In India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Radhika Desai

Indian army soldiers carry out a flag march in Jammu. Photo: EPA-EFE

Resurrected from the NCW archives, this article by Radhika Desai – originally published in August 2002 – is essential background reading to better understand what is currently happening in Kashmir.

The origins of the tension between India and Pakistan go beyond diplomatic imperatives, as each country is keen to pose itself as America’ s lead ally in the region. This paper, while situating the relationship between the two nations against the backdrop of new American imperalism, argues that the conflict will remain unresolved until its very terms and those defining partition, the relationships between communities too, are revisited.

By Radhika Desai

Published on Economical and Political Weekly, Aug 17, 2002

Dimensions of Danger in South Asia

In announcing her ‘tryst with destiny,’ India’s first prime minister fixed his gaze forward on the prospects offered by independence, and determinedly away from the messy and bloody business of partition. He thus laid the foundation for the systematic evasion of the other reality of that historic moment. But there has never been any guarantee that seekers after destiny could escape fate. Now, more than half a century later, India and Pakistan find themselves instead keeping an altogether different appointment with an uncomfortable and dangerous truth: partition had never been, was never meant to be, a solution to the underlying problem of the terms of the relationship between south Asia’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims.

In the context of the US’s war on terrorism, the costs of this evasion, for long counted in terms of limited wars and more or less localised ‘communal riots’, are mounting. However apocalyptic as things appear, that original rendezvous manqué with the truth of south Asia’s ‘communal problem’ will not even now be kept. Current domestic, regional and global dispensations promise instead another installment of bloodshed and carnage. And there is another, graver possibility, which they also contain – the demise of the state of Pakistan with levels of violence and mayhem which have not yet been seen, even in south Asia.

As the US’s current war in Afghanistan continues indefinitely, so does the precarious high wire act on the part of Pakistan, poised between the competing demands of the US’s war on terrorism, and the one which India launched, thus far diplomatically but on the brink of military engagement. A mis-step threatens to plunge the Pakistan into a fearsome abyss made up of the continuing strength of Islamic militancy, that by all accounts affects the military as well the deep problems of domestic and international legitimacy, of which the recent ‘referendum’ on president Musharraf’ s tenure in power was such a complex symptom, regional tensions and economic disorder, straining it to breaking point.[1]

That point appears, moreover, to be the single-minded focus of the Indian strategy in piggybacking its own war on terrorism on America’ s. After the December 13 attacks on the Indian parliament, India broadened her ‘politics of brinkmanship’,[2] resuming her diplomatic efforts to have Pakistan labelled a rogue state, and to reduce it, if possible, to the status of a ‘failed’ one. The latter term is the new currency in the discourse of the US’s re-charged imperialism of the last decade, denoting states in financial or political receivership whose affairs are now the open and legitimate business of the US, its European and local allies. According to Achin Vanaik,

a growing section (albeit still a minority) of the Indian elite has become progressively more belligerent and believes that Indian security cannot be achieved through any strategy of co-existence with Pakistan but only through the dissolution of the Pakistani state.[3]

Such attitudes are not a product of September 11 or December 13. Two years ago, after the Kargil war and amid belligerent talk of ‘hot pursuit’ by Indian authorities, Mohammad Ayoob argued persuasively that the Indian subcontinent was in a state of ‘arrested unipolarity’: India’ s long-standing urge towards unipolar regional dominance was being arrested by Pakistan’s ‘defiance and adventurism’, ultimately based, as New Delhi correctly saw it, on ‘transient and externally induced factors’.

In the short term… Pakistan’s increasing audacity has brought India nothing but frustration. The continued infiltration of foreign mercenaries and terrorists into Kashmir and the deployment of Pakistani regular and irregular troops across the LOC into Indian-administered territory, which have escalated since the summer of 1999, may elicit a sharp response from New Delhi. It is now conceivable that India could take the conflict into Pakistani territory, first covertly and then overtly, with the explicit goal of hastening the process of Pakistan’ s disintegration.[4]

India’s belligerence has reached a new peak. Imitating the US, India has not presented full and credible evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in the attack on parliament, seeking instead to create a presumption of Pakistan’ s guilt, and demanding that Pakistan clamp down on Islamic militants, stop cross-border terror- ism and avenge the attacks. Even as president Musharraf acted to curb the resources and activities of Islamic militants in Pakistan and made at least vague gestures towards democratisation, the ruling BJP sought to exploit Kashmir, terrorism and Pakistan in its electioneering in state elections in February, while its fraternal organisations renewed their campaign on the issue of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Soon enough, Hindu militants were running amuck in the streets of India, killing thousands of Muslims. With a government at the centre, headed by the Hindu nationalist BJP, not effectively restrained by its coalition partners, these militants seem to have the bit between their teeth, and nowhere more so than in BJP-ruled Gujarat. With the Pakistan president expressing concern over the fate of Indian Muslims in the current carnage in India, militants on both sides, with or without their respective sponsors in control, have acquired a violent purchase in an already volatile situation.

India’s stance towards Pakistan has been based on an increasingly explicit analogy with Israel’ s equation with the Palestinian Authority and lately, of course, that between the US and Afghanistan. As such it contains several slightly differing scenarios which have one element in common: diminution or elimination of Pakistan’s ‘stateness’, whether with the installation of a friendly regime in Islamabad with, crucially, a military unable to take on India, or the complete dissolution of the military- dominated Pakistan state authority and the subjection of its peoples and territories to a protectorate under joint Indo-US supervision. For many in official Indian circles, this would involve the welcome prospect of India playing the central role in the US’s Afghan and generally west and central Asian strategy which has hitherto fallen upon Pakistan.

