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India-Pakistan: a manufactured conflict!

Dilip Hiro in his book “The longest August”, states that the ties between India and Pakistan is a “tale of broken bloodlines, fatal miscalculations and mutual paranoia that has placed a bitter parting at the centre of the destiny of a subcontinent. It looms, like Banquo’s ghost, over other conflicts across South Asia.”[1] The estranged nuclear siblings which parted ways with the bloody partition of August 1947 have since then continued to live with suspicions of antagonistic ideas – the idea of cultural-religious nationalism in contrast to secular-constitutional nationalism. But underlying all these assumptions are the hard line beliefs grounded in realism. To quote Kautilya, “Every neighbouring state is an enemy and the enemy’s enemy is a friend.”[2] Realism is the dominant school of International relations. Every other school has written in response to the realist theories. Being the hegemonic school of thought, it is perhaps natural that we can make better sense of Indo-Pak relations using the realist proposition.

The central premise of the realist school of thought is the anarchy in the structure[3] as well as egoism of the actor[4]. Both these factors pervade the Indo-Pak relations. Due to prevalent anarchy and parochial self interests there is an apparent struggle for power- militaristic, economic, diplomatic being the major ones. It is this struggle for power to balance out each other, which has and continues to shape the Indo-Pak relationship. There have been flirtations with the ideals of liberalism, but they have been more of an exception rather than the norm.

Since independence the two states have been in a turmoil of perpetual antagonism. The entire basis of the existence of Pakistan is based on the idea of incompatibility of living in a Hindu Majority state, though secular. The elites in Pakistan- basically the military leadership and the landed aristocracy has propagated the goebbelsian fiction of an existential threat from India. Thus building an incredulity towards Indian overtures of peace and friendship. There by, nipping an attempt at liberal pacifism in the bud.

India and Pakistan have fought one semi-conventional and three conventional wars. All of them have been fought for a piece of land, whether Kashmir, Sir Creek or East Pakistan. For Kautilya, land was the source of wealth and a conqueror must protect and gather more land for the welfare of his people.[5] Jammu and Kashmir is the source of glaciers from where a majority of rivers flow, which have Pakistan downstream. Similarly East Pakistan was strategically located having a commanding position in the Bay of Bengal and an oversight on India’s North East. Sir Creek issue stands due to immense resources its potential exclusive economic zone entails. Following the artificial demarcation of boundaries by Radcliffe award Kashmir, Sir Creek and East Pakistan were recipes for disaster. As per the realist logic what followed in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999 is nothing more than a logical consequence, which could have been safely predicted.

Even Pakistan’s policy of “Bleeding India by a thousand cuts” using non state actors can be explained by the realist logic. The asymmetry between India and Pakistan in military and economic resources has forced Pakistan to cultivate non state actors. Mearsheimer in his book “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” has talked about weaker powers’ insistence on band-wagoning and external balancing. Pakistan’s alignment with USA in the Cold War, its cultivation of Taliban and Mujahideen, and post Cold War alignment with China vindicate this fact.

According to Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan,”the most important characteristic of the India-Pakistan conflict is its persistence.”[6] It is due to this reason despite Indus Water Treaty, Tashkent and Shimla agreements, Bus diplomacy, Confidence building measures, formation of SAARC etc the conflict prevails. Thus despite efforts at peace, the realist assumptions of self-interest, pragmatism and pursuit of power hold true.

Even the nuclearization of the subcontinent has been a result of the Thucydides trap and prisoner’s dilemma which India and Pakistan are so intricately intertwined in. It has been a result of miscalculations and suspicions. The current Government’s insistence on “no talks until terror stops” coupled with cross-border pre-emptive strikes represents an overtly realistic policy. It has jettisoned even the modicum of liberal peace-building which India earlier preached, if not practised.

The only shortcomings if at all with the realist approach to study of Indo-Pak relations is the over-securitisation of the relationship. Policy-makers, scholars, politicians and elites on both sides have over securitised the relationship, which makes conflict inevitable. It ignores the people to people contacts, common civilisational inheritance, bonds of common culture, language and way of life as well as the shared past. Despite so much similarity, sub-continent is one of the least integrated regions of the world. The people of the two countries long for peace, but the elites on both side excel in politicising fictional antagonism. The realist theory further comes in handy to substantiate the same. According to Alexander Wendt, “ Anarchy is what states make of it.” Similarly, the relationship between India and Pakistan can gain peace if and only if the over-securitisation is dilated down and ceased.

The recently concluded ceasefire agreement, the launch of SAARC COVID fund, talks for open medical tourism in the region etc are steps in the right direction. But as discussed earlier, these measures are mostly aberrations in the long drawn out conflict between the two states. All efforts at peace are just a terror strike away from going into oblivion. Also, apart from India and Pakistan, there are a number of players with their own interests. As far as Indo-Pak relations go, realism is a common sense. The Banquo’s ghost is here to stay.

[1] [2] Kautilya, Arthashastra. [3] Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics. [4] Morganthau, Politics Among Nations. [5] Kautilya, Arthashastra. [6] Rajesh Rajagopalan (1998) Neorealist theory and the India‐Pakistan conflict‐I, Strategic Analysis, 22:9, 1261-1272, DOI: 10.1080/09700169808458882

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