General Musharraf, with a view to shore up his flagging image domestically, threaten nuclear strikes if India launched a conventional strike? And did not Prime Minister Vajpayee – some would argue in order to pander to the Sangh hardliners and push Gujarat off the front pages – ratchet up the tension by declaring ominously that the threat of nuclear war was imminent and that his government was prepared for a nuclear war, if it were to come about?
Far from the deterrence factor – the sobering byproduct of Ganguly’s ‘overt nuclearisation’ – dampening their ardour for waging war, it was the irresponsible zero-sum game of nuclear blackmail being played by the two South Asian powers that ultimately drove the U.S. to step in and separate its two feuding wards. Given this tendency towards using nuclear backmail as a bargaining chip and given the political compulsions of the ruling incumbents, one wonders how long the two countries can get away with manipulating nuclear deterrence?
It is rather surprising then that after having devoted so much attention to the political objectives of Indian and Pakistani leaders in his earlier chapters, Ganguly should have paid scant attention to the political aspect which forms an integral part of the nuclear discourse on the subcontinent.
His conclusion too – spelt out in the epilogue under the sub-title ‘Coming Full Circle’ – is spectacularly prosaic and disappointing. Refusing to stick his neck out from under the carapace of technical jargon and academic views he has built for himself, Ganguly teases the imagination by posing a series of questions (‘Will Pakistan finally abandon its quest to wrest Kashmir from India through the use of force? Will India be willing to settle the dispute...?’) only to supply the most obvious of answers – that the ‘answers to these questions will depend in large measure on the evolution of U.S. policy toward India and Pakistan. As a result of the events of September 11, the United States is in a unique position to forge a durable peace on the subcontinent.’
One hardly needs to read 187 pages of a book to have its author confirm what is a truism. It is to be expected that as the world’s only superpower and given the extent to which it is involved in the region, any proposed solution to the Indo-Pak imbroglio will be first vetted by the U.S.
Neither does one have to read Conflict Unending to be apprised of the fact that, ‘ultimately any resolution to this conflict, deeply rooted in the self-image of both states and attenuated by each side’s selective account of the historical record, will require patience, skill, and long-term commitment – attributes that have thus far been lacking in politicians and decision-makers on both sides of the border.’
MILITARISM AND WOMEN IN SOUTH ASIA by Anuradha M. Chenoy. Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2002.
IF you do plan to read this book, be prepared to find in it – apart from copious footnotes – 184 pages of repetition, typographical errors and a refrain about women being victims of conflict and militarizing societies that gets increasingly strident with page after tedious page.
Anuradha M. Chenoy’s little book on the nature of militarizing South Asian societies and its impact on women is a hastily compiled patchwork of recounted events. Chenoy, a professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, introduces militarism to us as an ideology that has been used by states and their governments at different historical junctures to further their territorial and political interests, and distinguishes it from militarization, which she calls a ‘material’ process that slowly brutalizes society. This opening premise is supported by references to roughly 74 texts, reminding one of a university student’s tentative first thesis.
Predictably enough, a critique of the dominant realist paradigm in international relations, which considers militarism a necessary ideology and unquestioningly accepts militarization (with its byproducts of conflict and war as an offshoot), follows the introductory chapter. Chenoy then refers to the existing work done by contemporary feminist scholars in the West, including Cynthia Enloe and Jill Steans, to explain why a state-centric interpretation of security, enshrined in national security doctrines, is an incomplete one. Presumably, the demand for a gendered discourse on issues of security is part of the wider struggle to accept human security – food, water, education, employment, equality – as the all-inclusive idea, and Chenoy doesn’t hold any surprises for the reader here.
So far, predictable. Even a lay reviewer such as this one is well-versed enough in the dynamics of the ‘new’ security discourse to find nothing new in the first two chapters. This is, of course, unless there is a finer print and an illuminating subtext that reveals itself only to the enlightened reader, though one suspects the footnotes that crop up every few lines leave little room for original analysis.
The next few chapters are case studies, or rather country-by-country recounts, of post-colonial South Asian history with more desultory references, including data from reports by NGOs and civil society organisations/independent commissions, about how women have suffered violence and trauma at the hands of patriarchal and militaristic states. Unfortunately, Chenoy glosses over the main events that have informed and shaped government policies and militarized society in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Moreover, summaries of the Indo-Pak partition, the genocide in Bangladesh on the eve of its independence from Pakistan, the unrelenting civil war in Sri Lanka, the growth of fundamentalist forces and insurgent and terrorist networks that employ militarism as an indispensable tool are hardly likely to excite any reader. Indeed, one could just as easily pick up the general knowledge from umpteen other sources.
