Review Essay: ‘Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century’, Dr Sumit Ganguly

The terrorist attack at an army camp in Uri in mid-September 2016 was followed by several surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) by the Special Forces of the Indian Army. Since then, India-Pakistan relations have deteriorated steadily and plumbed new depths.

The informal cease-fire on the LoC has been shattered by the deafening roar of artillery exchanges. Several diplomats have been expelled by both sides, the Pakistanis on being caught spying, and Indians expelled in response. The SAARC summit that was to be held in January 2017 has been cancelled. And, the “comprehensive bilateral dialogue” process lies in tatters.
What is it in the DNA of Pakistan that the deep state within it – the Army and the ISI – continues to wage a proxy war through jihadi terrorists despite grave internal challenges? Why does it attempt to bleed India through a thousand cuts and does not permit the elected civilian government to engage India? Or, is a single, integrated and cohesive policy being followed by all the organs of the state, perhaps at the behest of a third party? And, what will it take for the estrangement to end?

It is indeed difficult to find rational justification for Pakistan’s seemingly contradictory policies towards India. A new book by a well-known South Asia scholar seeks to provide some answers. Dr Sumit Ganguly’s Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century (Cambridge University Press, 2016) is an incisive account of the state of the relationship between India and Pakistan.

Ganguly delves into the origin of the India-Pakistan rivalry, traces the course of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, analyses the causes and the repercussions of the Kargil conflict of 1999 Operation Parakram, the military stand-off that followed after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. He also looks at the extension of the India-Pakistan rivalry into Afghanistan, takes stock of the state of the composite dialogue process and analyses the policy implications of the continuing estrangement on the future of the relationship.

He offers comments on the theoretical underpinnings that define the relationship. He examines the deterrence and the spiral models – “propositions derived from the literature on strategic studies.” The former professes that “war can only be fended off through the adoption of appropriate military strategies.” The latter states that the vitiated relationship is “rooted in a security dilemma” that causes anxiety in a weak Pakistan when it seeks to achieve parity with a strong India.

Ganguly concludes that Pakistan is an expansionist state whose desire to capture new territory goes beyond its need to enhance its security. This is borne out by Pakistan’s claims to the entire state of J&K, which it still calls the “unfinished agenda of the Partition” of 1947, despite its break-up and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. Its quest to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan and its craving to exercise tight control over the affairs of its land-locked neighbour also shows an expansionist mind-set.

The author examines four major factors that define the India-Pakistan relationship. Firstly, India and Pakistan, he writes, have “significantly divergent conceptions of regional security”. Secondly, Pakistani meddling in Punjab in the 1980s and J&K,where it is still continuing, has led India to believe that Pakistan will remain an adversary to contend with.

Thirdly, Pakistan’s use of “asymmetric capabilities” under the shadow of its nuclear shield and with Chinese backing has created a security dilemma for India in that an Indian military response could escalate to nuclear exchanges. Fourthly, Pakistan is skilfully exploiting this dilemma to its advantage by seeking international intervention ostensibly to restrain India from trumped up narrative of human rights violation, and force it to come to the negotiating table– to negotiate their motivated agenda.

Ganguly concludes that Pakistan is unlikely to abandon its “fundamental goal of wresting Kashmir from India” and that “the best strategy for India in the foreseeable future may well be to adopt a policy of deterrence by denial.” Towards this end he recommends maintaining adequate forces in Kashmir for counter-infiltration and counter-insurgency.

He is also of the view that a political solution must be found to resolve the Kashmir problem, including the granting of greater autonomy to the state. He warns of a backlash by Muslim youth many of whom he says are getting increasingly radicalised, not the least because of the influence of the Islamic State.

He advises caution against adopting “provocative strategies” and is particularly concerned that India has opted to establish a ballistic missile defence (BMD) system. He feels that Pakistan will view the BMD system, when deployed, as an attempt to achieve first strike capability and to seek escalation dominance-- though actually, India having subscribed to ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons, this system would answer to Pakistan’s threat of first use.

Ganguly recommends that India pursues a regional arms control regime with Pakistan but agrees that since India faces a military threat from China, such an agreement would be problematic. It is difficult to quarrel with the author’s policy prescriptions as these are rooted in sound logic.

However, Pakistan crossed a red-line at Uri in September 2016, to which India responded with multiple trans-LoC surgical strikes. Since then the mood in the country has changed. While India will continue to exercise strategic restraint, the country is no longer interested in pursuing deterrence by denial.

Instead, deterrence by punishment is now the name of the game. India must raise the cost for Pakistan for waging a proxy war by inflicting punishment on the Pakistan Army and its organs. The measures adopted must be made progressively tougher till the cost becomes prohibitive. This step can not just be a theoretical rhetoric, as every academic seems to parrot, but substantial and effective.

Overall, Sumit Ganguly’s account of the state of the India-Pakistan relationship is a fair academic analysis. It is a book that policy makers, armed forces officers,members of the strategic community, academics and scholars must read.

(The writer is Visiting Fellow, VIF, and Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi).