Sumit Ganguly is no stranger to scholars in international and strategic studies. His book The Origins of Wars in South Asia is a popular text with undergraduates. He takes his earlier work that finishes with the 1971 War further in the volume under review by beginning with the Kargil War. His is a slim volume covering the first decade of the century, the beginning of which he dates to this war.
In his view, Pakistan’s India policy cannot be explained through the ‘spiral model’. The spiral model relies on the concept of security dilemma. The security dilemma has it that states, perceiving even defensive actions of neighbours as threatening, resort to counter measures that in turn generate a negative threat perception in their neighbour. This leads to a spiral—hence ‘spiral model’—expressed through worsening relations, the arms race and recurrent crisis.
Since Pakistan covets Kashmir, to Ganguly, Pakistan is a revisionist and ‘greedy’ state—‘with nonsecurity motivations for expansion’ (Charles Glaser) (p. 20). Wanting territorial revisionism, its actions in the security sphere are not a result of a perceived threat from India that can be attributed to a security dilemma. Nothing India can do in terms of reassuring Pakistan by reining in its actions
in the defence and security spheres can assuage Pakistan. Therefore, the recurring crisis and potential for conflict in the subcontinent cannot be explained by the spiral model.
The deterrence model on the other hand has it that a state’s security preparedness deters a neighbour from threatening it, but even such preparedness can be found wanting when confronted with a revisionist state out to change some or other facet of the status quo or relationship. He uses the deterrence model in appraising India. To Ganguly, evidence in favour of this model is in the quiescent period in the seventies and eighties when Pakistan was fended off by India’s defence preparedness. However, Pakistan’s Kashmir obsession got an outlet with the outbreak of troubles in Kashmir in the nineties. Since Pakistan is attempting to overturn the territorial status quo, India cannot but restrict itself to warding off Pakistan through defence related measures. This brings Ganguly to his prescription that, since the deterrence model provides a better vantage for India’s Pakistan strategy, a strategy informed by deterrence by denial is the preferred one for India.
Ganguly makes his theoretical case in his opening chapter. He then moves to his narrative beginning with the Kargil War. It is a useful recap of the war, interweaving the more popularly known military dimension with the diplomatic moves in the background. He then discusses the intermediate period between the war and the crisis precipitated by the terror attack on Parliament that included the Kandahar hijacking.
Ganguly’s coverage of the Agra Summit reveals the nuances of negotiations on both sides. On the Pakistan side, though Musharraf attended the Summit after taking over as the President of Pakistan, he still had to keep the military back home placated. There was also dissension in the Indian camp, with Advani playing hardball and stymying Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh who might have wished to go further, faster.
Ganguly’s most interesting chapter is the one on the dialogue that Vajpayee commenced after Operation Parakram wound down. Four rounds of dialogue followed between 2004 and 2006. These yielded results piecemeal such as a hotline between the two foreign secretaries, agreement on notification of missile tests, etc. Thereafter, Musharraf lost his way in attempting to get the Pakistani judiciary off his back through 2007. This delayed the fifth round to 2008 after a return of civilians to power. However, the fifth round was derailed by the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008. Hesitant moves towards a patch up were underway in 2009, at which Ganguly closes his narrative.
Ganguly winds up the book with a chapter on how the rivalry extended into Afghanistan. This inclusion is perhaps for his American audience and related to the wind down in Afghanistan that was begun with Obama coming to the White House. His final chapter briefly updates the India-Pakistan relationship till 2014. He misses reverting to his theoretical start point in this chapter so as to sum up and clinch his argument.
The manner the book wraps up suggests that it was a work in progress in 2010, around when Ganguly was on sabbatical in Delhi, but one to which he was unable to return to with any degree of attention thereafter. This presumably accounts for the book taking half a decade thereafter to see the light of day. This genuflection to American readers is his irritating reference to Mumbai as Bombay (Mumbai) and spelling out that a high commissioner is an ambassador. Referring to the Simla Agreement as Shimla Agreement, dating the 1971 War to 6 December and the appearance of a space in the middle of names of those recommending his book on its jacket is suggestive of a hurried effort at turning out the volume and deflates the impact and quality of the book somewhat.
More significantly, though Ganguly presents his case with conviction, it would have beneffited had he alongside debunked competing arguments. For instance, he dismisses the security dilemma informing Pakistani actions, pointing to India’s several placatory overtures to Pakistan such as return of the Haji Pir Pass at the end of the 1965 War. Since he does not cover India’s continuing military upgrades since the 1971 War, the reader is unable to appreciate the possible impact these would have had on Pakistan that had been cut in half in that war. India went nuclear in 1974. It turned towards mechanization in the eighties. It showed its regional power aspirations in the nineties. These moves cannot have been seen with equanimity by Pakistan. This explains Pakistan’s needling India first in Punjab and then in Kashmir. Venturing further, an alternative narrative can plausibly hazard that wishing to tie down growing Indian military power, Pakistan has exploited the insurgency in Kashmir to the hilt, resulting in about 40 per cent of the Army being deployed in that State.
The central pillar of Ganguly’s argument is no less questionable. The appendices to the book include India-Pakistan agreements dating back to the Karachi Agreement. All these refer to Kashmir as pending resolution. The status quo is the dispute over Kashmir. India by not following through on the promise of talks has been revisionist. Not acknowledging the dispute makes India revisionist and India the ‘greedy’ power that seeks to continue to keep what is disputed. In this it neglects the demand of a substantial section of people who live there. Thus, if Pakistan is territorially revisionist, India is equally so in attempting to obfuscate agreements. Its latest ploy is that the Kashmir dispute is not over the Valley but over the areas occupied by Pakistan.
Ganguly ends on a note suggesting a strategic doctrine informed by the concept of deterrence by denial for India. Deterrence was the concept informing the Indian strategic doctrine upto the nineties and reflected in the military doctrine as deterrence by punishment. In the period Ganguly covers, India moved to an offensive military doctrine that in the Manmohan era was reined in by a strategic doctrine of strategic restraint. However, this military movement created the conditions enabling a move towards a strategic doctrine of compellence, one adopted by the Modi-Doval duo. Ganguly is embarrassingly unrealistic in his pitching a decade and half since the shift began for deterrence by denial, itself a rewind of about three decades back.
For Ganguly, since Pakistan is revisionist, it should be deterred. But deterrence by denial did not work in the eighties when Pakistan started its proxy war in Punjab. This forced India’s move to deterrence by punishment, practised in the Exercise Brasstacks. Since even this has not quite worked, India has moved to strategic proactivism. If the counter narrative to Ganguly holds water, this can only aggravate Pakistan’s security dilemma, leading to avoidable conflagration. It might be better to reappraise the possibility that India is the revisionist state and the security dilemma does inform Pakistan. This might yield up diametrically opposite policy prescriptions than Ganguly’s, which means instead of deterrence, backed by Ganguly, and compellence adopted as the Modi-Doval doctrine, India needs to move to accommodation, appeasement if you will. The nuclear era demands no less.
Ali Ahmed is the author of India’s Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia.