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Beyond the Security Dilemma

Explaining Indo–Pak Relations

Dhananjay Tripathi ( is at the Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi.

Deadly Impasse: Indo–Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century by Sumit Ganguly, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2016; pp xi+176, 395

History has proved wrong those who believed that partition of British India on religious lines would bring peace in postcolonial South Asia. Immediately after the formal division of territories between India and the newly created state of Pakistan, problems began between the two countries over the issue of Kashmir. These two nuclear powers, despite facing similar socio-economic problems, have failed to learn the art of coexisting peacefully. They have fought wars, blamed each other, and shown little commitment towards good neighbourly relations. The latest book by Sumit Ganguly, an established authority on India–Pakistan relations, delves into the complexities of the deep-seated, long-standing rivalry between the two nations. It is a blend of theory and empirics, without being a heavy read for the reader with little knowledge of international relations.

Intractable Rivalry

Scholars have academically engaged with the issue of rivalry between India and Pakistan and have their own theoretical perspectives, explaining the complex dynamics between the two countries. Interestingly, most of the scholars generally paint a pessimistic picture when it comes to a discussion on the prospects of peace between the two neighbours. T V Paul terms the relations between the two as “enduring rivalry” and an “asymmetrical conflict”. He explains that the peculiar power asymmetry that prevails between India and Pakistan makes it difficult to end the intractable rivalry between them. Though Pakistan in comparative terms is weaker, it has succeeded in somewhat balancing the power asymmetry with India by deploying various strategies, forming alliances, and developing nuclear weapons. This “peculiar asymmetry” makes the India–Pakistan conflict “deadly and prolonged” (Paul 2005: 5–6). For S P Cohen, this conflict is an example of “paired minority conflicts.”

Such conflicts are rooted in perceptions held by important groups on both sides—even those that are not a numerical minority, and which may even be a majority—that they are the threatened, weaker party, under attack from the other side. (Cohen 2003: 31)

Security Dilemma and Deterrence Model

In the book under review, Ganguly, while supporting the thesis of a complex relationship, puts forward the view that peace between these two warring neighbours in the near future is not a distant hope. Looking into the minute details of India–Pakistan relations between 1999 and 2009, Ganguly says that the concept of “security dilemma (spiral model)” is of little help in untangling the complexities of India–Pakistan relations, and favours the adoption of the deterrence model.

The concepts of security dilemma and deterrence model are used by international relations theorists to understand the behaviour of a state in relation to other states. The security dilemma arises when one state increases its strategic power, ultimately leading to security anxiety in another state, which also starts working in a similar fashion. The deterrence model implies that a state should develop critical security superiority over its adversary in order to raise the cost of aggression for the other, perhaps leading to the attainment of peace. Ganguly defines Pakistan as a “revisionist state” and India as a “status-quo power.” These basic theoretical outlines are drawn in the first chapter and corroborated by informed analysis.

Looking into the history of the Kashmir problem, Ganguly argues in this book that India and Pakistan have “antagonistic national visions.” India, after three years of independence, opted for a written and secular constitution. “Pakistan, on the other hand, failed to draft a constitution until nine years after its independence” (p 14). Even the political orientation of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah were quite different—the former preferred democracy while the latter was the “unelected Governor-General.”

Pakistan considers Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of partition and is unwilling to relinquish its claim. Thus, it is a “revisionist state” and “remains unalterably committed to changing the territorial status quo regardless of Indian behavior” (p 13). Pakistan attacked India with an objective of annexing Kashmir immediately after partition (1947–48) and again in 1965. It failed to achieve its set goals in both these wars. There was a third war between India and Pakistan in 1971, but this time it was for the liberation of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In the 1971 war, Pakistan had not only faced defeat, but also lost a substantial part of its territory. In this regard, the 1971 war was a major setback for the Pakistani state.

According to Ganguly, from 1971 to 1989, there was peace between India and Pakistan. This period of calmness (1971–89) can be rationalised by citing the deterrence model, where after a formidable defeat Pakistan hesitated to challenge India, although it did not abandon its claim on Kashmir. It was only after the beginning of “indigenous insurgency” (1989) in Kashmir that Pakistan was given an opportunity “to exploit India’s self-inflicted wound” (p 21). Ganguly also refers to the coercive tactics used by India to integrate Hyderabad and Goa with the country, but does not view it as an act of a revisionist state. In the case of Goa, “India’s actions were quite consistent with the needs of a postcolonial state that had to end the enclaves of colonial power on its territory” (p 25). Likewise, in the case of Hyderabad, the unpopularity of the Nizam was the reason for India to act. The integration of Sikkim (1975) with the rest of the country is also explained in Chapter 1.

Kargil and After

The second chapter entitled “Kargil and After” establishes that the concept of security dilemma is appropriate to explain India–Pakistan relations. Former Indian Prime Minister A B Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship towards Pakistan. The bus diplomacy of Vajpayee (1999) was appreciated and was followed by the “highly successful summit in Lahore.” Vajpayee “publicly reiterated India’s commitment to Pakistan’s integrity at the Minar-e-Pakistan” (p 32). Interlocutors were also appointed from both sides—Niaz Naik from Pakistan and R K Mishra from India. “Naik and Mishra apparently met from April 27 to May 1 [1999] in New Delhi” (p 33). Unfortunately, these peace-building efforts were followed by a Pakistani incursion into the Kargil sector along the Line of Control (LoC) in May 1999. A unit from the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) of the Pakistan army was involved in this incursion and “[T]hey initially occupied as many as 130 posts in the Indian-controlled Kashmir” (p 37).

