Named by the World Affairs Councils of America as one of America’s 500 most influential people in foreign policy, South Asia expert Stephen P. Cohen has been cultivating a 50-year relationship with the region. In Shooting for a Century, Cohen explores the history, the current-day dynamics and potential future of tensions between India and Pakistan. He posits with conditional pessimism that normalization is unlikely. Is cataclysmic conflict inevitable for these two rivals?
See Stephen Cohen discuss his new book, and the India-Pakistan relationship, in this May 23, 2013 video:
When I broach the idea of normalcy to Indians and Pakistanis, as well as Americans, I receive three kinds of responses. Many Americans and some Pakistanis and Indians believe that nothing can be done, that this is an eternal strategic rivalry, what I have called an intractable paired minority conflict. The policy prescription that flows from this judgment is to avoid involvement and hope that time will alleviate some problems. For Indians, this means waiting Pakistan out, avoiding a major conflict, and hoping that the political process in Islamabad will eventually produce a leadership that is willing to address Pakistan’s identity crisis and consider a compromise over Kashmir and other issues. Pakistan’s identity as an Islamic state still threatens Indian pluralism, and when it is given muscle by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, it becomes a domestic political problem for India, leaving aside the ambivalence of some Indian Muslims.
For Pakistanis, the notion of a perpetual conflict means finding a way to live with a more powerful and still-threatening neighbor, strengthening the one technology that assures Pakistan that India will not seek a military victory—nuclear weapons—while searching for a way to overhaul the economy. From an orthodox Pakistani position, normalization will come if and when India backs off on the key symbolic and strategic issues that have been there for sixty-five years, notably Kashmir. Meanwhile, the Pakistani state will continue to endorse and support elements of the Pakistan identity that make it distinctive, including hatred and fear of India, with a few hawks still arguing that India, not Pakistan, is an artificial state and that Pakistan need only wait until India comes apart.
If the future is to be “more of the same,” then meetings between Indians and Pakistanis will come to the conclusion that nothing can be done, because individually neither side is willing to do anything, and that both sides prefer, as they have for sixty-five years, to wait and watch. Foundations should insist that any Track II dialogues that they fund actually go beyond current government policies and publicly offer new ideas—otherwise they are a waste of time and money.
The second response that I have received—largely from some Americans and Indians—is that Pakistan is a fatally wounded state trying to meet the challenges of the modern era. Normalization will have to be postponed indefinitely. The present era is massively different from the years in which Pakistan was first imagined and then enjoyed substantial international support. It is undergoing complex and unpredictable transformations brought about by global revolutions in the movement of people, goods, and ideas. When faced with these developments, Pakistan, with its 1930s-style identity and emphasis on religion as the tie that holds Pakistanis together, becomes a dysfunctional state. Some Pakistanis understood the significance of the loss of East Pakistan, but the army and the Islamists dismissed it as the result of India’s machinations and Pakistan’s failure in attempting to impose true Islam on its population. This has opened the door to more totalitarian strands of Islamic thinking. Pakistan’s political domination by the India-obsessed military, with its clumsiness at governing a complex state, seals its fate. It may last five years or more, but the end point is evident. Some Pakistanis have already reached this conclusion, as have more and more Indians; the former are looking for careers and homes outside of the country in increasing numbers, while the latter watch with trepidation. A few Indians believe that they only need to wait until Pakistan collapses and then can pick up the pieces.
In the event, India would become the dominant power of Southern Asia. However, many Indians understand that a collapsing Pakistan could also prove fatal to their country. In this view, India-Pakistan relations have reached a hurting stalemate that strongly resembles the cold war, during which both sides endured decades of crisis and a terrific arms burden until the Soviet Union crumbled. Any Indians who think that the rest of the world would manage a “soft” landing for a decaying Pakistan are, I believe, sorely mistaken and gambling on the future of India as well as Pakistan. Still, there remains the naïve hope that Pakistan will somehow vanish, or be peacefully reunited with India in ten or twenty years, the view of a former Supreme Court judge, Markanday Katju, the chair of the Press Council of India. Terming Pakistan a “Jurassic park” or a madhouse, he blamed Jinnah for creating a theocratic state and suggested that Jinnah was an agent of the British, who are to blame for India’s Hindu-Muslim conflicts. Name-calling may be gratifying, but it does not wave away the fact that Pakistan remains a potent and potentially dangerous state as far as India is concerned.
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Shooting for a Century is available in both hardcover and eBook formats:
Praise for the work of Stephen P. Cohen:
"Stephen P. Cohen is America's most seasoned expert on Pakistan. . . .The Idea of Pakistan is impressive in its breadth and scope."—Foreign Affairs
"Stephen Cohen's India: Emerging Power is an objective, lucid, and incisive analysis of India's emerging role in the global village."—Dawn