Engaging India – Strobe Talbott


Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb – Strobe Talbott

Strobe Talbott’s absorbing and, at times, riveting diplomatic and historical memoir chronicles his and Jaswant Singh’s travails to bring India back into the fold of international politics and also reboot the troubled Indo-US relationship after the successful tests at Pokhran in 1998 that christened India as a de facto nuclear state. Through their joint laborious efforts, not only did they gradually commence the complex process of nuclear recognition that culminated in the extraordinary Indo-US Civil nuclear that the Bush administration struck with Manmohan Singh’s government but also, more importantly, create a deft diplomatic edifice that could enable decades of embittered relations between Washington and New Delhi to gradually ease resulting in a decade of unprecedented cooperation across a number of areas. Indeed, as Talbott himself argues, the promulgation of the recent civil nuclear pact  would not have been feasible had it not been for the patient and protracted diplomatic work done by these two determined public servants. Notwithstanding recent events, their efforts are an undeniable ode to effective and robust diplomacy when practiced with sound principles, clear values and objectives and the unstinting support of the highest echelons of government. The extent of their encounters that ranged across several continents and was intermittently met with various domestic and international blows testifies to the difficulties associated with the responsibilities reposed on these two diplomats by their respective leaders.  The achievement of a comprehensive rapprochement between the US and India following the efforts of Talbott and Singh has fundamentally reordered not only regional geopolitics, which quickly invited major power interest and activity with 9/11, but also rescued the vexed relationship between the world’s first and largest democracies, one that had been suffering from bouts of engagement, hostility, antagonism, and almost war with the onset of the 1971 crisis; perhaps, as many have suggested, India’s nuclearization cannot be fully understood without Nixon’s decision to despatch the USS Enterprise to prevent a regional and possibly global conflagration from occurring. A rejuvenated Indo-US accord has also gradually led to the waning of a hitherto strong US-Pak alliance that had navigated the choppy waters of the cold war with considerable tumult. Lacking a robust existential foe to deal with, American predilections for Pakistan ebbed but this did not immediately engender goodwill for Delhi. It took a monumental event, that of nuclearization, for Washington to commit substantial attention to their sizable democratic counterpart in South Asia.

As India went nuclear in 1998, the discontent and anger in Washington was palpable. Talbott commences with a run through of the sentiments within the American establishment once they learned of the nuclear tests in the deserts of Rajasthan. Clinton’s response and that of the administration was swift, comprehensive sanctions were enforced across a number of areas combined with an effort to direct international opprobrium towards New Delhi. Through the maze and mess of these developments, one crucial aspect came through following the tests and the attendant response – that American policy to India was and had been a failure for decades. Administrations had come and gone but one constant was the love loss between both countries. Even as the cold war ended, a renewed effort to resurrect the moribund relationship was found wanting. If anything, Pokhran II had awoken this acrimonious relationship from a protracted slumber. To shepherd the relationship from its fraught past, initially for the purposes of global non-proliferation, Clinton and Vajpayee placed it into the hands of their deputies, Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh. What followed was a three-year long dialogue between them and their teams to gradually prod the Indians to shed their nuclear ambitions and adhere to CTBT. Also part of Talbott’s narrative were the concurrent efforts to dissuade Pakistan from also going nuclear in response. Despite American exhortations, Nawaz Sharif led Pakistan down the same road, creating a problem of epic proportions for Washington as it was tending to crises across the Middle East and the Balkans. South Asia had emerged as a major irritant and one that could not be sidestepped or wished away. Some of the most alarming parts of the book deal with Talbott’s encounters with Pakistan’s establishment as it went nuclear and after with the lead up to the Kargil fiasco. Some Pakistani diplomats, notably Shamshad Ahmad and his team come under severe treatment from Talbot and are seen as largely incompetent, unprepared, inveterately insecure and downright deceptive. And this in stark contrast to Jaswant Singh and his team, who were extremely deft, crafty, armed with strategy and the dexterity to pursue it ruthlessly. Nawaz Sharif, himself, comes out looking as mind-numbingly hopeless and defunct following the Kargil invasion; his eventual unravelling and dressing down under Clinton should amount to one of the, if not the most, humbling encounters between two heads of state.

Talbott’s tale also enables us to consider and better understand various issues incumbent under and related to the conception and practice of contemporary Indian foreign policy – domestic politics, strength of India’s foreign-policy making establishment, regional preoccupations, vestiges of colonialism, relationship with major powers and the nature and status of Indian multilateralism. Though Talbott continually refers to the ability of the domestic Indian politics to scuttle ongoing negotiations and any potential deal vis-a-vis the CTBT, he does not delve more into what specifically the impediments were domestically. Besides electoral contingencies and setbacks and the difficulties associated with coalition management, there is not much coverage of the domestic in the book. And this is disconcerting since it forms as one of the chief barriers to potential breakthroughs between both sides. Compared to their Pakistani counterparts,  India’s foreign service corps are positively portrayed and presented in the narrative and this somehow does not square with the widely propounded claim that the IFS and the MEA are chronically underfunded, understaffed and are constantly overwhelmed. One definitely does not get that impression through Talbott’s experience. But Talbott does bring into light several other factors that are repeatedly recited as withholding the global ambitions of Indian diplomacy, including the fractious Pakistani relationship that Delhi finds itself consigned to, colonial hangover or resisting any and all alliances and adhering to ‘strategic autonomy’ due to the legacies of colonialism and its effects, and also Delhi’s guarded and defensive orientation to major powers that have long remained a source of consternation to Delhi. Talbott should definitely be commended for delivering his diplomatic experience in such lucid and engaging prose and for providing an outstanding outsider’s look to the practice of Indian foreign policy.

WHO, NCDs and GHG – Governing global health in the 21st century

The entire milieu of global health has been abuzz for nearly two decades; abuzz with funding, ideas, focus, networks, actors, initiatives, successes, failures and opportunities. More than any other issue area, public health has attained a level of globality not seen or witnessed in other areas like climate, trade, and agriculture. The sheer cacophony of actors and institutions make the realm a dynamic albeit disparate one littered with myriad gaps and deficits. Interests and ideas on how to tackle pressing mainstream health challenges abound; indeed, even what those challenges are under heavy scrutiny and contestation.  Debates about the sheer nature and constitution of global health are in vogue. Should it revolve around a conception that is pivoted within ‘politics’ or one that is imbued with a governance tenor; or in other words, global health governance or global health politics? The choice or the presence of one or the other might be a false sequitur; governance cannot be understood without a robust grounding in politics despite ongoing attempts to do so and politics of health often manifests through governance choices. How should global health be conceptualised? Do mainstream epistemic approaches privilege and foreordain and exchange between east and west, north and south? Or is it as often perceived and exercised a one way flow of ideas, capital and action from the core to the periphery? This question is important given that the eventual framing has a tremendous impact on the knowledge generated and actions prescribed. And what about the principal epidemiological challenges that need to be addressed, largely and disconcertingly bifurcated alongside the communicable (Malaria, HIV/AIDS, TB) and non-communicable (Cancer, Heart disease, Diabetes) divide? And the institutions that exist to address these challenges – Can the WHO withstand the dynamic non-state actor assault over the recent past as we tread ahead? Should they reform and give more voice to actors and groups from the private and civil realms? How should governments and donors fashion their relationship with the WHO given its rather perceptive and conspicuous defects and its inability to surmount them? Can emerging powers devise a new accord with the central international health authority independent of its relationship with established powers? How should development assistance for health (DAH) be structured for a landscape that is characterized by ‘unstructured plurality’ and ‘regime complexity’? Needless to say, questions surrounding the efficacy of global health dominate and the need to institute reforms such that it can deliver is perhaps more urgent than ever given how complex governance of health at all levels have become and the range of health concerns that need to tackled. A series of recent articles on the state of global health and its challenges and opportunities touch upon all these critical issues enabling us to take stock of the international health climate, make judgments on the nature of extant debates, appraise the efficacy of existing governance arrangements to deftly address pressing challenges, and make sense of what we need to do going ahead.

