India-Pakistan Relations, since their inception in 1947, have been fraught with a complex “enduring rivalry”—like characteristic, with multiple issue areas such as Kashmir, the Indus Waters Dispute, nuclear weapons, and more recently, state-sponsored terrorism.
While several books have been written over the years addressing parts of—or the whole—issue of the complex rivalry between India and Pakistan, there are not many books as nuanced and intricate as T.C.A. Raghavan’s The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan, published in 2018.
The book seeks to tell the story of India-Pakistan relations in its deeply wrought context and is more objective in its approach. Raghavan not only tells India’s side of the story but also compellingly tells you Pakistan’s side of the same story.
Raghavan’s work, containing eight chapters, is written chronologically in the sense of a story of an individual as they grow from childhood through to adolescence and reach the complexity of adulthood.
Each chapter discusses how relationships moved through the years, gained complexity, and allayed a certain hope for better relations, which were subsequently quashed through another layer of complexity, and so on… India-Pakistan relations can be described as a cyclical paranoia of hope and disdain moving through the ages.
Kashmir as a thorn in India-Pakistan Relations
As would any diplomatic historian tells us, India’s relationship with Pakistan begins with the imprints of a bloody partition that not only led to tens of thousands of people killed, women abducted and raped but also left deep scars between communities (Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs) and thereby, set stage for the roller-coaster of a relationship of India and Pakistan.
These deep scars would be visited and revisited as one moves through the history of their relationship. Soon after the Indian independence and the creation of Pakistan, the princely state of Kashmir became the focus of the relationship in 1948.
As a consequence of the state-sponsored tribal attacks on Kashmir in 1948, the Maharaja of the Muslim-majority state of Kashmir signed the “instrument of accession” to be with India.
Kashmir Issue in the United Nations
Very soon, the story of Kashmir reached the United Nations, upon India’s insistence—and ever since, India has regretted it. So much so that India’s representative at the UNSC, N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar, would comment: “I will never advise my government to bring any other case to the Security Council. Yes, if you have a bad case, bring it to the council” (quoted in p. 6).
Ever since, Kashmir has been the critical anchor of India-Pakistan relations. While for Pakistan, one could discern that Kashmir is an unfinished business of partition, India claims that Kashmir allows it to retain the secular characteristic of India’s identity.
Raghavan shows us that the Kashmir story has, over the years, shifted from being an international issue to Kashmir being a bilateral issue through the Simla conference in 1972.
A Facade of Working Together?
Apart from that, taking a cue from Pallavi Raghavan’s reading of the Indus Waters Treaty, Partition Council, and other initiatives in the early years of India-Pakistan relations, T.C.A. Raghavan argues that India’s relationship is not a hard case of enmity.
In the chapter “Working Together?”, Raghavan writes: “So, if one concludes that contestation and conflict are the most visible characteristic of India-Pakistan relations from day one, it is not surprising. Nevertheless, there are other oddities to the relationship right from the beginning.”
He further adds: “Both sides tacitly seemed to agree that no matter how important or divisive the issue of the day may be, no single aspect should so dominate relations that everything else became a subject to its satisfactory conclusion” (p. 40).
Unfortunately, as one moves through the India-Pakistan relations post-1990s, the relationship hits a dead-end with increased rhetoric about Kashmir and Terrorism. Today, both Kashmir and Terrorism seem to take centre stage, which unfortunately leaves all other aspects of the relations to a satisfactory resolution of these two issues.
Raghavan asks: “Were intergovernmental efforts through dialogue and discussion succeeding at all?” He adds:
With Kashmir unresolved, frequent cross-border firing incidents across the Punjab and Sindh-Rajasthan border, sustained pressure on minorities in East Pakistan despite the Liaqat-Nehru pact, and an overall adversarial atmosphere to which the print media in both countries contributed with energy, it looked as if the bureaucratic and political class were engaging more and more over less and less. Nevertheless, however suboptimal and despite frequent and massive upsets, a minimum stability was becoming visible (p. 45).
Initial Decade of Relations
The initial efforts at resolving Kashmir failed in the first decade of their relations. Even though Nehru had agreed to a plebiscite in Kashmir in 1954, Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra and Governor General Ghulam Muhammad could not harness political support in Pakistan. Eventually, even Nehru began to doubt the agreement and withdrew the offer. In addition, within 11 years of its formation, Pakistan had already paved the way for seven Prime Ministers and four Governor Generals.
In a speech in Patna, Nehru would refer to Pakistan’s rulers as “Daftaries”—pointing to how civil servants worked as heads of the government (pp. 58-59). Only with General Ayub Khan’s coup in 1958 did Pakistan find some political stability.