Chenoy’s conclusions, too, remain rather unoriginal. She writes that the convergence of ‘xenophobic nationalism, fundamentalism, militarism and patriarchy in all South Asian states’ has privileged the male and persecuted the minorities and the weaker sections. To support this contention, she pits data on defence expenditure against social sector expenditure in yet another exposition of the ‘guns versus butter’ debate. But given that the debate is hardly new, and Chenoy offers no new insight or analysis beyond saying that ‘women suffer more than men in every country’ and that large sections of society continue to be illiterate, malnourished and poor, is her book worth it?
Her publishers must think so as they appear keen to bring out tome after tome on feminist perspectives on security and women’s experiences of militarization. Alternative conceptions, after all, need the concerted effort of a blitzkrieg to find supporters. There are perhaps some benefits to repetition, and that is probably where Chenoy’s book would come in handy.
THE DEFENCE MAKEOVER: 10 Myths That Shape India’s Image by Pravin Sawhney. Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2002.
Pravin Sawhney is among the rare militarymen who have taken to make a living by the pen while still in their prime. Trying to survive as a full-time policy analyst writing for the press or researching in thinktanks is a more chancy business than sticking to the comforts of cantonment life or, as any number of Generals and their ilk have discovered, carving out a second career as media pundits but only after getting long in the tooth. One other mould, Sawhney, an ex-Major in the artillery, has broken is of violating the convention of ex-officers turned scriveners abjuring criticism of the established line and otherwise doing nothing to hurt the corporate interests of the combat arm and of the Service they belonged to, and of the armed forces as a whole, in that order. This was taken to its logical extreme in the 1960s by the then Chief of the Army Staff, General J.N. (‘Muchu-do about nothing’) Chaudhuri, who drafted policies and simultaneously cheered them on while moonlighting as the anonymous ‘Defence Correspondent’ for the Statesman newspaper! That he did so, presumably, with the full knowledge of the Indian government, is another story. In the event, you had the COAS (ex-16th Light Cavalry) decide, for example, on a ‘light tank’ for the armoured formations and, in his columns, praise this selection as a splendid one!
As those who read his comments and reportage in various Indian newspapers in the early 1990s may recall, Sawhney does not shy away from taking on the establishment or even from a good fight. In this book, he seeks to debunk what he calls ‘myths’ he believes the military and the government have propagated over the years. This is a commendable aim. But he does so, I am afraid, on a declining scale of persuasiveness. He is strong when discussing tactical military shortcomings or theatre-level snafus, but weak when pondering the more weighty strategic calculus. The result is in stressing short-term gains he sometimes loses sight of the long-term strategic national interests.
The military, the apparatus of state concerned with national security and their views, values and beliefs need demythifying alright, the better for the people to make informed judgements in a democracy. Sawhney seeks to set the record straight and does a generally swell job of it with strong counter-arguments. Hence, the claims of the army that it scored a ‘decisive victory’ in Kargil, that it has been successful in fighting ‘Pakistan’s proxy war’ in Kashmir, and that the Indian occupation of the commanding heights in Siachen scored points against Pakistan, are taken apart. But in voicing other views that would be incontestable, he tends to be skewed in his analysis and sometimes in his conclusions. While the military is, in fact, a little too quick to follow the political line that China poses no real threat to India and, at the same time to suggest that the two countries are on par where military planning is concerned, Sawhney’s remedy of speedily agreeing to a Line of Actual Control (LAC) and, therefore, affording formal recognition to the border as-is for fear that inept and ineffective Indian ‘border management’ will end up in more territory being lost in dribbles to the Chinese, for example, seems worse than the problem of an unresolved dispute.
As the 12th meeting of the Joint Working Group that ended in Beijing on 18 June 2002 showed, China believes time is on its side and so maintained its refusal to even exchange maps. In such a situation, Sawhney’s suggestion would require India to quietly accept the Chinese version and finally legitimize China’s hold over Tibet, leading to the surrender of a potentially awesome weapon with which eventually to get China out of Tibet altogether. The 1954 Nehru-Zhou En-lai Accord committed India to accepting Chinese sovereignty over Tibet only so long as Tibet was treated genuinely as an ‘autonomous region’ complete with self-rule, which has not been the case. This treaty is a policy leverage India should use. In fact, far from cutting any deal New Delhi should build up a thermonuclear force with reach as a strategic deterrent, contest every inch of ground tactically in the high plateau, fund, train and launch Tibetan freedom fighters and work in international human rights and other fora, along with other states mindful of the genocide underway in that godforsaken country, to liberate Tibet from China’s clutches. This will take longer, exact more costs, but it will minimize the Chinese threat and, who knows, gain India China’s respect – the prime ingredient for stabilising bilateral relations that is now conspicuously missing. It is an angle the author has overlooked.
Indeed, Sawhney overlooks the strategic aspect so often in this book that one is at a loss to explain it. What is one to make of his contentions that the ballistic missile strength of India and Pakistan has to be contained as a means of retaining ‘operational parity’ in the conventional military sphere which he obviously believes makes for military stability in the subcontinent, and that ballistic missiles are ‘frightfully expensive’ as compared to tanks and guns? Except that this is to equate India with Pakistan – which has been the bane of Indian foreign and military policies, to swallow the near-nonsensical official propaganda that such missiles will come equipped with conventional warheads, and to grossly underestimate the value of nuclear warheaded long range ballistic missile against which there is, so far, no real defence. It is another way of plugging the traditional belief of militarymen that a strategic deterrent will obtain at the expense of conventional military capability, leading to the conclusion that Sawhney is more a run-of-the-mill analyst with a military background than an iconoclast. It is, moreover, not so subtly to hew to the western line that India and Pakistan would be better off not having ballistic missiles at all.
Further, to argue, as Sawhney does, that nuclear weapons have not facilitated ‘confidence-building measures’ is to set up a strawman before mowing it down. CBMs qua CBMs are something of a joke in the South Asian setting. This has been a well-known fact of life and no great revelation except to those Indians (and Pakistanis) stricken by terminal conference-itis and hopeful and gullible western institutions who host talk-shops on ways to broker peace. But equally, there is little doubt that nuclear weapons have in a very elemental sort of way tempered Pakistan’s fear of a rampaging India threatening to ‘undo Partition’, which is every red-blooded Pakistani’s nightmare, and that is what matters. This may be a far more meaningful contributor to politico-military stability in the region and in Indo-Pak relations than any other development of the last 50 years and, therefore, not at all a bad thing to happen.
Sawhney’s views on missiles is of a piece with the author’s somewhat confused analysis concluding that the 1998 nuclear tests did not ‘enhance’ the country’s security. He seems more anxious about ‘international ostracism’ than whether or not the country has a practical deterrent. His case that post-Shakti tests the U.S. has managed ‘to halt’ India’s nuclear weaponization, speeded up Chinese missile help and assistance to Pakistan, introduced ‘nuclear and missiles instability’ in South Asia, and ‘dramatically’ increased its role in the Kashmir issue, mistakes the absence of the will to pay China back in kind by transferring strategic armaments and missile technologies to Vietnam in the former’s backyard and, generally, of conviction about India’s larger strategic role in the world of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government for the lack of technical benefits from testing if only a regular series of tests had been carried out, instead of stopping at just one – and that too a failed – fusion test for instance. Sawhney, fortunately, does not reflect the sentiments of the new military or the new awakening in the armed forces to the strategic-nuclear facets of military power.
PAKISTAN: Nationalism Without a Nation? edited by Christophe Jaffrelot. Manohar, Delhi, 2002.
IN a post-modernist world the relevance of nationalism is not only questioned but also ridiculed. Yet, dissent against a western conception of nationalism had stemmed long ago outside the western world even when the nation state held legitimate primacy in political discourse. Tagore and Gandhi viewed nationalism as a byproduct of the western nation state. According to Ashis Nandy (The Illegitimacy of Nationalism, OUP, Delhi, 1994) they were a minority of dissenters who did not want the ‘national’ ideology of the Indian civilisation to be measured merely in terms of an imagined or constructed entity, the nation state. Indian civilisational identities and heritage was considered by them to be both prior and superior to the limited nationalism that adherents of the European Westphalian system propounded. However, in the turbulent interwar years their universalistic worldviews found little favour in a subcontinent charged by the zeal for independence, again measured as territorial or political rather than social, economic or religious freedom.