Indian capacities to achieve this aim – diplomatic and military – can be doubted as Indian misadventures in Sri Lanka since 1987 remind us all too clearly. It is unclear that the US would find the demise or diminution of the Pakistan state palatable. India’s importance to the US – whether against China or Russia or Iran – can be doubted since the potential threat each of these may represent to US global dominance has been exaggerated. Ironically, however, this may well be seen to increase India’s urgency to, in effect, present the US with a regional fait accompli. The pursuit of this goal itself will bring violence and suffering on an unimaginable scale.

South Asia’ s current dangerous conjuncture is deeply tied up with the war on terrorism, which in turn will have a determining effect on India’s chances of success in its ill-advised enterprise. It is important to take a brief look at the defining features of this new stage of (not so) ‘Pax Americana’.

War on Terrorism and the New World Order

Sudden cataclysmic events often appear to be turning points of history. The US administration would construe September 11 as an unforeseen event that changed the face of world politics, and the goals of US foreign policy. However, such events are usually no more than a bolt of lightning which illuminates, momentarily, a usually dark landscape. Or they quicken the pace of changes already in train. The terrorist attacks of September 11, whose even more violent aftermath has not yet ended if events in the west and south Asia are anything to go by, can be seen as a bolt of lightning or a fast-paced accelerator. After all the liberal and democratic hyperbole of 1990s, the war on terrorism, with the ‘axis of evil’ succeeding the largely abandoned hunt for Osama bin Laden, promises to be the actual shape of the new world order. Like the ‘containment of Communism’, and the defence of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’, the terrorist threat is the latest veil, all too thin, over America’s real motives and goals. Theologically named “Operation Infinite Justice”, it inaugurated a new age of America’ s intra-mundane activism.

To be sure, the war on terrorism constitutes the pursuit of US geopolitical goals in a new register – with the speed and scale of military aggression, past and promised, reaching new heights. President Bush Jr was commended for the restraint he showed in postponing the moment of retaliation for three whole weeks and for his attempts to build up an ‘international coalition’ against terrorism. Rather than restraint, it was an acknowledgement, on the part of even the US administration, whose native impulses were betrayed by the original ‘Wild West’ rhetoric, that US unilateralism has always been a bogey. At times, equally useful to US purposes in legitimising, however thinly, its necessary reliance in allies, local and international, and for its allies, who seek to maximise their options and resources within the generally accepted framework of ‘Pax Americana’.

Not being based on outright political rule, US imperialism in the Americas after the 1870s and the world over in the 20th century, has always worked with allies – local elites and militaries, and states in the regional and global states systems. It seeks to subordinate the rest of the world economically and financially to its pur- poses and institutions. US military and diplomatic strategy have worked to secure and further the web of such organic relationships which both link and subordinate the rest of the world to its overwhelming economic power, by extension, to its rich citizens and powerful corporations ever since it emerged as the world’ s largest economy in the early 20th century.

Pax Americana has undergone impor- tant shifts with changing political and economic conditions. After the second world war, containing communism required the US state and capital to ‘think for the world’, pursuing a strategy which contributed to world economic growth in general, and that of western Europe and east Asia in particular. The Bretton Woods institutions, designed before the US’s long-term global strategy had become clear even to itself, were based on financial repression: “Money capital had to confine its royalty-seeking operations to those activities which its nation state would allow”. [5] This regime functioned well for the US as long as it remained the world’ s credit. It successfully exported capital to western Europe and east Asia. However, by the late 1960s, overcapacity [6] created by this ‘altruistic’ strategy combined with a slowdown of productivity growth in industry [7] to slow down growth worldwide. The US’s imperial imperatives – financing the Vietnam war, in particular – soon outstripped its native economic and financial resources. The Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, a gold standard and financial repression were transformed over the next decade into a ‘Dollar-Wall Street Regime’ in which “the basis of American hegemony was being shifted from one of direct power over other states to a more market-based or ‘structural’ form of power.[8]

The US went from being the world’s creditor to its greatest debtor. Two important moves during the 1970s laid the basis of the new imperial order: US-sponsored oil price increases intended to curb the competing European and east Asian economies,[9] and the liberation of US (and later UK) private banks from financial repression by nation states. This gave them a commanding position in the emerging, and soon exploding, world financial markets centred around the US dollar. Euro and petro-dollars were recycled through these banks, creating the foundation of US global financial dominance under new conditions. These dual moves of the Nixon administration “gave Washington more leverage than ever at a time when American relative economic weight in the capitalist world had substantially declined and at a time when the productive systems of the advanced capitalist economies were entering a long period of stagnation”.[10] It was now clearer than ever before that US global policy aimed not at the expansion and defence of the capitalist order in any secular sense, not at resolving the long-term slowdown in growth, in which, by all accounts, the world economy still remains, but at the expansion of its own influence in it. Indeed, by the 1980s, the pursuit of the latter was increasingly at divergence from the attainment of the former.

Whereas until 1980 the metropolitan core of the world economy registered the relative advance of Europe and east Asia at the expense of the US, since then the US economy has grown, initially at the expense of Europe and, starting in the mid-1990s, at the expense of east Asia as well. US growth in this period has been financed by its competitors’ trade surpluses with it: the US-dominated world financial system is the mechanism through which the rest of the world, chiefly east Asia and the third world, has lent the US funds to purchase their imports, thus fuelling investment in the US economy and by US corporations abroad.[11]

The neo-liberal ‘counter-revolution’ in economic policy, launched by the US and the UK in the early 1980s, and the chiefly financial globalisation that went with it, was instead clearly designed to increase the power of US private financial institutions. While critical attention has tended to focus on the depredations of financial dominance in a largely secular sense, its effects on reordering the control of world production power has been less noticed. Its deflationary effect on the rest of the world economy served to increase the relative productive position of the US. At the same time, US-dominated world financial markets served to siphon capital from around the world into its decade-long investment boom, a move which further increased the US’ s relative productive dominance both among the metropolitan economies, and in the world in general. However, the success of this strategy even for the US remains open to question. On the one hand it is still unclear that the core sector identified by the US – information and communications technology – is able to yield productivity increases, which would make investment in general synonymous with investment in this technology.[12] On the other, potentially more decisive hand, the economic architecture of this phase of US expansion may be self contradictory: “…to the extent that the US successfully diverts capital to its own expansion, it brings down the world market into which it must sell…(while)… to the extent that other advanced countries set in place effective counter-measures, the US is unable to finance its expansion.”[13] An accompanying countervailing strategy has been “the drive to open up the jurisdictions of the east and south-east Asian political economies in ways that will enable core capitals to capture economic assets within them and thus ensure that stream of value generated in these societies become the property of the possessing classes of the US and other OECD states…this drive is not simply one sided plunder by the dominant states but has real appeal to the propertied classes of the dominated states. For they can take advantage of the free move- ment of capital enforced by the US and its allies to transfer their assets into metropolitan financial centres and live as rentiers rather than risking their capital in hazardous development strategies locally.”[14]

The attempt by the US to recover its dominance – financial and, if possible, productive – from its low point 30 years ago has been accompanied by a vast military build-up. “Washington’s military budget currently accounts for over a third of world expenditure on arms, and is larger than the next nine powers put together. The Pentagon’s weapons systems are in a league of their own. The US enjoys an unchallengeable military predominance over any combination of hostile states for the foreseeable future.”[15] Any political or military challenge to this US-dominated order, which its allies serve to entrench locally, would have to be an economic one as well and would have to involve an alliance of subordinate powers, something which seems rather remote today either in Europe or in Asia.

Still the US must today pursue its goals on the basis of a much reduced relative economic dominance (today it accounts for about a quarter of world GNP, as opposed to almost half at the end of the second world war). The recent period of US global policy has achieved ‘unstable expansion’ , distinct from the ‘hegemonic expansion’ which preceded it: “in a hegemonic expansion, the expansion of the leading nation is a condition for the expansion of the other advanced nations. In an unstable expansion, the expansion of the leading nation is an obstacle to the expansion of the other nations.”[16] Like that other declining hegemon, Britain in the late 19th century, the US today can be expected to pursue two objectives: “(i) harnessing and subordinating the labour and wealth of these territories to the expansion of its own capital, effectively providing a privileged zone in which to locate its capital (ii) excluding its otherwise more productive rivals from these advantages.”[17]

Moreover, a predominantly financial globalisation as a strategy for the expansion of US control over the world economy may have seen its end. The loss of value on world financial markets in the wake of the attacks is only the latest in a long series which began in the late 1990s and included the crises of east and south-east Asia and the bursting of the dot-com bubble, not to mention the collapse of that mascot of the new economy of finance, commerce and trading, Enron. Instead we may be witnessing now a drive by the US for more directly productive dominance – Kyoto, the Asian steel war and the current war for the control of oil are examples. In contrast to merely financial control, this strategy requires control of territories, populations and infrastructure, and greater violence naturally goes with it.

Well before September 11 the economies of the US-led western world seemed poised for the first generalised economic downturn since the early 1980s. Despite recent attempts to talk-up the economic situation, the underlying trend seems not to have improved beyond a limited increase in consumer spending, focused on housing in particular as investors seek investment outlets more secure than financial instruments. But, the general deflationary bias is still paramount, with interest rate increases at the slightest increase in economic activity.

The position of the third world in this scenario is deeply contradictory. While “periods of instability and confusion in the world economy are precisely those periods which also allow for some autonomous industrialisation in what has been called the third world”,[18] today the US state has effectively promoted the transnationalisation of its corporations in a way which increases their ability to control larger and larger proportions of world production. Their link with the US state is not thereby diminished: “employees of US multinationals working overseas are subject to US taxation, and new techniques are being developed to ensure that total world profits of the corporations for which they work are brought within the reach of the IRS”.[19] In this set-up, prospects of any autonomous industrialisation can be much less sanguinely contemplated today.

The collapse of communism is essential to globalisation: all regions of the world were now open to global capitalism, neither communism nor national capitalisms were options. If the US may celebrate the destruction of the very means to address inequality within and between nations, it must also be willing to be blamed for the existing misfortunes in it. In this world, there is no outside, no Communist bloc, to which to consign the delinquent. The ‘axis of evil’ is too small and insignificant to be any substitute. No state may rule without eliciting the consent of its subjects, however minimal or enthusiastic. The US superstate must work to ensure a sufficiently wide base of support in the world community of citizens and states. This may be more difficult to procure under current conditions.

In the main theatre of war on terrorism, the third world, there is much evidence of the instability of US strategy. During the gulf war a decade ago, the last major war of a bipolar world, Muslim states of the west Asia, north Africa and Asia were divided enough so that the diplomatic and military support of enough of them was ensured almost automatically. Since then, as witness to the irresponsibility of the US, Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan – no longer moved by any fear of communism, nor by any realistic expectation of economic ‘altruism’ on the part of the US, public opinion even in close long-standing allies like Saudi Arabia, has acquired a distinctly anti-American flavour. While uniformly outraged by the attacks of September 11 – the largest single terrorist attack anywhere since the beginnings of contemporary terrorism some three decades ago, it has been deeply critical of, and opposed to, the notion of ‘collateral damage’. It was the moment of moderate Muslim opinion, putting the widespread equation of fanaticism with Islam in question. The US had to climb down from its initial sabre-rattling rhetoric of “if you are not with us, you are against us” in a “battle of good vs evil’, and accept the less than fulsome support even among many traditional allies as even the most autocratic governments of the west Asia counted the political cost of deeply unpopular actions. Careful and complex coalition building among variously enthusiastic allies each of whom is making its own asymmetrical contributions to the global war against terrorism has become, in this situation, a must.

An editorial writer for The Washington Post, writing in foreign affairs recently, exhorted the US to wake up to its imperial vocation, accept its ‘rich man’s burden’ at a time when “the rich world increasingly realises that its interests are threatened by chaos”. “Now US foreign policy must once again respond to circumstance – this time to the growing danger of failed states…By launching his war on terrorism the president has at least acknowledged the urgency of the threat…The logic of neo-imperialism is too compelling for the Bush ad- ministration to resist.” [20] Like Caesar’s reluctance, the myth of US isolationism has long served to legitimise US imperialism and is here being refurbished for new times: the US must accept the expense, difficulty and danger involved in its imperial role and pursue it with allies in the OECD, bypassing UN irritants. Even pared down thus, it promises to be harder than before.

US interests in Afghanistan, in particular the oil pipelines which would tap the oil wealth of central Asia, played a role in US policies and actions in the region both before and since September 11. The ‘great game’ in this part of the world was once about Russia’s push for warm water ports. Now the great game concerns pipe- lines and Russia, suffering territorial and demographic shrinkage, economic collapse and financial dependence, has been recast from an imperial power into a largely subordinate ally of the US under the soberly realistic president Putin.[21] In the current heightening tensions in south Asia, with a much diminished Russia on one flank, China’ s pro-US moves and Iran quarantined under the ‘axis of evil’ doctrine, and with vastly increased US military presence in central and west Asia, the pursuit of US strategic interests in the region faces few obstacles. India and Pa- kistan both of whom declared early their support for the US war on terrorism, competing for a favoured place under the American sun; desperately and abjectly on the Indian side and aggressively and ambitiously on the other.

Historical Evolution of the South Asian Conflict

The nature and roots of the Hindu-Muslim divide in south Asia are bewilderingly complex and hotly contested, not least because its mid-20th century outcome was partition and the creation of Hindu and Muslim majority states, each with an official version of history. Unhelpfully, these official versions focus on the rhetoric of the negotiating positions of the Congress and the Muslim League – of united India and of Pakistan and the two-nation theory – missing the fact that the real dispute was about the terms of the relationship between the two parties in independent India, and between the elite social forces each represented.

Since the 1960s, scholarly research has shed much light on the origins and character of the underlying problem, both before and since independence and partition [22], substantially correcting the official and nationalist versions of history. Colonial exploitation of the divides between Hindu and Muslim elites, central to the Congress and Indian rejection of the ‘two-nation’ theory, certainly played an important role. But that would not have worked if there had been nothing to exploit in the first place. [23] Divides between emerging Hindu and Muslin elites in colonial India were growing at least since the late 19th century. The problem was recognised in the early Congress, but after some initial attempts to address it, it remained neglected. [24] From the 1920s onwards, as Gandhi infused religion into nationalist discourse, notwithstanding his commitment to a communal unity of sorts, matters only became more complicated. The record of Congress provincial governments formed under the 1935 government of India Act made this amply clear.

After two and a half years of Congress rule, Muslims were profoundly embittered by instances (very difficult for the most part to prove, but nevertheless symptomatic of the atmosphere that prevailed) of the continued oppression of Muslim minorities in the Congress provinces. Side by side was the growing realisation of the importance, from their point of view, of the Congress claim to be the sole mouthpiece of Indian opinion and the sole party to negotiate with the raj, and an anxiety to secure their own position before their bargaining capacity with the ‘Pax Britannica’ deteriorated further. The result was, of course, seen in the consolidation of the Muslim League, the crystallisation of Muslim demands, and the pitching of those demands on a very much higher level.[25]

Unable to make its politics genuinely secular, the Congress’s claim to represent secularism and the nation as a whole could be and was doubted. Important sections of its leadership supported the beliefs and practices, and even some personnel, of the Hindu Right. Its political rhetoric was for the most part couched in an idiom which was implicitly Hindu and indeed often equated India with Hindu. Its stance on representing the nation as a whole evaded one central fact: “…Muslim grievances existed, and …it was exceedingly difficult to dissipate them by any process of reasoning”.[26]

Jinnah and the Muslim League, for their part, engaged in short-sighted negotiating strategies, designed more with an eye to making immediate gains in the process of negotiation with little attention to the viability of its outcomes. In asserting their “two-nation theory” they overlooked the many Islams of India – Punjabi or Bengali, Kashmiri or Mapillah. They were also mistaken in believing that “Hindus and Muslims constitute exclusive, autonomous entities, with no common points of contact or association, and that religious loyalty takes precedence over…tangible inter-social connections, cross-cultural exchanges and shared material interests”.[27] Moreover, there were many different configurations of economic and political power between Hindu and Muslim groups. These naturally became more contested in the course of retarded development or underdevelopment which colonialism facilitated. National Hindu and Muslim identities were forged precisely by agglomerating these otherwise disparate ambitions and grievances along religious lines.

Partition was also an exclusively elite driven process, the result of negotiations between a retreating colonial government, and the leaderships of the Congress and the Muslim League, essentially, differing combinations of landlord and capitalist power which the retarded development of capitalism on the colonised subcontinent had managed to produce. No popular mandate legitimised partition and the successor states of British India. “[N]ever before in south Asian history have so few divided so many, so needlessly”, as Mushirul Hasan memorably put it. However, rather than becoming a point of political and constitutional critique, this fact has licensed the celebration of a never fully specified assumption of the immunity of the sub-continent’s masses, if not its elites, to the incubus of communalism. This assumption has been unravelling for the better part of three decades now. Communal riots re-emerged as part of the political landscape of India in the late 1960s. They have mounted in intensity, particularly in tandem with the rise of Hindutva.

The colonial notion of an endemic conflict between Hindus and Muslims was as wrong as it was instrumental. However, the notion of a ‘syncretic culture’ so beloved of south Asian secularists was also only partial. South Asians share languages, cuisines, high cultures of poetry, music, painting and architecture, and what not across religious boundaries. One feels deeply the senselessness of the partition in the company of south Asians of the other country, a scene re-enacted countless times every day. There is also a long history of inter-communal conviviality, with its often elaborate morals and manners. But these worked as much to smooth these interactions as to build, tend and mend the clear identities of and boundaries between the communities.

There existed a more authentically non-communal popular culture in which groups found it hard to identify themselves clearly as either Hindu or Muslim. But what is often forgotten is that it was not a ‘syncretic’, ‘composite’ or ecumenical culture, but a pre-communal, even pre-religious one. Social historians are well aware of the phenomenon that religious identity tends to become more important, particularly materially so, only with a certain elevation above the labouring classes. Indeed, most religions in their purest form tend to have rules and strictures which rural workers find hard to abide by. Nationalists of every stripe in British India acknowledged that communal identities and conflicts were a matter of and for the elites – whether it was the irreligious Jinnah, mobilising his Muslim constituency, or Nehru, blaming communal disturbances on the cynical competition of local elites. This dynamic is integral to capitalist development in the subcontinent. As groups within both religious communities have enriched themselves, the space for and imperatives of communal mobilisation have increased correspondingly.

Contrary to the official versions of history, recent historical research traces the root cause of partition in the inability or refusal of the predominantly high-caste Hindu Congress leadership to consider the decentralisation of power in the new Indian state to be a price worth paying for unity. If the Congress leadership was able, at the time, to look more secular than Jinnah and the Muslim League, it was

because its opposition to decentralisation was directed as much to keeping middle-caste Hindu regional leaderships of the Hindu majority areas subordinated, in their place within the Congress ‘system’, as it was against granting legitimacy to the claims of the Muslim League about the condition and fate of south Asia’s Muslims in a centralised and united India.

Eventually, partition was negotiated with astonishing haste, it being unclear up to, and beyond, the formal announcement and execution of partition, what the territorial shape of the two new states would be. The two formally equal states were actually vastly asymmetrical in their resources and power. Pakistan ended up with an unwieldy, and, in comparison to the stance of the Muslim League, an inadequate territory, a weak economy with little industry, and a truncated administration and army. India, on the other hand, emerged more secure, territorially vast, economically sound, administratively stable, also inheriting the international personality of British India. [28] This contrast is conveniently ignored in India.

But perhaps this result was not entirely unforeseen by the Congress leadership. Nehru, e g, and other Congress leaders seemed to consider partition both inevitable and temporary. In his deeply respectful and sympathetic biography of Nehru, the late S Gopal records:

Jawaharlal (Nehru) and Patel had come to the conclusion that there was no alternative to at least temporary partition. Various psychological tensions seemed to them to have developed among the Indian people, and especially among the Muslims, and these could not be resolved by reason or dealt with by force. To insist on the maintenance of the Indian union could only mean continuing trouble…So Jawaharlal and the Congress, while rejecting the two-nation theory, agreed to the separation of those parts of the country which wished to break away. Indeed, that might make it easier for reason and the compulsion of logic to ultimately prevail. There were some subjects like defence which, even after partition, would not of choice but of necessity have to be looked after in common and this might lead gradually back to a reintegration of India. “I have no doubt whatever that sooner or later India will have to function as a unified country. Perhaps the best way to reach that stage is to go through some kind of partition now”.[29]

In a summary treatment of Indian decolonisation, R F Holland articulates this point with admirable clarity, if with much less sympathy and respect for the aims and motives of the Congress leadership:

…. the Congress evaluation of the Cabinet Mission Plan was not based on glib enthusiasm about the principle of a Centre a la Cripps, but on whether the powers attributed to it would be sufficient to crush Jinnah and his quasi-Pakistan before it got into its stride. In this sense the Plan fell short of Congress needs on two crucial fronts: control of the army and taxation. Indeed, for the Congress, a weak Centre which did not have clear authority in the military and fiscal fields was worse than no Centre at all, since a real Pakistan, left to its meagre and disorganised resources, might quickly break-up altogether, and leave Congress to impose its will at last. …Thus for Nehru, partition was not a “final’ defeat at all, but yet another gambit, albeit one imposed by events, in a game which would not end simply because the green crescent flag flew over government build- ings in Karachi. It was only a decade after 1947, when the Pakistani state, for all its internal problems, showed its ability to survive as a state, that the definitive character of partition became painfully obvious to its larger southern neighbour.[30]

Indeed, Pakistan’s formative weakness began to evince a rather different dynamic than Nehru and the Congress had expected, and within months of partition and independence, India and Pakistan experienced their first war, over Kashmir, which has remained a central bone of contention between the two states ever since, and which lies at the root of the present armed standoff.

