Sumit Ganguly, professor of Asian studies and government, University of Texas, Austin, and former Wilson Center fellow
James Manor, professorial fellow, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, and Wilson Center fellow
Devin Hagerty, assistant professor of political science, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The Asia Program hosted a luncheon on April 8 to help launch former Wilson Center fellow Sumit Ganguly's new book, Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions since 1947 (Columbia University Press and Woodrow Wilson Center Press). Ganguly's latest book looks at each of the wars and near-wars that have dotted Indo-Pakistani relations since 1947, and attempts to explain why the two states have remained locked in a seemingly endless spiral of hostility and conflict since their creation.

Ganguly argued that the structural features of each country, embodied in their respective nationalist agendas, predisposed them toward conflict. India saw (and sees) itself as a secular, pluralistic nation where minorities (including the 140 million Muslims now living in India) could thrive. Pakistan, on the other hand, was specifically created as a homeland for the Muslims of South Asia. India's insistence that the majority-Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral component of the Indian polity challenges Pakistan's fundamental raison d'etre. For Pakistan, Kashmir remains the unfinished business of Partition.

These competing visions of nationalism are the constants of conflict, Ganguly argued, but do not by themselves explain the outbreak of hostilities at specific points. Ganguly emphasized two catalysts or precipitants of conflict: "windows of opportunity," which led one country or the other to conclude that war served immediate national purposes, and chauvinist myth-making, often reflecting racial stereotypes. For instance, Pakistan's belief, in the face of considerable evidence to the contrary, in Hindu pusillanimity has led Islamabad on several occasions to embark on militarily risky enterprises.

As for the future, now that both India and Pakistan have become nuclear weapons states, Ganguly ridiculed President Clinton's characterization of South Asia as "the most dangerous place in the world." Nuclear weapons reduce the possibility of a full-scale war, Ganguly argued, in what is likely to be a widely debated judgment, since neither side will wish to undertake military actions that could trigger a nuclear response. Ganguly's bottom line on the overall Indo-Pakistani relationship was less sanguine; he saw little likelihood of a political breakthrough or an end to the hostility that has sapped the strength of both nations for more than half a century.

James Manor and Devin Hagerty then offered brief comments on the issues raised by Ganguly. Manor advanced several reasons for at least a bit of optimism in looking at the India - Pakistan relationship, including what he described as a growing recognition in both countries of their common economic interests, and a realization in New Delhi that it can no longer misrule Kashmir as it has for most of the period since 1947. Hagerty countered this attempt at optimism by arguing that Pakistan's internal failures and absence of domestic legitimacy reduce Pakistani incentives to resolve its dispute with India over Kashmir. President Musharraf, he suggested, lacking the legitimacy that arises from democratic elections, is not likely to be a peacemaker.

Robert M. Hathaway
Director, Asia Program
April 9, 2002