Julio Frenk and Suerie Moon pen a recent article on the nature of ‘global health governance’ expending much-needed time to distill just how we should conceptualize global health for an era fraught with plurality, diversity and complexity. As they claim, despite billions of dollars being spent, consensus on the definition of the term is rather elusive. And here they argue that global health should be reconceptualized as ‘health of the global population,’ since it would enable us to shed conceptual boundaries that demarcate the discipline as derivative from the west given its intellectual lineages. Doing so, they argue, would enable health to be considered more broadly, not just within the incumbent challenges but also in conjunction with other issues like trade, agriculture, environment, which has a tremendous bearing and effect on healthy outcomes across the world. What they hope to dispel and arguably inter is the rather paternalistic attitude common within disciplinary and practitioner circles which (implicitly) posits that the developing countries are the dominant and pervasive sources of global health issues which the developed world hopes to check through its largesse. Frenk and Moon instead call for a levelling where all actors, north and south, exist and operate within the same plateau, working to and alongside each other to address issues. Thus, the field must move beyond legacies that consign more than half the world’s population as threats and the other half as saviours. Global health should rest on pillars of interdependence and not dependence alone. Also, they hope to inspire a sense of solidarity that can be channelled through to existing programs and ideas, giving voice and ostensibly authority for all global citizens to engage and contribute to the achievement of a ‘global society.’ Some of their rhetoric is rather fluffy and moralising but the desire is sincere.

But this piece is a surprise given that their article from 2012 does not give us a sense that their prevailing conceptualization would shift so quickly, at least the core understanding of what the discipline is. Last year, Frenk and Moon in the NEJM provide a thorough overview of the existing global health governance landscape, the plural nature of its being, its principal challenges, chief functions before gathering thoughts on policy implications. Here, they focus on the governance aspect or why the importance of a responsive and responsible institutional architecture is critical given the fluid amorphous and disparate nature of global health activities across the world; as they enumerate, there currently are about 175 different initiatives, donors, funds and agencies that dot the global health landscape. Settling on viewing the paradigm as ‘global governance for health’ instead of GHG, they call for an emphasis that focuses attention on health through other areas that affect it – trade, environment, energy, etc. By doing so, they argue that ‘good’ global governance for health can only arise when three components: effectiveness, equity and efficiency, credibility and legitimacy. But achieving these goals are difficult due to structural factors that impede effective management of issues that pivot around these three challenges. Due to concerns of sovereignty, accountability and multi-sectoral character of global health challenges, they claim that generating and effecting adequate governance for global health will a complex and difficult endeavour.

Given these obstacles, can we achieve ‘healthy’ governance at the global level? No doubt, these issues are heavily contentious, especially when begin to grapple with the plurality of the landscape and the related weakening of extant authorities, the WHO, chiefly. Sridhar et al argue that to facilitate healthy governance, we really need to direct attention back towards the central authority on global health – World Health Organization, despite its beleaguered recent past that has been rather ignominious. Sridhar et al list some of its recent failures, including the rather tepid treatment towards elevating NCD’s as a cause worthy of global attention following the specially convened UNGA in 2011. The key problem is politics. WHO has lost most of its core political support with its significant donors, who are either investing more authority and funding to its budding rivals – GFATM and GAVI or by reallocating their existing monies to discretionary purposes, in turn, distorting the multilateral process at hand. Another problem is that the organization is not adeptly structure to tackle NCD’s going ahead given you need to be able to do two important things to make a dent – acquire government buy-in since the nature of these diseases require an approach that is far-sighted and secondly, multi-sectoral, bringing in actors from the private sector and other domestic government counterparts – like Finance and Trade, who are arguably more critical in curbing the spread of chronic diseases. However unlikely that prospect may be, another problem is funding, when the organization is struggling to raise resources to fund their basic existence, it might be too much to ask them to direct their focuses exclusively and lead the effort to mitigate health challenges that are not only truly global but also globally domestic, in that they require the efforts and leadership of other domestic actors within countries that have global concerns.