Dispute over Kashmir

Kashmir is more than a territorial dispute its roots run deep down to the very foundations and constitutive ideologies of India as well as Pakistan. As the Muslim majority successor state of British India, Pakistan claimed it in accordance with one principle of the partition, i e, the religion of the majority of the population. India claimed Kashmir as a princely state over which British paramountcy had lapsed and whose Maharaja had been ‘persuaded’ to abandon his delusions of independence to join the Indian union in 1948. Thus, India’ s claims to it followed another principle of the same untidy and, in the case of Kashmir, fatefully contradictory, scheme for the division of territory – since the ruler’s choice was the basis upon which hundreds of princely states were integrated into the successor states.

Two months after partition, taking advantage of a tribal rebellion in Pooch, Pakistan sponsored an invasion of Pathan ‘irregulars’ and Army personnel who were supported by a majority of Muslim troops of the Jammu and Kashmir state forces stationed there.[31] Indian forces dispatched after Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession managed to stay the invaders, and a ceasefire was declared. Pakistan remained in possession of Azad Kashmir, Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan. Pakistan’s claims to Kashmir were central to its founding ideology as a state for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Vulnerable even in 1947, with a third of British India’ s Muslims remaining in India; the 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan made this argument even more threadbare. But it enjoyed a vitality that only the last remaining shred of a raison d’état can in a state as riven by regional tensions, and as plagued by the inability of any political force to acquire a genuinely popular base, as Pakistan. India’ s claims on Kashmir are central to its self image as a ‘secular’ nation, with a substantial Muslim minority nation-wide enjoying religious freedoms and claiming to democratically govern a Muslim-majority state.

India lost a significant part of eastern Jammu and Kashmir state to China in the 1962 border war and in 1963, Pakistan conceded part of north-western Kashmir to China as part of a mutual defence understanding. This occupation of sparsely populated territory was not, however, as decisive in the creation of the present Kashmir conundrum as was Indian state policy. The centrality of Kashmir to India’s secularism has been inversely proportional to the health of democracy there: “The singular political tragedy of Kashmir’s politics was the failure of local and national political leaderships to permit the development of an honest political opposition”.[32] The National Conference was the political force which India sponsored in Jammu and Kashmir. Originally a party of opposition to Maharaja Hari Singh, it advocated and implemented progressive policies such as land reform and widespread of education. However, it monopolised politics in Kashmir, accusing potential opposition of Islamism in order to marginalise it with the agreement of the central government. State repression and frustrated aspirations were beginning to fuel the independence movement and the turning point came in the 1987 elections so widely seen as being rigged and they became the main impetus for the rise of a movement for Kashmiri independence from India. From this point on, the suffering of the inhabitants of the valley began to rise steeply. The Indian state’s intensified repression was justified by the untenable theory that all militancy was Pakistan-sponsored. While Pakistan did support parts of the insurgency throughout the 1990s and beyond, ironically undermining significantly the legitimacy of the movement for independence.

Indo-Pakistan Relations, 1947-1998

The present impasse between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is not only a result of specifically Hindu nationalist policies. While they were behind Pokhran and Kargil and seem to be engaged in mortgaging the security of the country for electoral gain today; even as the BJP-led government’s own adventurism has increased the temperature of the Indo-Pakistan relationship significantly, a longer historical view of the relations between the two states in general and over Kashmir is necessary.

The earliest years of Indian independence reveal the ambitions of India’ s foreign policy. Nehru’s advocacy of Afro-Asian unity and non-alignment were the form in which independent India’ s leaders gave their conviction that India’s destiny was among the great nations of the world. These ambitions were generally pursued diplomatically and politically, military expenditure being kept down for developmental priorities. But there were political ambiguities in India’ s stance: high-principled rhetoric always sat uncomfortably with the mundane tasks of fostering dependent capitalist development.

The Indo-China war of 1962, in which India was humiliatingly defeated, marked the apogee and end of this phase of foreign policy – India now adopted more openly ‘realist’ stances abroad and abandoned the small substance of its ‘socialistic’ pattern at home. Military expenditure increased and India became one of the countries of the world spending the highest proportions of the budget on the military. It won three wars with Pakistan – 1965, 1971 and 1998.

India’s economic growth was slow but sure: steady, albeit dependent, capitalist development in India expanded the capitalist class enormously, created a huge consuming class and, with the deft management of progressive ‘liberalisation’ dating back to the 1960s, its political leadership ensured its overall (albeit, intensely competitive) cohesion – across regions, ethnicities and sectors (though not, across castes and crucially, across religious communities [33] ). The chief reflection of this on foreign policy was, on the one hand to increase India’s economic links with metropolitan capital and, on the other, to project Indian capital on the regional and third world stage as a sub- imperialist power, economically, politically and militarily. Particularly since the fall of the USSR India has become increasingly eager for closer relations, economically and militarily, with the US while doing what it can to maintain and increase its bargaining power in that relationship. This overall reorientation of India’s foreign policy reflects a cross-party consensus, while styles may differ according to political and personal temperaments. [34]

India’s dominance in south Asia rests on an alignment between its concept of ‘domestic’ or ‘internal’ security (which has, as one of its cardinal components, implacable opposition to popular movements that seek in any fundamental way to alter the class base of political power of the post-colonial state) and of ‘regional’ security in line with the concept of ‘global’ security acceptable to the imperialist powers (under the leadership of the US). Shedding its craving for ‘autonomy’ in international relations, it has worked to qualify itself as a suitable regional ‘gendarme’ to which the long-term global interests of the US and its metropolitan allies in the area, and the economic interests of the national and international bourgeoisie, can be safely entrusted.

