A Change of Approach is Needed in the Study of Indo-Pak Relations

‘A fresh approach to studying relations between India and Pakistan can help policy makers to reach some point where they can make better decisions for the common people on both sides of the Indo-Pak border’

Numerous obstacles exist to objectively analysing the field of politics and foreign policy. The field is full of conflicting approaches and theoretical perspectives. Another problem arises regarding the nature of analysis to be adopted. Noam Chomsky argues that in international relations ‘historical conditions are too varied and complex for anything that might plausibly be called “a theory” to apply uniformly’. For him ‘international relations’ is a discipline of theoretical disagreements – a ‘divided discipline’. Different approaches or paradigms, such as liberalism or realism are like different games played by different people. As there is more than one game to be played, it is hard to know which game to play. A theory should be clear with clarity of exposition. It should be unbiased and its scope should encompass the specific issue in both breadth and depth. The Indo-Pak rivalry has been one of the most important research topics in international security studies. Yet meaningful literature on the subject is scant.

What little is available is either descriptive or historical in orientation. Traditionally, Indo-Pak relations have been studied through the realist lens in international relations. It is submitted that the time has come for Indo-Pak relations need to be studied in a new way by moving away from the traditional realist/neo-realist, liberal/neo-liberal approaches which are based upon material benefits and the balance of power. The significance of Indo-Pak relations can be gauged from the following advice of President Clinton to his successor President Bush. Clinton said in 2004 that ‘continuing tensions between India and Pakistan’, should be high on the incoming administration’s list of priorities, ‘because both have nuclear weapons.’ The South Asian region and the ensuing Indo-Pak rivalry are like ‘two peas in same pod’. In general, the ‘enduring rivalry’ between these states is described as repeated militarized non-militarized conflict between same set of actors for years and years.

Enduring rivalries are categorized into (i) major power versus major power (ii) major power versus minor power and (iii) minor power versus minor power. Arguably, the Indo-Pak rivalry falls into the third category. There are two varieties of rivalry – positional and spatial. In a spatial rivalry, states dispute over territory. In positional rivalry, states contest in regional and international order. The Indo-Pak rivalry qualifies under both these heads and animosity between the two countries is likely to continue for much more coming decades. Whilst 95 percent of the world’s conflicts are resolvable, this cannot be said of the Indo-Pak conflict as it lies amongst the five percent of the world’s most volatile conflicts.

India’s problem with Pakistan emerges from history. Notably, the Congress and Nehru believed Pakistan could not sustain as a modern nation state and that it would soon become absorbed into India or splinter into a series of minor and enfeebled states. Nehru expected Pakistan to collapse within months so he had little reason to offer concessions to Pakistan especially regarding Kashmir (he was emotionally attached to Kashmir as he was a Kashmiri Brahmin Pandit).

Maulana Azad, a staunch Congressman, himself admitted that the attitude of leading Congress leaders was responsible for the creation of Pakistan rather than Muslim League itself. For him, Congress leaders were the victims of psychological ‘wishful thinking’ in believing that partition would lead them to a powerful Indian government – minus the ‘troublesome Muslims’. The annexation of Hyderabad, Junagarh and Kashmir by India caused Pakistan to believe that its military inferiority allowed India to rule the roost. In 1971, East Bengali nationalism enjoyed direct Indian military support thanks to Bengali speaking Indian officers who ‘resigned’ their commissions to advise separatist forces.

Sadly, the Indo-Pak rivalry has already seen four wars, several skirmishes and many crises. India thinks herself to be the natural super power among South Asian states thanks to her sizable territory, population, military expenditure and healthy economy (for example, some estimates suggest that more than seventy percent of South-Asian resources are held by India). India’s desire to be the leader of the South Asian region is creating imbalance in the region and a sense of insecurity can be seen to creep into Pakistan’s institutions which are weaker and enjoy less funding. The region is a huge nuclear flashpoint. Therefore, it is the need of the hour that both these major states of the region sit together and put their sincere efforts to bring peace to the region to uplift the economic wellbeing of the terrorism struck, flood affected, and poverty ridden people of the region.

Some analysts argue that Pakistan’s security seeking approach does not arise out of fear of India. They claim that the hostile relationship between India and Pakistan cannot be explained through the lens of a ‘security dilemma’ (that can be explained when in an anarchic international system, state A perceives every step taken by state B for enhancement of her military capabilities as a direct threat even it is for defensive purpose). They say that, this is a tussle between India’s desire to maintain status quo in the region and revisionist approach of Pakistan to bring about territorial changes to her benefit. They argue that Pakistan is a ‘greedy state’. That refers to a state that can have non-security motives for expansion which include a desire to increase territory, wealth or prestige and to promote her religious or ideological version.

