Asia Program

Events

War in South Asia

May 15, 2002 // 8:30am3:30pm


Sunil Khilnani, Woodrow Wilson Center & Birkbeck College, University of London
Itty Abraham, Social Science Research Council
Charles Kennedy, Wake Forest University
Apurba Kundu, University of Bradford
Feroz Khan, Woodrow Wilson Center
Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha, independent scholar, Islamabad
Jayati Ghosh, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Rammanohar Reddy, The Hindu, Chennai (Madras)
Deepa Ollapally, University of Pennsylvania & U.S. Institute of PeaceSamina Ahmed, International Crisis Group, Islamabad
Arvind Rajagopal, New York University
Ashutosh Varshney, University of Michigan
Dennis Kux, Woodrow Wilson Center



Since the partition of British India in 1947 and the creation of the independent states of India and Pakistan, war and violent conflict – internal and inter-state – have been a persistent feature of the region's history. War, the threat of war, and the requirements (actual and perceived) of defense and of internal security have shaped the nature of state and society throughout the region, and nowhere more so than in Pakistan and India. Indeed, it might be said that war has been the defining fact of life for these two nations over the course of the past half-century.

The Asia Program hosted an all-day conference on May 15 to explore the role that war and the threat of war have played in the domestic development of India and Pakistan, or as conference co-organizer Sunil Khilnani phrased it, "to conduct an audit of war" on the subcontinent. Lending an immediacy to the day's proceedings was a front-page news story on the morning of the conference reporting that the U.S. government believed that Pakistan might have deployed nuclear weapons during the 1999 Indo-Pakistan crisis over Kargil.

Most conference participants accepted the general proposition that fifty-plus years of more or less continual conflict have exerted a profound influence on the political, economic, and cultural development of India and Pakistan since 1947. There was far less agreement, however, regarding the precise nature and consequences of that influence, or why India and Pakistan seem to have responded to the same set of stimuli in dramatically different ways. Political scientist Charles Kennedy was one of the few conference speakers to challenge the idea that war and India-Pakistan rivalry are basic to understanding longterm developments in South Asia.

Journalist Rammanohar Reddy emphasized that even in comparison to other countries in the developing world, social indicators in India and Pakistan measuring health, literacy, life expectancy, and similar indices of human well-being are extraordinarily low, while defense spending has been exceptionally high. India's military budget, Reddy claimed, ranks among the world's dozen largest, while Pakistan, though its military spending is considerably less than India's, is still one of only a half dozen developing countries allotting more than four percent of GDP to defense. The price tag for India's nuclear weapons program, Reddy added, equals the incremental costs of providing universal elementary education to India's children. Members of the audience subsequently wondered whether caste (for India) and an unwillingness to provide education to females (in Pakistan) were not as important as military spending in explaining the failure of India and Pakistan to educate their young.

In looking at the role conflict has played in shaping national identities in the two South Asian rivals, Ashutosh Varshney pointed out that India and Pakistan are not unique in this respect. The United Kingdom, for instance, came to understand the concept of "Britishness" as a result of its 18th century struggles with France, "the Catholic Other." Nonetheless, he concluded, an adversarial relationship with India is a central element of Pakistan's identity today, and it would be "naive" to expect Pakistan to abandon its "anti-Indianism"; indeed, doing so, he argued, might remove the glue that keeps Pakistan from fragmenting. While not all conference participants endorsed this perspective – Samina Ahmed, for one, dissented strongly from this view – or displayed this degree of pessimism, there was a general sense among those present that India and Pakistan have paid, and continue to pay, a heavy price for their ongoing rivalry.


Robert M. Hathaway, director, Asia Program

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