Very soon, the Indus Waters Treaty, brokered by the World Bank, which proposed to divide the eastern rivers (Beas, Sutlej and Ravi) for India and the western rivers (Indus, Jhelum and Chenab) for Pakistan, was signed by PM Nehru and General Ayub in September 1960.
1962, and 1965 Wars and the Tashkent Declaration
The defeat in the 1962 war with China leaves several questions unanswered for India-Pakistan relations. For the Pakistanis over the years, how could Ayub miss such a ‘strategic opportunity’ to launch an attack on India when it was demoralised and disheartened? Various interpretations have been played out, and assessments have been made over the years.
But as those close to Nehru have pointed out, “Nehru viewed through the summer of 1962 ‘all questions of India’s armaments in the context of Pakistan rather than China’” (p. 73). This significant focus on the rivalry through Pakistan (primarily influenced by Defence Minister Krishna Menon’s reading of Pakistan and China) neglects and even underplays the Chinese border disagreements with India.
In the readings of parliamentary debates, this neglect of Chinese intentions makes Krishna Menon a political target for Swatantra party’s Dahyabhai Patel’s speeches in Rajya Sabha through the 1960s.
Subsequently, the 1965 war in the Runn of Kutch region further boosted India’s military morale, which had been totally decimated during the 1962 defeat. The Tashkent Agreement, brokered by the Soviet Union, was signed by Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in January 1966.
It had nothing substantial except for territorial gains exchanged and the status quo established. Many in Pakistan treat Tashkent as a sell-out (p. 97). As an anecdote in this book suggests: “The Soviets wore the triumphant look of a midwife emerging from the delivery room to announce ‘It’s a boy’. The Indians looked smug, the Pakistanis grim” (p. 97). Very soon, Tashkent became a dirty word in Pakistan.
1971 Bangladesh War and The Simla Agreement
In the chapter “From One War to Another”, Raghavan discusses the political landscape of Pakistan. The 1970 election in Pakistan, which had led to Awami League’s Mujibur Rahman of East Pakistan a clear mandate, had been snubbed and house arrested, causing a significant upheaval in Indo-Pak relations.
The increased refugee crisis in East Pakistan and the consequent excesses by the Pakistani military on civilians had grown into an Indian problem. After that, Pakistan’s internal problem spiralled into an Indo-Pak war of 1971, leading to the final breakup of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. Raghavan writes:
The creation of Bangladesh posed fundamental questions for Pakistan. The Indian view was that it disproved the two-nation theory. The Muslim Lague was, after all, born in Dacca in 1906. In Pakistan, many felt, or at least consolidated themselves, that a separate Muslim nation, Bangladesh, did not question the validity of the two-nation theory as originally envisaged: Hindus and Muslims were separate nations and Pakistan’s difficulties arose in grouping the eastern and western wings into a single state (p. 111).
Despite these readings, the creation of Bangladesh is still, to this day, a painful subject to discuss in Pakistan. It subsequently led to the tarnished self-image of the Pakistan army, which had treated itself through a warrior image. Today, many in Pakistan accept that it was their denying of power to the Awami League that was the root cause of the 1971 debacle. With the military victory, the story shifted towards the diplomatic field with the Simla conference in 1972.
Simla Declaration and India-Pakistan Relations
Many in India believe that what was won through the military was let down through diplomacy. To them, Pakistan had been let off too easily despite India’s holding over 90,000 Prisoners of War (POWs). Some, like P.N. Dhar, point to a secret understanding between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on gradually converting LOC in Jammu and Kashmir into an international border.
But, this view of a “secret” understanding has been rejected by Pakistan. Despite all the efforts at building peace through Simla, as Rafia Raza, a close associate of Bhutto, notes: “[The] so-called spirit of Simla died soon after the ink was dry on the accord” (quoted in p. 123).
1974 Nuclear Explosions
On 18 May 1974, India exploded what it called a “peaceful nuclear explosion” (PNE), an underground nuclear device. Very soon, Bhutto stated it was a dangerous precedent and would never submit to “nuclear blackmail” (p. 127).
In 1965, he would add: “If India makes an atomic bomb, then we will also do so, even if we have to eat grass” (p. 128). This comment essentially captures how deeply disturbed India-Pakistan relations had reached. The bitter creation of Bangladesh, and now the nuclear explosion, had affirmed Pakistan’s anxieties about India’s intentions of breaking Pakistan further.
