Haris B Malik-Difficult Politics of Peace-15 Feb 2023

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Christopher Clary, The Difficult Politics of Peace: Rivalry in Modern South Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022) pp.320.

Reviewed by Haris Bilal Malik

The author of ‘The Difficult Politics of Peace: Rivalry in Modern South Asia’ is Christopher Clary, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and a Non-Resident Fellow of the Stimson Center’s South Asia programme in Washington, D.C. 

In his book under review, Clary explores why rival states in general are likely to engage in war or prefer peace-building and specifically focuses on the India-Pakistan rivalry in detail, which has persisted despite other pressing challenges faced by the two nations. 

His book consists of eight chapters, each providing an in-depth analysis of important events and developments that have marked the rivalry between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 2022. Clary examines the pattern of peace-building and conflict between the two nations, taking into account significant events such as the 1948 War, the 1965 War, the Tashkent Declaration of 1966, the 1971 War, the Kargil conflict, former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in 1999, and late General Pervez Musharraf’s four-stage Kashmir plan, among others.

The author uses the ‘Leader Primacy Theory’ to analyse how leaders shape a state’s foreign policy. Through this perspective, he explains variations in the long-standing Indo-Pakistan rivalry; and how at times, the two nations have come close to peace, only to revert back to conflict (p.100). The author examines the drivers of decision-making in both the countries; and argues that the level of authority a leader holds within the government is a key factor (p.38). Leaders with limited diplomatic power are often unable to develop positive relations with rival states. The author maintains that the resolution of conflict and the promotion of peace depends on the presence or absence of strategic incentives, but these can be rendered useless if peace is not in the interest of a state’s power centres, such as intelligence agencies, political opponents, and military officials (p.30). Even if a leader holds significant authority within their own government, they may still be unable to achieve peace with the rival state if the counterpart leader does not hold the same level of authority. The author highlights that peace depends on the leaders of both states, not just one (p.34). Of late, there have been multiple examples where different Pakistani Prime Ministers have extended peace overtures to India but to no avail.

The book also delves into the reasons behind the fluctuations in the Indo-Pakistan rivalry, exploring the circumstances that led to peace talks or conflict. The author argues that these variations are the result of political choices made by policymakers (p.2) and uses historical perspectives, recently declassified documents, and interviews with policymakers to shed light on the complex and sometimes dangerous domestic politics of both the states. He posits that the domestic politics of a state can often push international strategic interests to the back burner (p.11). 

According to Clary, Pakistan’s civil-military relationship is complex (p.200), with the Army and intelligence agencies exerting significant influence over domestic politics and foreign policy. In India, fractious coalition politics and opposition from veto players within the government, often pressurise or overthrow leaders who attempt to improve relations with Pakistan. This is reflected in recent events where an aggressive policy against Pakistan is seen as useful, by Indian politicians, in ensuring victory in elections. 

After putting down the book, one feels that in many instances, Clary tends to present a very one-sided and narrow perspective, often completely ignoring key historical events. For example, he claims that the Pakistan Army is emboldened by its nuclear capability to engage in proxy violence against India. These claims, however, are not supported by any evidence. On the other hand, he fails to mention the role of India’s intelligence agency, RAW, in inciting militancy in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and its border regions with Afghanistan, where there is ample evidence of an Indian network of operatives in action. Additionally, Clary does not address India’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of its Constitution, nor does he consider India’s airstrikes on Pakistani territory in 2019 or its claims of carrying out a surgical strike in 2016 when examining India’s role in disturbing regional peace and stability. The writer’s analysis of the 1971 War and the aftermath of the Dhaka and Simla agreements is also disappointingly one-sided, ignoring the realities on the ground as well as viewpoints of other scholars who assert that the war was fought to secure the East. For instance, Sarmila Bose’s book, ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War,’ argues that both sides committed atrocities during the conflict, including Bengalis killing West Pakistanis and Biharis who supported a united Pakistan. 

The book’s glaring deficiency lies in its unbalanced analysis, blatantly disregarding the intricate nature of historical events and the multitude of actors involved. This oversight results in a regrettable oversimplification, leaving the reader with a limited and shallow comprehension of the past. 

Clary’s exploration of the ‘Nuclearisation of South Asia’ (p.201) exhibits a myopic viewpoint as well, excessively fixating on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme as a direct response to India’s 1974 nuclear test, which he characterises as ‘peaceful’ (pp.198, 201, 206, 228). However, the author fails to acknowledge the nuanced distinction between a peaceful nuclear explosion and an actual weapon test, and conveniently omits Pakistan’s proactive proposals for a nuclear-free South Asia. These proposals encompass simultaneous application of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, accession to the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), signing a regional Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), and establishing a Zero Missile Regime. By disregarding these pivotal details, the author’s analysis falls short in terms of objectivity and accuracy. 

In conclusion, while Christopher Clary provides insights into the complexities of establishing lasting peace in the subcontinent, the writing is marred by a noticeable bias towards the Indian viewpoint, neglecting the Pakistani perspective. This limitation hinders its value as an unbiased examination of the hostile relationship between the two nations. Therefore, while the book could have been an important contribution to the literature on peace and conflict studies, readers seeking a truly holistic and impartial understanding of the Pakistan-India relationship will find it lacking in that regard.

Haris Bilal Malik is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS) in Islamabad, Pakistan. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@casstt.com 

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