In the book under review, Christophe Jaffrelot and the other contributors have described, explained, analysed, and understood the political development of Pakistan through the same criteria that Tagore and Gandhi remained wary of. Thus, the title, Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation? asks only a partial question – whether Pakistani nationalism is sustainable in an otherwise artificially created nation state. It fails to ask why Pakistanis, or for that matter all post-colonial states (including India), adhered to an imported western conceptualisation of nationalism.
In his introductory paragraphs, Jaffrelot alludes to Anthony Smith’s distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism. However, both these conceptualisations limit themselves to the ideology that informs a territorial nation state rather than any other political or social collectivity. Further, Jaffrelot favours Ernest Gellner’s theory that men become nationalists not through myth-based sentimentality, but because of practical necessity and rational reasoning. In Gellner’s view, discrimination of one ethnic group against another results in cultural or racial inferiority for the victimised group which, in turn, revolts to challenge the attempted monopolisation of privileged positions by the dominant majority. It must be noted that while Gellner focuses on basic changes in the shared social condition (an approach Jaffrelot prefers), in later writing he has argued that the precise doctrines of nationalist thinkers are not worth analysing (Nations and Nationalism, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1983). This again reveals the limited approach adopted to explain and understand nationalism without reference to the competing conceptualisations that have informed the political philosophies of the leaders of the post-colonial world.
Despite these initial reservations, the content of the book is appealing in its freshness of perspective. Rather than focusing on Kashmir or Indo-Pak relations, the editor has deftly chosen a structure that builds up the story more analytically as opposed to it being a chronological account. In the overview introduction, Jaffrelot highlights the absence of a Muslim League power-base in the Muslim majority regions of undivided India and shows how Jinnah co-opted other leaders whose nationalism was more regionally specific (Sikander Hayat in Punjab or G.M. Syed in Sindh) rather than religiously inclined.
In analysing the post-independence period, Jaffrelot argues that despite the creation of Bangladesh and secessionist stirrings in the North West Frontier Province or Baluchistan, Sindh’s political trajectory shows that once the Sindhis were convinced that they too could partake of political power at the federal level (as symbolised by the Bhuttos) their secessionist nationalism declined. He takes this as proof of Pakistan’s ability to manage divergent political interests without threatening the integrity of the state. Thus the ‘political economy of separatism’ explains both the partition of India (because of the unwillingness to share political power) and subsequent secessionist challenges within Pakistan and the degree to which they were (un)successfully managed.
This ‘management’, however, has been central to Pakistan’s failed tryst with nationalism. Instead of building a nation state based on territory, institutions (political and civil) and citizenship, Pakistan expended its energies on an ideological and transnational claim to represent all Muslims of the greater South and Central Asian region. But in the absence of a positive national identity, nationalism in Pakistan has been directed in a negative role towards the Indian Other, creating little genuine political space for democratic politics to exercise any perceptible influence on the polity in general, and the authorities in particular.
Beginning with the political evolution of the Pakistani state and its constituents, Ian Talbot’s chapter is illuminating in attempting to dispel the myth of a monolithic Punjab, the single most influential province of the country. Intra-Punjab regional and class differences are often overlooked by commentators, argues Talbot. Yet Talbot fails to prove why this should be of any solace to the other provinces, which have to bear the burden of Punjab’s overwhelming dominance in the military and the bureaucracy.
The nature of dissent against Punjabi domination has been articulated most cogently by Yunus Samad as the ‘Punjabisation of Pakistan’. One major source of discontent, dissent, and disorder has been the rise of the Mohajir Qaumi Mahaz (later to be named the Muttahida Qaumi Mahaz), primarily in the province of Sindh. Samad’s narration of the construction of a Mohajir identity exposes the parallel processes of national and ethnic identity formation that internally weakened the project of a homogenous nationalism. Uniquely interesting is how even Gujarati-speaking business communities in Sindh began to shift towards an (Urdu-based) Mohajir identification as the Punjabis and Pakhtuns became more prosperous in business. The inability of the MQM to restrain its militant factions, on the one hand, and the absence of trust between its political wing and the army on the other, has perpetuated the violence that afflicts Karachi today.
More sinister has been the rise of Islamic radicalism in Pakistan, as analysed in the chapter by S.V.R. Nasr. State sponsorship of militant Sunni factions, the funding of madrasas, Saudi and Iraqi influence to create a ‘Sunni wall’ around Iran, the support to Shiite groups by Iran, were all factors that have created a complex web of sectarian violence, the drug trade, the destabilisation of Afghanistan and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. The Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Taliban, the Harkat-ul Mujaheddin were all trained under the military’s supervision but now have become forces unto themselves.
Democracy is not an easy solution. Democratically elected governments in Pakistan have been just as responsible for fostering these religious groups, for several reasons – party political strategies, compulsions of coalitions in the National Assembly, and the overwhelming influence of the army. Thus, Benazir Bhutto’s Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar organised the Taliban and the H-u-M. The same government also ended up supporting the most extremist of Sunni and Shiite groups. The trend towards populist Islamism continued under Nawaz Sharif as well. The experience of Pakistan hints at the danger of limited notions of nationalism. Nasr does not provide any analysis of the proportion of Pakistani society directly influenced or affected by these religious groups. But to be fair to him, in the absence of democratic elections, mere shows of strength at annual rallies can only serve as an imperfect indicator.
More troubling is the apprehension that one has about the proportion of the population which has begun to regard the already weak institutions of the state as defunct and irrelevant. In that eventuality, Pakistani nationalism not only suffers the lack of ‘national identity’ and is subjected to transnational influences and contingencies, as the book argues; it now remains vulnerable to attacks on the legitimacy of the state itself (irrespective of the regime). None of the authors have addressed the weakening of institutions, which is odd given that the book is premised on the notion of a constructed nation state and nationalist ideology. The ideological vacuum has engendered a radical Islamism whose target is not just India or Afgha-nistan but the entire South-Central Asian land mass. Mariam Zahab’s short piece on the regional dimensions of sectarian conflicts provides an overview of the issues. To what extent Pakistani institutions themselves have become a target is unclear and understudied.
Part II delves deeper into the newer construction of a nationalist-cum-Islamic ideology and its articulation through socio-religious organisations. Saeed Shafqat’s essay on the Dawat-ul-Irshad and its militant wing Lashkar-e-Taiba is a much needed explanation of the psychology of one of the most powerful Islamic groups in Pakistan. Along the lines of Ahmed Rashid’s chapter (in his now famous Taliban, Pan Macmillan, London, 2001) on new-style fundamentalism, Shafqat gives an insight into the philosophies, the objectives, and more interestingly, the contradictions in the Islamic movement in Pakistan. Thus, ‘education and jihad’ form the Dawat/Lashkar’s philosophical edifice. Again, while the 58 Islamic parties in Pakistan consider the state as only a transitory agent in the larger project of the Islamic transformation of society, the Dawat also believes that jihad is essential for acquiring political power.
The absence of a national identity, which has been the book’s focus, has acquired a new dimension in the last two decades with the contradiction between the Pakistani nation state and pan-Islamism coming to the fore. Two chapters by Olivier Roy and Gilles Dorronsoro are devoted to the Taliban. The first takes a longer historical sweep to write about Z.A. Bhutto’s Islamic populism, Zia’s Islamisation, and the imperatives of strategic security in helping the Taliban. The latter alludes to the multiple levels of interaction that existed between Pakistan and the Taliban – the madrasas, the religious parties, and the state. Sumit Ganguly’s lucid coverage of the Kashmir conflict provides another dimension to the articulation of the nationalist-Islamic ideology. One wishes that repetitive sections had been deleted, leaving the reader with a better grasp of the analytical content.
But the chapters by Jean-Luc Racine and Frédéric Grare are must reads. Racine clearly brings out Pakistan’s dilemma in being obsessed by the ‘India syndrome’. He also argues that Kashmir feeds on the anti-western feelings in Pakistan. So, not only is the festering conflict partly the result of Islamic radicalism but the radicalism itself is encouraged by an imperfect rhetoric of western bias against Islam, Kashmir being the prime example.
Pakistan’s critical position in the New Great Game for Central Asian oil is brought out in a well-researched article by Frédéric Grare. He argues that Pakistan seeks to be the preferred route for Central Asian hydrocarbons; thus, the control and stability of Afghanistan became crucial. Its tactics, however, backfired as support for the Taliban alienated all Central Asian republics, except Turkmenistan. Further, it mistook American interest in Central Asian oil for a guarantee of support for the Taliban. Pakistan has many geographical and monetary advantages in the proposed pipeline projects but has failed to appreciate them within the geopolitical situation in the region.
It is in the last section that the book’s analytical structure pays dividends through the chapters on foreign policy. Mohammad Waseem’s excellent analysis of the dialectics between domestic politics and foreign policy is crisp and structured. In early 2001, at a seminar on Kashmir at Oxford, this reviewer questioned him about the influence of public opinion and civil society on Pakistan’s foreign policy. Waseem held the view that it remained the government’s prerogative to provide access to dissenting voices or those presenting alternative solutions to the crisis. Thus, even progress in Track II diplomacy is ultimately predicated upon the government’s willingness to extend its blessings to unofficial dialogue. In his chapter, he elucidates these points. The lack of public participation, the tradition of secrecy inherited from the British, and most unfortunately a ‘passive consensus’ on Kashmir, nuclear weapons and Afghanistan have made these most important issues the least debatable in public. However, as is the experience of Pakistan, contradictions plague foreign policymaking as well.
Amélie Blom tries to recreate Graham Allison’s seminal Essence of Decision (Little Brown, Boston, 1971) in the context of the ‘multi-vocal’ Pakistani state. Thus, broad consensus is undermined by inconsistencies at the micro strategic level, the Kargil episode being the most recent example. Blom identifies institutional and non-state actors influencing policy – the army and the ISI (the latter often seen as a ‘conceptualiser’ because of its virtual command over information), the government, the Kashmiris (further divided by cultural differences across the LoC), the jihadi organisations, and ‘public opinion’. Interestingly, Blom argues that the Kashmir issue does not top the agenda for the people of Sindh and Baluchistan, another example of how the Punjabisation of the Pakistani state has dominated the agendas in foreign policy as well.
There are some factual inaccuracies though. Contrary to Blom’s view that India ‘snatched’ Siachen from Pakistan, the area was never demarcated and the legality of the issue cannot be settled so easily. Also, during the Kargil crisis, she narrates that Nawaz Sharif was called to Washington. Special Assistant Bruce Riedel’s recently published account suggests that Sharif himself sought an appointment for 4 July 1999, only to have his hopes for a face-saving withdrawal plan dashed by President Clinton.
In an otherwise well structured volume, with some highly analytical and perceptive essays that must be read by anyone interested in understanding Pakistan from multiple perspectives, two inadequacies leave the reader unsatisfied. First, there is no attempt to speculate on the future development of nationalism in Pakistan. In the post-September 11 scenario there is little analysis of what to expect from the Islamic parties. Few studies have been done on the rising or diminishing influence of these organisations and one hoped that the book made an attempt to answer the very question it poses on its cover.
Second, the concluding chapter by Pierre Lafrance is not only disconnected from the arguments made in the book but forces upon the reader a shaky argument about the historical civilizational continuity in Pakistan, which should ensure that it survives as a state. Lafrance uses sound archaeological evidence to show how the Indus Valley civilization was distinct from the Vedic civilizations that developed in the Gangetic belt and the Deccan. According to Lafrance, ‘fate willed… Pakistan’s destiny be distinct from today’s India…’ He does give the standard political explanation of partition based on the two-nation theory. But his attempts to link the entity that was created in August 1947 to some classical civilizational heritage distinct from the rest of the subcontinent is difficult to digest.
As Tariq Rahman who has studied the politics of language in Pakistan puts it so aptly in Language, Education, and Culture (OUP, Karachi, 1999), ‘linguistically… Pakistan faces two directions: India (because the roots of its languages are Dravidian as well as Indo-Aryan) and the Middle East (because its scripts and vocabulary owe much to Arabic and Persian).’ Lafrance overlooks the fact that the Muslims of what became Pakistan did not support the Muslim League. Jinnah’s shrewd political deals were not struck by reference to some Alexandrian Greek or Persian Achaemenid civilizational origin of the people living in those provinces. Further, Lafrance’s post hoc analysis does not account for East Pakistan having been part of the country for 24 years. The Bengalis would have found this thesis to be a mockery of their heritage derived from a fusion of Hindu and Islamic traditions.
If civilizational destiny is all that matters, then it is implicitly a pathetic apology for the crimes committed in 1971. The real strength of Pakistan lies in its dormant but certainly not extinct civil society. Its destiny lies in the choices it makes and the manner in which it counters the seemingly insoluble contradictions of a sinister nationalism, which is destabilising for the entire region. Nationalism need not adhere to rigid territorial or forced ethno-religious identities. That has been Pakistan’s failing in the past half century. Acknowledging the subcontinent’s shared past would only be the first step towards creating a more pluralist identity. Sadly, all countries in the region are moving in the opposite direction.