Literary Review

Review of Sumit Ganguly's Deadly Impasse

Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century; Sumit Ganguly, Cambridge University Press, Rs. 395.  

Successive Indian governments and generations of Indian analysts have sought a way to end the country’s impasse with Pakistan. And so far, they have failed. All we have managed to achieve are intervals of peace between periods of heightened tension. In fact, the relationship has become more stressed over the years.

More pertinently, there has also been no consensus in the country on how best to deal with Pakistan. Indeed, New Delhi, precisely due to this lack of political consensus, has in the past tried both diplomacy and coercion with Pakistan: as a matter of fact, most regimes in New Delhi have reached out to Pakistan and then broken off the dialogue process, only to later re-engage with the troublesome neighbour.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, notwithstanding its pre-election rhetoric, did make dramatic diplomatic forays towards Pakistan. However, after some trial and error, the right-wing government seems to have settled on the belief that talks will not succeed with Pakistan. More significantly, there appears to be an emerging consensus in the country across much of the political spectrum that talks alone may not achieve anything. The BJP government’s much-publicised ‘surgical strikes’, in the wake of the Uri terror attack, gained a lot of popular support in the country precisely because of the emergent notion that talking to Pakistan when attacked by its proxies is both defeatist and futile. While this reflects a certain semblance of clarity in the mind of the government on how to deal with Pakistan, New Delhi has traditionally lacked a Pakistan policy — it has, for all practical purposes, opted on an ad hoc and reactive basis. Can India adopt a more consistent Pakistan policy? If so, what should be its foundational beliefs?

Professor Sumit Ganguly’s book offers the broad contours of what could potentially be a grand strategic approach to dealing with the Pakistan problem. The book uses well-regarded theoretical approaches from security studies literature to make sense of the historical trajectory of the India-Pakistan conflict and, more importantly, to answer the crucial question: what ails the relationship? Ganguly is not just another Western academic writing on India, far removed from the empirical realities and political location of South Asia. He is a highly accomplished and widely regarded Indian-American political scientist who has deep knowledge of the region besides having commendable access to its policy circles.

Deadly Impasse is a crisp, short, lucidly written and highly readable book, which uses an impressive amount of first-rate references from history, political science and security studies. This 176-page book focuses on the India-Pakistan bilateral relationship from 1999 to 2009, from the Kargil war to the Mumbai attacks and after.

The key question that the book seeks to answer is this: does the security dilemma or the deterrence model best explain the India-Pakistan relationship? For the benefit of the uninitiated, the deterrence model in security studies jargon ‘assumes that one of the two states involved in an adversarial relationship harbours hostile or malign intentions toward the other and that a war can only be fended off through the adoption of appropriate military strategies that would raise the costs of aggressive behaviour’. The security dilemma model, on the other hand, argues that ‘the relationship stems from the workings of a security dilemma. Accordingly, suitable reassurances on the part of one state should assuage the legitimate security concerns of the other’.

Ganguly argues that it is greed, not a security dilemma nor a desire for security that motivates Pakistan’s policy towards India: ‘Its desire for expansion does not stem from guaranteeing its own security. Instead it can be traced to its commitment to incorporate the state of Jammu and Kashmir... This irredentist claim has remained a constant in Pakistan’s foreign and security policy.’ Pakistan’s ‘greedy’ behaviour, Ganguly argues, is in complete contrast with India’s status quo behaviour as it ‘does not seek to pursue a policy of territorial aggrandizement as far as Pakistan is concerned.’

This is an important insight: when states in a conflict dyad are driven by security considerations, it is possible for them to reach rapprochement by a number of strategies such as signalling benign intent and offering unilateral concessions, among others. However, if at least one state is driven by revisionist motivation, it becomes difficult to reach mutual stability. In the India-Pakistan case then, according to Ganguly, the reason the bilateral dialogues have not led to anything substantive all these years is because Pakistan’s security establishment — read: its army — continues to be averse to a settlement based on status quo for parochial reasons. This line of argument, pessimistic as it may be, has significant policy implications.

In keeping with his analysis of the impasse, which may continue to be intractable for a long time, Ganguly suggests that India adopt a strategy of ‘deterrence by denial’ which would consist of three policies: first, ‘India will have to maintain adequate forces in Kashmir to effectively thwart a Pakistani attack’ without appearing to be ‘threatening to Pakistan’; second, India ‘will also have to sustain its counterinsurgency efforts within Kashmir to ensure that any infiltration across the LoC is suitably contained.’ Along with counterinsurgency efforts, he argues, New Delhi needs to address the political aspects of the Kashmir issue by ending human rights violations, and considering the possibility of ‘granting greater autonomy to the state in an attempt to assuage long-term resentments’; and finally, address the radicalisation process that seems to be on the rise among some sections of the country’s Muslim youth, which could persuade them to respond to the ‘siren call of global jihad.’

Deadly Impasse brilliantly uses theoretical insights to explain the persistent nature of the India-Pakistan conflict to common readers and foreign policy practitioners alike. Ganguly also uses several interviews with senior decision-makers in India to fortify his findings and policy recommendations.

I differ with the author on one key issue. Unlike the author, I believe it is useful and necessary to reach out to the multiple actors inside Pakistan’s political and security establishment, perhaps through back-channel diplomacy.Ganguly acknowledges that the Pakistani state is not a unitary actor. Non-unitary states, I believe, can’t be engaged using traditional diplomacy. That said, Deadly Impasse is a thought-provoking and compelling read.

Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century; Sumit Ganguly, Cambridge University Press, Rs. 395.

Happymon Jacob is Associate Professor, Disarmament Studies, Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, JNU.

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