The book under review is a refreshing volume rich with brilliant theoretical insights, first-rate empirical analysis and bold academic arguments which would not only be useful for students of South Asian international politics but also policy makers of the region. However, the book also suffers from a number of shortcomings. First of all, state and foreign policy in South Asia is not an easy theme to deal with; the contents of the volume do not do adequate justice to the title as the primary analytical preoccupation of the book is Indian, not South Asian foreign policy. While it is true that the foreign policy of India occupies centre-stage in the politics of the South Asian region, there are over half a dozen countries in the region. Thus the authors of the volume should have been more modest in defining the scope of their volume. Secondly, while the year of publication of the book under review is 2010, most of the arguments presented in the book are oblivious to the politics of South Asia post-2006-2007. While that would be acceptable if the book primarily aimed to make theoretical arguments, it loses its relevance when it aims to make data-based policy prescriptions.
However, even though the volume per se may not add much value to the literature on ‘South Asian studies’, some of the individual chapters are exceptionally useful to students of Indian foreign and security policy behaviour towards the South Asian region.
The theoretical chapter by Subrata Mitra makes a number of much-needed bold theoretical arguments about the state of India’s relations with Pakistan using the normative insights of the constructivist approach. This is welcome but the chapter seems to be making use of unproblematized counter-narratives. The author, for instance, uses the constructivist theoretical approach to understand the ideational aspects of India-Pakistan relations without adequately addressing the ‘negative norms’ so deeply entrenched in the enemy images that a lot of people in India and Pakistan have of the other country. While the constructivists do make important theoretical and methodological contributions in understanding conflicts which have bases beyond the material level, what a large number of constructivists do is to merely focus on the so-called ‘good norms’ and conveniently ignore the ‘negative norms’. Mitra’s constructivist argument suffers from such selection bias. For example he says, ‘The fact that domestic politics in South Asia offer evidence of tolerance, accommodation, and dialogue across cultural divisions needs to be recognized by the structural realists, and integrated with an institutional mechanism for peaceful conflict resolution’ (p. 28). While that is surely the politically right thing to say, can we rule out the existence of ‘negative norms’ which have contributed to the construction of our ideational and normative structures?
Mitra also rightly recognizes that the political and social processes of foreign and security policy making is important because ‘actors pursue their interests as they see them’. A lot of such excellent theoretical insights are wasted when it comes to their empirical application because his chapter tries to include far too many issues at the expense of rigorous theory testing.
Christian Wagner’s chapter offers an interesting analysis examining the applicability of the democratic peace thesis to the South Asian situation and in doing so he does not make the usual error of arguing that democracy will bring peace to the region. Instead, Wagner argues that ‘the experience of most South Asian countries demonstrates that democratic institutions per se are not sufficient to prevent violent conflicts’ (p. 42). He goes on to argue that ‘on the regional level of interstate relations, it is obvious that democratic peace and the liberal-institutional assumptions that go along with it will not replace neo-realist policies of power and self-interest’ (p. 47).
Mitra and Schottli’s chapter entitled ‘The New Dynamics of Indian Foreign Policy and its Ambiguities’ is also an important and useful addition to the book. They argue that the internal contradictions in the national politics of a country are bound to be reflected on its foreign policy. However, when they go about discussing the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, for example, they give hardly any importance to the various aspects of India’s domestic politics which surely had an impact on the negotiations and timing of the deal. More so, when discussing India’s Kashmir policy, the authors do not mention the very important peace process that went on between India and Pakistan which had a great deal of significance for the conflict in Kashmir. Analysis of India’s Kashmir policy in a volume published in 2010 cannot ignore such important developments.
Partha Ghosh’s chapter on the Kashmir conflict offers an excellent historical narrative on the issue and as well as a potential solution to the conflict. However, even this chapter has not managed to weave in the efforts made by the two countries in Kashmir to resolve the issue. For example, the chapter makes no mention of the many important blueprints for resolving the Kashmir conflict including the Musharraff formula. Instead, Ghosh goes on to propose a blueprint for plebiscite in Kashmir which shows how his analysis is far from reality. More so, midway through the article, when he discusses terrorism and international Islam among other issues, the chapter tends to lose its focus on Kashmir.
Ejaz Hussain’s ‘Politics and Foreign Policy in Pakistan’ is another important chapter. Mitra and Schottli argue that none of the mainstream International Relations theories are capable of adequately and satisfactorily analysing foreign policy both in its domestic and systemic dimensions. However, there is today a recognition of the need to adopt an eclectic theoretical approach because it can shed more light on the research questions than a strict single-paradigm research. As Sil and Katzenstein explain, eclectic approaches support ‘efforts to complement, engage, and selectively utilize theoretical constructs embedded in contending research traditions to build complex arguments that bear on substantive problems of interest to both scholars and practitioners.’1 This way the analysts can make use of the best and most suitable aspects of various theories to address and resolve the unique empirical puzzles they are confronted with.
The book is eminently readable, interesting and useful in parts and, more importantly, offers some much-needed, though incomplete, analysis on the regional and domestic dynamics of foreign policy making in India.
1 Rudra Sil and Peter J. Katzenstein, ‘Analytic Eclecticism in the Study of World Politics: Reconfiguring Problems and Mechanisms across Research Traditions’, Perspectives on Politics (2010), 8, p. 411.