Pakistan, meanwhile, showed no immediate signs of disintegrating. But its formative imbalances had two crucial consequences. The uncomfortable demographic fact of a Bengali majority made democracy unpalatable to the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan state, laying the basis for the predominance of the military in the Pakistan state, while the need to counter India led the Pakistan military and civilian leadership early into the arms of the US even though the motivations of the two parties were at considerable variance with one another.

By early 1951 American policy-makers had made up their minds that the Persian-Iraq sector could not be defended without help from Pakistan…The early managers of the Pakistani state were prepared to deal with the Americans even though their motives in forging a special relationship with the US had more to do with a desire to acquire a better military balance in relation to India than from fears of communist in- roads into the Islamic heartlands of the east Asia. [35]

The US, though preferring India as an ally, found itself compelled to rely on Pakistan in its anti-communist ventures in the region but always forbore any interference in Pakistan’ s south Asian concerns. By the early 1950s, a US regional strategy with Pakistan as its lynchpin was in place.

There followed a series of treaties and military arrangements to put the new military strategy into effect. It was based on Pakistan undertaking to provide a mercenary army to assist the US and its allies in the region…The US would provide military aid to equip Pakistani forces for the purpose, but exclusively for the per- formance of that role on US behalf …Pakistan’s ruling junta tried to justify the alliance before the Pakistani people on the ground that it was to provide protection for Pakistan against India. That was a blatant lie…The US, anxious to ally Indian sus- picions and concerns, declared from the outset and from the highest levels, publicly and formally, that Pakistan would never be allowed to use the military aid and material against India.[36]

After the 1962 Indo-China war, India became a recipient of US military aid as part of the US’s east Asian strategy. The Pakistan military, meanwhile, finding itself cut adrift by the US given its own internal troubles and instability (the Ayub coup in October 1958) now feared India’s increasing military might and made “a desperate bid in 1965 for wresting Kashmir from Indian hands by military force before it was too late”.[37] Pakistan lost the war, faced a suspension of US military supplies and aid, and sought an alliance with China while attempting to keep US goodwill. “In 1969, under Yahya Khan, it played an intermediary role in the negotiations which led to the resumption of [the] US diplomatic relationship with China”.[38] And in the 1970s it began to create and strengthen military and economic ties with west Asian countries. The westward turn fed Islamic ideology in Pakistan and, the Iranian revolution and the Soviet entry into Afghanistan, led to its renewed centrality in US policy in west and central Asia, and the resumption of US military aid. The stake was central Asian oil and pipelines and, with Iran as a route closed off, a pro- US and stable government in Afghanistan became the goal. It was the instability of the Hekmatiyar regime, which prompted the US and Pakistan to back the Taliban, but their unpredictability in turn made US and Pakistan policy towards them uncertain since 1994.

By all accounts, Pakistan was caught in a potentially self-destructive vice by the mid-1990s. The alternation of largely rudderless, politically rootless and corrupt democratic governments, the loose canon of the Taliban in Afghanistan, their ideological impact on Pakistan society and politics and the diplomatic costs of supporting such an oppressive regime were all a consequence of the Pakistan’s renewed role in US strategy in the region.

The Present Situation

Since 1998 a very particular Indian strategy of engagement with Pakistan has emerged. It involves a surface rhetoric and practice of a diplomacy of talks and summits with Pakistan. Its underlying purpose is to make the most political capital of India’s liberal democratic set-up, in contrast to Pakistan’s hapless tendency to military dictatorship, and more ominously, have it reviled as a ‘rogue state’ by the ‘international community’ , in practice, the US. Since September 11 the strategy enjoys the added option of having it dismissed, instead, as a ‘failed’ one. Call it arrogance or hubris of virtue, if you will. Since the BJP first formed a government in 1998 there has been a spate of visits, talks and summitry, from the prime minister’s bus trip to Lahore to the recent failed Agra Summit. Each with less planning for peace than before; India’ s engagement in these has concentrated on precisely the ‘optics’ , an enterprise of which the press in India appears to be an active, if not equal, partner. Needless to say, the globally dominant discourse which demonises the Islamic world has been employed with much success by the Indian government and media in these ‘optical’ ventures. It is clear both from the tone of statements from Indian government sources and the established media (not to mention the numerous platforms, local and national, organised by or connected with the Sangh parivar), and from the new diplomatic closeness which India has sought with Israel recently, turning back on the leading role which India used to play in supporting the Palestinian cause internationally, that the present Indian government sees India, and would like others to see her, as positioned between Pakistan and the US in much the same way as Israel is between the Palestinian Authority and the US. Analogously, the target is the legitimacy and possibly the very existence of Pakistan state authority.

Already before September 11, the BJP- led Indian government had sought to redefine the Kashmir problem from a territorial dispute into a ‘terrorism problem’, involving a ‘rogue state’. As the Agra Summit approached, the overall political, cultural and ideological atmosphere in the country was charged with anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim sentiment with films of this theme and import proving box-office hits, while the media, seemed to be engaged in an ominous and superficial celebration of south Asia’s common cultural heritage. To anyone sensitive to the former, the latter could not fail to seem, ominously like laying the ideological groundwork for an ‘Anschluss’.

There was, underlying the summit, no strategy for normalising relations between India and Pakistan or for seeking a peaceful end to the Kashmir problem, a problem whose chief victims are the Kashmiris themselves, and Kashmir’ s justly famed culture of religious coexistence. Inevitably the Agra Summit between Musharraf and Vajpayee failed. (That it could not do otherwise was, if one bore these realities in mind, so obvious that the extent of the media hype surrounding it, and the additional verbiage with which the media helped the government to cloak the failure, never sounded emptier and the fact remained that the president leaving in the dead of night, without a formal farewell after working into the late hours to come up with no more than a mutually face saving statement promising little more than further talks, is a failed summit if there ever was one!).

The present Indian government has no solutions for Kashmir, only increased state repression in the name of counter-terror and the ideological legitimation of this strategy. If, as an added bonus, the multiple pressures on Pakistan state and society – an illegitimate military dictator- ship, and a legitimacy hastily assumed Islamic militancy, economic disorganisation and centripetal regional pressures, not unwittingly compounded by India’ s own diplomatic and military pressures, to name only the most obvious – leave it with no alternative but to open itself up to foreign, and this will mean, necessarily, given the US methods of unstable hegemony, Indo-US economic and political collaboration, there are many in India who would be eager to take up the opportunities and others in Pakistan who will, with various degrees of enthusiasm, offer them. Undoubtedly this will require a substantial diminution of Pakistan state power, before realising any dream of south Asian unity in a nightmare reality. But this, if it ever comes, is a long and probably bloody way off. The only certainty is that along this way lie India and Pakistan’s fates, not their destinies.


[This paper has benefited from criticism and encouragement from Gregory Blue, Colin Leys Achin Vanaik, Jayant Lele and Gregory Elliott. Jayati Ghosh provided key sources just when I needed them. I warmly thank them all while remaining responsible for all the faults that remain.]


1 Malini Parthasarthy’ s interview with president Musharraf (The Hindu, April 1, 2002) reveals a level of clarity in the president’s perception of his country’s situation which is surely a product of the very complexity and intensity of the pressures facing the Pakistan state.

2 Achin Vanaik, ‘India’s Politics of Brink- manship on Kashmir’, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 9, 2002.

3 Loc cit.

4 Mohammad Ayoob, ‘South Asia’s and US Foreign Policy‘, Orbis, Winter 2001, Vol 45, No 1.

5 Gowan, The Global Gamble, Verso, London, 1999, p 17

6 Robert Brenner, ‘The Economics of Global Turbulence’, New Left Review 229, May-June 1998.

7 Alain Lipietz, Towards a New Economic Order, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992.

8 Eric Hellenier, ‘Explaining the Globalisation of Financial Markets’, Review of International Political Economy, 2, 2, Spring 1995.

9 Peter Gowan, op cit, p 21.

10 Ibid, p 24.

11 Alan Freeman, ‘Europe, the UK and the Global Economy’ , paper presented at the Fifth International Conference in Economics organised by the Economic Research Centre (ERC) of the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, September 11-13, 2001, mimeo.

12 Ibid, p 19.

13 Ibid, p 19.

14 Peter Gowan, ‘After America?’ New Left Review January-February 2002, pp 139-40. 15 Ibid, p 136.

15 Ibid, p 136.

16 Freeman, op cit, p 18.

17 Loc cit.

18 Jayati Ghosh. ‘Globalisation and Economic Depression’ mimeo.

19 Peter Gowan, 2002, op cit, p 142.

20 Sebastian Mallaby, ‘The Reluctant Imperialist: Terrorism, Failed States and the Case for American Empire’, Foreign Affairs, March, April 2002, p 6.

21 Georgi Derlungian, ‘Recasting Russia’, New Left Review 12 (n s), November-December 2001.

22 Chief among these scholars would be Mushirul Hasan and A yesha Jalal. Asim Roy’ s pathbreaking essay, ‘The High Politics of India’s Partition’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol 24, No2, 1990, reprinted in M Hasan, India’s Partition: Process, Mobilisation and Strategy, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1993, is also an important landmark.

23 See in particular, Sandra Frietag, Collective Action and Community: Public Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1990; Chris Bayly, ‘The Pre-History of Communalism’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol 19, No 2 2, 1985, 177-203.

24 P C Upadhayaya, ‘The Politics of Indian Secularism’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol 26, October 1992.

25 Mushirul Hasan, ‘Introduction’ in Hasan (ed), op cit, pp 25-26.

26 Ibid, pp 25-26.

27 Ibid, p 33.

28 See Ayesha Jalal, Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992, Chapter 1 for a succinct contrast between the two resulting states.

29 S Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, Vol 1, Jonathan Cape, London, 1975, p 343, quoting Nehru to K P S Menon, April 29, 1947.

30 R F Holland, European Decolonisation, 1918-81, Macmillan London, 1985, p 76-77.

31 Sumit Ganguly, The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, pp 9-10.

32 Ibid, p 38.

33 Mushirul Hasan, Legacy of a Divided Nation: India’ s Muslims since Independence, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1997.

34 T V Satyamurthy, ‘India’s International Role: Economic Dependence and Non-Alingment’ in Satyamurthy (ed), State and Nation in the Context of Social Change, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1994, p 169.

35 Jalal, op cit, pp 37-38.

36 Hamza Alavi, ‘Pakistan-US Military Alliance’, Economic and Political Weekly, June 20 1998, p 1554. 37 Ibid, p 1555.

38 Ibid, p 1556.


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