In 1978, with a new Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, and a Hindu nationalist, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s foreign minister, there was relatively little expectation for improved India-Pakistan relations. However, despite his political past and intense hostility towards the existence of Pakistan, Vajpayee visited Pakistan—and, as Raghavan notes, it is “still recalled in Pakistan today as being a landmark” (p. 141).
Vajpayee’s visit was important for two reasons: it allowed for the signing of the Salal project and paved the way for using cricket to engage both countries.
Afghanistan and the Cold War Politics
But by 1979, things had changed drastically. Afghanistan had become the centre of conflict in the Cold War politics. Janata Party had lost power, and Indira Gandhi’s Congress was again inching towards power.
The increased U.S. dependence on Pakistan in Afghanistan at the height of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had also caused the surge in hijacking activities and the rise of Sikh insurgency demanding a separate Khalistan in India—both of which were tacitly supported by Pakistan’s intelligence services.
Brigadier Shah Baig Singh, one of the decorated Indian Army officers, being holed up in the Golden Temple meant “that a Bangladesh war hero led the terrorists inside the Golden Temple is seen in Pakistan to this day as India getting a dose of poetic justice” (p. 173).
Troubled Decade in India-Pakistan Relations
The decade of 1990 has been referred to as a “troubled decade” in India-Pakistan relations. It was compounded by four different events: first, the post-Cold War crisis; second, the potential of nuclear confrontation; third, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir; and fourth, the internal political crisis in both countries.
Despite these crises, there were efforts to rebuild relations between India and Pakistan. It allayed the emergence of what came to be known as “Neemrana Dialogue”—a template for discussions with a mix of former policymakers and policy influencers in both countries. Over the years, such talks have gained the description of “Track II” diplomacy, often supported by third-party countries who seek ways to resolve conflicts.
However, as Raghavan notes, such dialogues have not adequately addressed issues. Moreover, they have become another mechanism for people to push state narratives rather than address the issue intuitively.
Composite Dialogue Process
The composite dialogue process, a packaged effort of eight-element dialogue: Jammu and Kashmir, the nuclear issue, terrorism, Sir Creek, Siachen, trade, the Tulbul Navigation Project, and cultural ties and visa-related issues, was given shape in 1997.
Subsequently, in 1998, the acquisition of nuclear weapon status by India and Pakistan propelled nuclear brinkmanship in both countries. However, despite this, in February 1999, Prime Minister Vajpayee made an official visit to Lahore.
In the newly started Delhi to Lahore bus service, Vajpayee and several celebrities in India took a Pakistan tour and signed an agreement to resolve all issues through a composite dialogue process.
Soon after, in May 1999, several infiltrators (sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence services) crossed the Line of Control from Pakistan. However, the failure to make progress in Kashmir and failure to gain a comprehensive victory over India further felt like a political and military betrayal for Pakistanis (p. 234). Either way, the infiltration in Kargil and the subsequent terror attacks in India further changed the narratives around how the India-Pakistan relationship was viewed for very long.
Terrorism and the Confidence Building Measures
For India, a complete decimation of terror links was the way forward for any—or all—discussions in India-Pakistan relations. And for Pakistan, Kashmir was the real backburner. In the early 2000s, the efforts at resolving India-Pakistan relations through confidence-building measures (CBMs) hinged on these two issues.
However, on 26 November 2008, the terrorist attacks on Mumbai had caused the Indo-Pak relations to a point of no return. The book does not dwell deeply into the thaw in the relationship between India-Pakistan relations since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in India in 2014.
What Lies Ahead in India-Pakistan Relations?
Finally, Raghavan tells us, as High Commissioner Natwar Singh once noted: “The future, in India-Pakistan relations, lies in the past” (p. 301). There are essential problems that both propel relationships and simultaneously contain them. Kashmir is one such. In recent years, mechanisms to address terror-related issues have been another such.
Apart from that, there are internal political changes as well as external international environments that often exacerbate relations. Apart from that, as history tells us, both the extent of goodwill and hostility cannot be underestimated. Also, as an addition to Raghavan’s own reading of the conflict, I wish to caveat: the longer the conflicts drag on, the more difficult they get to solve.
Raghavan’s work on India-Pakistan relations is a refreshing historical account. It is refreshing both in its content as well as in its narration. It is thoroughly readable. Apart from all the dense writings on India and Pakistan, Raghavan introduces interesting anecdotes to tell the story of rivalry.
Importantly, it holds you from the first page to the end. The book tells us how diplomacy works and does not work. The People Next Door is a diplomatic account of India’s relations with Pakistan, as much as it is a historical one. This work needs to be thoroughly read, and it is essential for those interested in studying conflicts and everyone interested in India-Pakistan relations.
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