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Book Review
Pakistan and India – a conflict unending
Reviewed by Dilshad D. Ali 

Title: Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions since 1947
Author: Sumit Ganguly
Publisher: Columbia University Press, 
March 2002
187 pp. $18.50 (paperback) Cloth: $49.50
ISBN: 023112368X
March, 2002
Columbia University Press

With four wars, numerous military crises and the recent escalation of nuclear power for India and Pakistan, many politicians and social commentators in the West strongly side with the statement that the South Asian subcontinent is "the most dangerous place on earth." But a new book that examines the underlying genesis of the interminable conflict challenges that notion.

Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions since 1947 by Sumit Ganguly offers a plethora of analysis and scrutiny that explains why India and Pakistan have such a sour relationship and probably always will be at odds. Ganguly's concise book goes where other analysts fail to venture – beyond the recent nuclear hoopla to the roots of deep-seeded suspicions and tensions since the time of partition.

While the nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistani are a cause of great alarm for the rest of the world, Ganguly argues in his book that nuclear war is extremely unlikely because Indians and Pakistanis understand its consequences – the "Nagasaki Taboo."

Ganguly, an Asian Studies and Government professor at the University of Texas, Austin, lays out a triple-reasoned explanation for the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan: 1) Contrary ideological pledges of Indian and Pakistani national elites in each country's anti-colonial movements; 2) "Irredentist/anti-irredentist relationships" between the countries pertaining to Kashmir; and 3) Opportunistic battles fought by both sides to lay claim to Kashmir or other issues.

While many historians and politicians will first point fingers to obvious religious differences that were the beginning point for the ongoing tenuous relationship, Ganguly argues that it is but one factor, and one that shaped each country's own tumultuous government rather than pitting Muslim Pakistan against predominantly Hindu India.

Ganguly describes the first three wars, which focused on Kashmir and Bangladesh, as gentlemen's battles where neither side was able to declare an absolute victory because they had great background knowledge of each other's tactics.

"How did they know each other's plans?" Ganguly asked at a recent discussion of his book at the Indocenter in Manhattan. "They were virtually telepathic for one simple reason: [The Indian and Pakistani generals and military leaders] had gone to the same schools together."

"They had an extraordinary grasp of each other's military thinking and could anticipate what the other side was going to do," Ganguly added. Those early wars, though matched in passion with recent conflicts, were much more humanitarian in scope than battles of late,"

For example, in the 1971 war between the two countries over Kashmir, 90,000 Pakistanis were captured as prisoners of war by India. All were repatriated in 1972, with not one being tortured, according to the book. "Quite remarkable given the passions of both sides," Ganguly remarked.

However, recent skirmishes – like the Kargil battle along the Line of Control in Kashmir in April to June of 1999 – are not, and probably never will be, gentlemanly in nature, Ganguly said. This is largely due to the escalation of nuclear power, which culminated with the testing of nuclear weapons by both countries in 1998, he writes in the book. "We are in a completely new era," Ganguly said.

But by no means is South Asia the most dangerous place in the world, he stated. "As long as Indian and Pakistani officials are aware of [the power and endgame of nuclear weapons], I sleep fairly well in New Delhi or in Islamabad," Ganguly said. The bottom line is that "you don't mess around with an adversary beyond a point, because if you do it will be a detriment for both countries."

The main focus of the conflict continues to be the disputed territory of Kashmir. Ganguly painstakingly dissects the history of the conflict, highlighting each geopolitical nuance that has manipulated the conflict from its beginning. Ultimately he believes the issue of Kashmir cannot be resolved without outside intervention from the United States.

"Indian and Pakistani governments can't even agree on the shape of the universe, let alone who Kashmir belongs to," he said. But one thing is for certain - neither country will stand for an independent Kashmir. "They face the ‘Demonstration Effect’, Sindhis wanting a Sindustan state, Punjabis wanting a Punjab state and so on," he noted.

While Ganguly's book and statements at the Indocenter reflected upon his vast knowledge of the Indo-Pak conflict, some things were still left uncovered, like an examination of the fundamental religious differences that are the underpinnings of the conflict. But perhaps those differences are better left to a book dealing with the partition of India and Pakistan itself.

As for post-1947, Ganguly hits all the major marks of the conflict and lucidly backs his theories up with carefully researched facts. He also gives fairly equal space to exploring both Pakistan and India's problems with Kashmir and other disputes. As Devin Hagerty writes in Foreign Affairs, "Ganguly's work provides South Asianists with an invaluable foundation from which to reinvigorate their efforts at creating a stable and just Sub-continental order." (IslamOnline)

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