Hostile Relations India's Pakistan Dilemma: Shivshankar Menon Was India's Foreign Secretary until July 31,2009. He Previously Served as India's High Commissions and Diplomat to China and Israel

By Menon, Shivshankar | Harvard International Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Hostile Relations India's Pakistan Dilemma: Shivshankar Menon Was India's Foreign Secretary until July 31,2009. He Previously Served as India's High Commissions and Diplomat to China and Israel


Menon, Shivshankar, Harvard International Review


The neuralgic reactions in both India and Pakistan to the Sharm Al Sheikh joint statement of July 16, 2009 are a measure of the sensitivity and irrationality that dog attempts to rework India-Pakistan relations, and of how fraught these relations are. I will offer an Indian perspective on why this is so.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The usual explanation for the state of affairs between India and Pakistan is the complicated and unique circumstances that attended Pakistan's birth. India-Pakistan relations are certainly sui generis. Unlike other states, Pakistan was born by partition, from India. To this fact is ascribed a host of ills, reflected in myths that prevail in each country. However, not all the problems between India and Pakistan can be attributed to historical events 60 years ago, events not experienced by the vast majority of the population of the two countries. Instead, the decisions and choices made over time by both countries and the resultant changes in India Pakistan, and the world influence their relationship today. As a result, the issues that divide the two countries have assumed a form that would be unrecognizable to the generation that experienced partition.

The reality of India-Pakistan affairs is one of complicated state-to-state relations that obscure deep links, unfinished structural changes, and failed institutions in Pakistan s polity, all within the most nuclear but least integrated neighborhood in the world. We must understand the basis for the troubled relations today, so that we can overcome contentious issues and look to a productive future.

Mythical Barriers

India and Pakistan each has its own wisdom for why the countries' relations are unsatisfactory. To an outside observer, these ideas appear to be self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling myths.

Three myths about India are commonly heard in Pakistan. One might be called the foundation myth, which states that India, inveterately hostile to Pakistan, wants to undo partition and attempts through hegemonic behavior to destroy or reabsorb Pakistan. This argument flies in the face of reality and of India's evident self-interest. No political party or influential person in India wishes to undo partition. Just thinking through the political and demographic consequences of such an attempt proves that it would be against India's self-interest. India has quite enough to do trying to develop herself and to transform her own society without adding a complicated attempt to re-integrate portions of the sub-continent that were separated over 60 years ago. Instead, a stable and moderate Pakistan at peace with itself is in the interest of India and South Asia in general.

The second argument is the national security myth. This says that the asymmetry in size, power, and development between the two countries makes India-Pakistan hostility inevitable. This is a rather strange argument since no two states in the world are evenly matched, much less identical. In fact, it is the differences between them that allow them to work, live, and trade together in a complementary fashion. Nor do much greater asymmetries with Pakistan's other partners like the United States, Western Europe, and China prevent Pakistan from working with them. It is hard for an Indian to see why, despite Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons, India's no-first-use policy, and India's restraint after attacks from Pakistan such as on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai, there might be feelings of insecurity in Pakistan on account of India.

Third, the Jammu and Kashmir issue is sometimes used to explain India-Pakistan hostility. Kashmir is even described as the unfinished business of partition, or as a reflection of a fundamental religious divide between two communities that cannot coexist. This ignores the fact that the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is home to different religions, with Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu majorities in different parts of the state.

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Hostile Relations India's Pakistan Dilemma: Shivshankar Menon Was India's Foreign Secretary until July 31,2009. He Previously Served as India's High Commissions and Diplomat to China and Israel
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