On any view, this is not true because the ‘status-quo’ in South Asia is already under challenge and contested by Pakistan since 1947 for unfair territorial demarcation, and the case is still pending in UN arbitration courts. The ‘status-quo’, itself, is the bone of contention. The loser states never compromise the ‘status quo’ defined by winner states.

Ironically, such writers also ignore Indian territorial aggrandizement as regards annexation in Kashmir, East Pakistan, Goa, Sikkim, Hyderabad etc. The Siachen conflict is considered to be a ‘pre-emptive’ operation by such writers. They take different yardsticks for India and Pakistan. I am not engaging in a blame game here. Rather we can deduce here is that here that every modern nation state is revisionist or greedy as per her own definition and capabilities.

The realists declare ‘power’ as an ‘end’ for states. It is therefore argued by them that Pakistan’s approach to enhance her military arsenal is an ‘end’ in itself. Is it true? It seems ‘not’ for sure if there were no India factor in the region. For Pakistan, military power is not an ‘end’ in itself. Instead it is a ‘means’ to balance out its abilities to stand up to India’s aggression. The neo-realists also blame the ‘international system of anarchy’ for the misadventures on the part of Pakistan. In the absence of any single arbitrary power in the world, to realists, states naturally resort to self-help.

If it were true, Pakistan’s nuclear programme would be equally dangerous for other states in South Asia but this is not the case. Therefore, some link is missing with these approaches to accurately evaluate Pakistan’s behaviour towards India, and, rest of the international world. Interestingly, the realists seek security in ‘balance of power’ and consider it as ‘prevention of war’. Sadly, for Indo-Pak relations, the race to balance the power of each other, has led both states to acquire nuclear weapons. Even the presence of nuclear deterrents does not guarantee the prevention of war between two.

To realists, international change occurs when great powers fall and rise, and, of course, balance of power shifts accordingly. They consider the bipolar system as the best because with only two great powers, both can be expected to act to maintain the system. According to this view, the period of cold war was of international stability and peace.

Traditional liberalism takes a positive view of human nature and believes in cooperative relations between nation states. The liberalists define transnationalism as a process whereby international relations conducted by governments have been supplemented by relations among private individuals, groups and societies that produce important consequences for the course of events. Moreover, internationalist liberals are of the view that the ‘trading state’ has replaced the ‘military state’. This clearly proves that liberal theories cannot help to understand Indo-Pak relations as the mutual trade between India and Pakistan is among one of the lowest bi-national trades in the world. Since Partition, there has never been a strong trading relationship between India and Pakistan.

The constructivists argue against the neo-realists by explaining that states act towards objects based on ‘meaning’ they attach to them. States are at the apex of the subjective process and they are not wholly on the mercy of anarchic international structure. They suggest that there are other inter-state and inter-subjective dynamics; which affect a state’s perception of another. Interestingly, if we take such assumptions into consideration, there are a number of examples between India and Pakistan. Pakistan reacts differently against India and other states in international system. Pakistani decision makers definitely attach different ‘meaning’ to India than other states.

All the mainstream approaches advanced by different internationalists are totally unable to holistically explain Pakistan’s relations with India. Therefore, there is a serious need to enact a change of approach – or a “paradigm shift” – to study relations between these nuclear neighbours. The development of a fresh approach to studying relations between India and Pakistan can help policy makers to reach some point where they can make better decisions for the common people on both sides of the Indo-Pak border. As a starting point, since the people of the Indo-Pak region have a common culture, rather than being fixated with military style analyses, the analytcial focus should shift to examining the processes aimed at creating democratic rights which foster development and bring prosperity to the region.

This post has been contributed by Jawad Kadir, email j.kadir@lancaster.ac.uk, Ph.D Student in International Relations, Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University. Any views are his own. Links and editing by PIIA.


1 Comment

Filed under Congress, Discussion, India, Pakistan, Partition, Peace building, PIIA, United States

One response to “A Change of Approach is Needed in the Study of Indo-Pak Relations

  1. Kashif Rasheed

    Brilliant perspective Jawad. Barring all issues we don’t have any choice but resolve things on table. But to bring someone on table….you need to be at par.

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