February 25, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Sumit Ganguly

'US is already playing a mediatory role in J&K'
Dr Sumit Ganguly, professor of Asian Studies and Government at the University of Texas, Austin, is an expert on South Asia and has researched extensively on the region. He discusses his latest book, Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tension Since 1947, with Ramananda Sengupta. Excerpts:

What is the basic theme or argument of your new book?

The basic argument of my book is that the Indo-Pakistani conflict has been so intractable because the two states started their independent existence with markedly divergent conceptions of state-construction in South Asia. Pakistan was created as the putative homeland of the Muslims of South Asia while India sought to construct a state on the basis of civic, secular nationalism.

These two competing visions of nationalism clashed over the question of Kashmir. Pakistan's claim to Kashmir was irredentist. India as a secular state felt compelled to hold on to Kashmir to demonstrate its secular credentials. After the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh, Pakistan's claim to Kashmir simply stemmed from the imperatives of statecraft and not the defence of a moral principle. If Islam could not hold Pakistan together, surely it could have no claim on its co-religionists in Kashmir. Similarly, today India wants to hold on to Kashmir less on the grounds of secularism (which, in my view, has taken a serious battering in the last two decades) and more on the grounds of state and territorial preservation.

How long did it take for you to write the book?

The book represents the culmination of over a decade of work on Indo-Pakistani relations, regional security in South Asia and ethnic conflict. It also builds on my previous work, The Origins of War in South Asia.

Is the book aimed at the layman, or people who take a specific interest in the subcontinent?

The book is directed toward South Asia specialists, policy-makers and intelligent lay persons interested in the current affairs of South Asia.

If the book was conceived pre-9/11, did you have to revise many chapters before it was published?

Yes, I added an entire chapter, which discusses the impact of 9/11 on South Asian security.

What sparked off your interest in Kashmir?

My interest in Kashmir stems from a deep-seated fascination about ethnic and political violence in general and in South Asia in particular.

How do you assess the actions taken by General Musharraf against extremists?

It remains to be seen if he will carry through significant social, political and institutional reforms in Pakistan. It is one matter to shut down a set of madrassas, place a large number of individuals in preventive detention and ban two groups who were primarily interested in murder, mayhem and creating havoc in India, but quite another to reform a state which is rotten to the core.

Virtually every institution in Pakistan, thanks to unscrupulous politicians and feckless military dictators, is in a state of decay. Despite the general's putative fondness for Scotch whiskey, Pomeranians and faulty English syntax, I do not know that he has the necessary qualities of head and heart to tackle some of Pakistan's most enduring woes. It may well be in the interest of the United States to sing his hosannas, but it is far from clear to me that General Musharraf can undertake a series of profound reforms to rescue the Pakistani polity from its near-decrepit state.

Do you endorse India's position of 'no talks until concrete results are seen?'

Yes, I do. That said, India, for its own reasons, should move with much greater imagination, dexterity and skill in terms of winning back the hearts and minds of its deeply disaffected Kashmiri Muslim population. Merely harping on "cross-border terrorism" makes India's decision-makers look foolish and disingenuous in the eyes of scholars and serious policy-makers alike.

Do you believe that a third nation or organisation can or should play a mediatory role to resolve this issue?

A third nation is already playing a mediatory role even though Indian decision-makers refuse to use the term "mediation". That third nation is the United States. More to the point, Indian decision-makers routinely appeal to the United States to bring pressure on Pakistan to put an end to cross-border terrorism.

Are Musharraf and Vajpayee too hamstrung by domestic constraints to achieve a breakthrough?

After the horrific events of December 13, 2001 -- a fact that few in the West are prepared to seriously acknowledge -- it has become extremely difficult for Prime Minister Vajpayee to have much wiggle-room on the issue of Indo-Pakistani relations. Musharraf too faces constraints, though not as severe as they are characterised in much of the Western press or in the pronouncements of many American policy-makers. There are a number of individuals in the Pakistani Army for whom Kashmir remains an idée fixe because of the humiliating defeat of their forces in 1971 at the hands of the Indian Army. These individuals have an irrational, unreconstructed hatred of India and they also wield power within Pakistan. Musharraf can ignore them at his own peril.

What kind of a future do you foresee for the region? What will it be like in the next decade?

The future of the region is fascinating. If India can bring a modicum of peace to Kashmir, jump-start its stalled economic liberalisation programme and restrain the acolytes of the pernicious 'Hindutva' ideology, its future will be quite positive. In this context, it is important to underscore that despite General Musharraf's recent conversion to some limited vision of civic nationalism, the social, political, economic and institutional trajectories of India and Pakistan are quite different.

Despite myriad problems, democracy has become socially embedded and politically institutionalised in India. The same can hardly be said for Pakistan. The other states in the region, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, have unique problems of their own, none of which are subject to easy resolution.

Finally, are there any plans for another book? If yes, what will it be on?

Yes, I am seriously considering writing a new book on the strategic consequences of the nuclearisation of South Asia.

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