The Kargil conflict was a major setback to the peace mission of Vajpayee, but he did not abandon the idea and invited “General Musharraf to Agra in May 2001.” However, this initiative failed to produce any concrete results. Even after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States (US), Pakistan was reluctant to control the anti-India terrorist organisations. The suicide attack on the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly on 1 October 2001 and later an attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001 by Pakistan-based terrorist organisations exposed Pakistan’s rhetorical pretension of improving ties with India. From the bus diplomacy to the Agra Summit, every friendly initiative of the Indian side encountered a hostile response from Pakistan. These friendly gestures of a state and hostile reactions of the other state cannot simply be justified by the concept of security dilemma.

The third chapter is on Kashmir and highlights the shortcomings of New Delhi in sensitively dealing with the internal disturbance in the region. It also discusses the determined effort of Islamabad to make Kashmir an international issue. Chapter 4 focuses on Operation Parakram, which involved the massive mobilisation of Indian Armed Forces near the Pakistani border after the Parliament attack in 2001. Chapter 5 is certainly an important one, covering various phases of composite dialogue between India and Pakistan during the Vajpayee and Manmonhan Singh regimes. This chapter also explains the initial reaction of the Indian establishment after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks and how the Sharm El Sheikh joint communiqué issued by India and Pakistan in 2009 became a political controversy.

The Afghanistan Complication

Chapter 6 is interesting as it discusses the case of Afghanistan, which cannot be overlooked in a strategic analysis of India–Pakistan relations. Many scholars have reasoned that Afghanistan is an arena of strategic competition between India and Pakistan (Dalrymple 2013). According to Ganguly, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 changed the geopolitical dynamics of South Asia. Pakistan acquired strategic relevance for the US, and the Cold War finally entered South Asia. Pakistan seized this opportunity and started supporting terrorist activities in India. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Afghanistan became the central arena of the war against terrorism. Consequently, Taliban was chased out of Kabul and a new regime took over.

In the post-Taliban phase, India has been involved in diverse development projects in Afghanistan. But, Pakistan is perturbed by India’s role and blames it for using Afghanistan as a base to encircle it. India, on the other hand, accuses Pakistan of abetting terrorist attacks on its embassy and consulates in Afghanistan. In short, Afghanistan further complicates matters between India and Pakistan.

Favouring the Deterrence Model

In the seventh chapter, Ganguly rejects the security dilemma concept for studying India–Pakistan relations and favours the deterrence model. He suggests that the “best strategy for India in the foreseeable future may well be to adopt a policy of deterrence by denial” (p 123). This policy necessitates three distinct efforts. The first is to maintain a sufficient force in Kashmir to avert any attack from Pakistan, and intelligence collection is also an important part of this effort. The second is to “sustain its counterinsurgency efforts” and quell infiltration bids at the LoC. This also entails a sensitive dealing of political problems in Kashmir to “countenance the possibility of granting greater autonomy to the state” (p 123). The third is, again, a political effort that is required on the part of New Delhi. Ganguly strongly suggests a proactive development approach towards the Muslim community. He is critical of the Gujarat riots and says that an “event such as the pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 may have contributed to their radicalisation” (p 124).

In short, “deterrence by denial” is the policy recommendation of Ganguly for maintaining long-term peace between India and Pakistan. There is also a caution that India should avoid provocative strategies in regard to Pakistan. “[T]o implement a strategy of deterrence through denial it will also need to rein in certain defense programmes that can prove to be quite destabilising and can provoke legitimate Pakistani concerns” (pp 124–25). Lastly, Ganguly in the epilogue covers the Modi–Nawaz period and has an important suggestion to offer:

Under the circumstances the only viable policy alternative for the foreseeable future is to eschew the adoption of provocative military doctrines and strategies that are destabilising, to rein in technologies that can help foster arms racing and adhere to whatever confidence-building regimes that do exist. (p 133)

To sum up, the book is certainly a good read, gives relevant insight into India–Pakistan relations, and also provides food for thought in contemporary times, where hyper-nationalism often informs debate on this subject. On a critical note, the book is too focused on strategic affairs and it provides no scope for discussion on any other subjects that are also equally relevant in the case of India–Pakistan relations. Topics like prospects of economic cooperation, regional coordination, and people-to-people relations are not given enough space in this book.


Cohen, S P (2003): “India, Pakistan and Kashmir,” India as an Emerging Power, S Ganguly (ed), London: Frank Cass Publishers, pp 30–57.

Dalrymple, W (2013): “A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India,” The Brookings Essay, viewed on 1 December 2016, 2013/deadly-triangle-afghanistan-pakistan-india-c.html.

Paul, T V (2005): “Causes of the India–Pakistan Enduring Rivalry,” The India–Pakistan Conflict an Enduring Rivalry, T V Paul (ed), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 3–26.

Updated On : 13th Sep, 2017


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