Let us consider the NCD’s issue further. One of the most contentious fault lines in global health politics is the ongoing tussle between expending more time, energy and resources on non-communicable diseases – cardio-vascular diseases, cancer and diabetes, chiefly. Lack of funding to combat these three challenges have been a lingering grievance for  global health hands who await for the scales to be tilted in their favor. Sridhar et al. analyze the implications of recent shifts in global governance on NCDs. The authors identify three trends as critical – rise of emerging powers, rise and fall of multi-bi financing, and institutional proliferation. At the backdrop of these developments, they argue that NCDs will find it hard to acquire funding given the institutional tilt towards communicable diseases being cemented through discretionary bilateral financing that are earmarked for specific (predominantly CDs) purposes that are also transforming multilateral health cooperation as explored here earlier. The rise of emerging powers will not have a commensurate impact on NCD’s since most of these countries have limited interactions with the global health system, opting to fashion their engagement through an economic or trade lens. And finally, institutional proliferation in global governance characterized by a litany of actors and networks and a mix of them is not bound to have a serious effect in bringing NCDs onto global agenda since most of the emergent health campaigns are one-dimensional or narrow in conception (ie. GAVI or GFATM) and second, NCDs are inherently multi-dimensional, especially their sources, which obviates effective consideration since coordination is a pre-requisite for any worthy dialogue to commence. Though the authors identify important global trends affecting collective action in important areas like health, they fall short of discussing some of the reasons underpinning lukewarm involvement of emerging powers in global health.

Thomas Bollyky frames the NCD issue as one that can and should be managed with more robust American leadership. Sidestepping the role of international networks, WHO, regional bodies and emerging powers in combating and reversing the NCD tide, Bollyky places more premium on Washington given its propensity to muster and implement similar global health campaigns, notably PEPFAR and others that tackle maternal mortality, which emerged and burgeoned under the G7. But here, Bollyky avers too much. Tackling this issue at the global level in near impossible given its multifaceted character and the diversity of vested interests that depend on changes not taking place. Washington cannot dictate regulatory changes to be instituted on this matter across the world; even NCD mainstreaming within America’s global health diplomacy is bound to fall short given that changes in this realm need to occur across different sectors within developing countries from trade to finance and environment. But one aspect where the US can lead is to prod and empower the WHO to lead on this issue, with support from its regional fiefs, given its unique institutional perquisites – agenda and norm setting and the promulgation of international health law. Despite the rather diffuse and disparate nature of the WHO’s structure, it does have the convening power to marshal a range of different actors, public and private, to the table and engage in the conversation and this is one that we urgently need before NCD’s and its attendant costs further destabilize economies of the developing world. But we must remember that good governance for human health will fundamentally rest on good public health governance at the national level and the changes instituted within independent of developments at the global level despite its capacity to facilitate that process.

Genesis of International Relations Theory – Politicized Intellectualism

The Invention of International Relations Theory – Edited by Nicolas Guilhot

For a majority of students and scholars of IR, training and general disciplinary understanding usually starts with a comprehensive grounding in and overview of Realism – the central theoretic framework that postulates states as the fundamental unit within an international system of states that are all striving to enhance their power vis-a-vis each other; all states are understood to be unified actors that possess similar, almost uniform, interests and are self-aggrandizing by nature. Anarchy thus prevails in a dispiriting global climate. War and violence are de rigeur. Ideas and norms are not worthy of attention and even worse, unimportant unless they contribute to maximizing power. Agreements and cooperation are seldom considered of use and when present are viewed instrumentally, as again, tools to enhance state power and interest and nothing more. For a long time, unless questioned, students basically assume that Realism’s core precepts are reflective of the world and the product of robust theorization. But this is not entirely accurate. Realism’s ascendancy and that of its parent discipline was an engineered outcome, the intended goal of a group of highly accomplished scholars and practitioners, who gathered at a conference organized under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1954 to create a new intellectual theory and community for a post-war world rapidly descending into a manichean battle between two vaunted superpowers. And this project finds its elaboration in Nicolas Guilhot’s edited volume The Invention of International Relations Theory, filled with eight chapters that convey the history of IR and its principal paradigm, Realism.

The central premise being forwarded by the volume is that the creation of International Relations as a discipline and that of its founding tenets, which have had remarkable endurance, were not the products of intellectual legacies and the state of the world as it was in the early cold war years. Instead, the discipline owes its genesis to the efforts of a remarkable group of statesman and scholars who sought to create and demarcate a separate space for the nascent discipline, away from the behavioral revolution that was enveloping other Social Science disciplines, notable political science. Subjecting the study of international relations and inter-state relations to behavioural methods and concepts would be tantamount to disaster since they argued the nature of the international system was not conducive to rational analysis and generalization and it needed a core set of concepts and theories derived from values and judgements that could assist statesman and foreign policy hands. Conference participants were basically looking to develop a discipline whose maxims and principles were not far off from the field of international policy practice. The exigencies of leaving a field of work that was foreign to practice was dangerous, a praxeology (study of policy practice) was as important as epistemology and ontology and those at the conference realised the importance to bridge the chasm between knowledge and practice. Practitioners of international affairs did not have the luxury of deploying rational means ends analysis to the study of international problems and were in need of a pithily conceptualized paradigm that lent itself quite amenably to praxis; and this loomed heavily on the minds of those gathered at the gathering.  As Guilhot argues, the creation of IR was not purely an intellectual but a ‘political and institutional’ endeavour.

Interestingly as an IR student, I found the frustrations of those at the conference to determine a ‘theory’ that defied not only the compulsions that accompany an academic field but also one that reflected or was in close proximity to the reality of the international system quite real, no pun intended! And the irony that the discipline that they forged is now the sole preserve of the rational choice school, characterized by the utter and unfettered domination of empirical methods to make sense of international issues is hard not to notice or reflect upon. But it makes more sense given the rather fragile theoretic foundations of the discipline that would, sooner or later, give way to more sophisticated empirical work that would come to define the field. Another interesting component to note related to the ‘political’ nature of IR’s founding is its disdain for democratic politics and the need to delimit the international sphere and the study of it from the purview and depredations of domestic politics, which was seen as antithetical to the effective management of international issues. Thus, what was needed was a strong state, a capable executive branch and a well-versed organic elite that shared certain core values and tenets on how to view international affairs, diplomacy, and manage inter-state relations. Indeed, one of the priorities at this meeting was the need to create an intellectual network amongst like-minded elites who not only shared core values but also contributed to the nurturing of students that would similarly imbibe and espouse shared principles. In sum, the edited volume is a valuable resource, especially for IR students, to learn the story and history of the discipline and the efforts that undergirded its formation following the devastating war. It also helps to put in perspective that knowledge and its generation are tasks that are not neutral and should not be divorced from the contexts in which they emanate.

Wronged by Empire – The Politics of Colonialism and Foreign Policy in China and India

Wronged By Empire – Post Imperial Ideology and Foreign Policy in China and India: Manjari Chatterjee Miller 

That colonialism is a scourge is a near universal fact. The transformative historical experience has been a searing one for countries that were at the receiving end. Though some of these colonized nations have been able to economically recover and thrive, the depredation’s of the experience is not solely material. Cognitively, colonialism has done great damage to the reputation and self-confidence of nations attempting to restore their standing on the global stage. And this effect tends to linger, at times, for decades after nations are conceived; quite possibly, this blight can never be effaced. The sense of victimhood the colonized feel can function as a powerful antidote to instituting a core and robust national identity. Of all the colonised in the world today, China and India are perhaps the most notable and identifiable. For both Asian powers, experiences under colonial domination were deeply transformative. In China’s case, being under the wrath of the British and later, the Japanese, resulted in a turbulent 20th century characterized by revolution, famine, civil war and upheaval. And in India, colonial rule from the domestic mutiny in 1857 has, amongst other things, led to the severing of the subcontinent, a regional carnage and a rather messy neighbourhood where wars and conflicts have been de rigeur. Despite the commonly held notion that colonialism has had a devastating impact on both China and India, there has not been systematic intellectual work unpacking the nature and character of colonialism to gauge its purported influence.

That is until now. Manjari Chatterjee Miller’s Wronged by Empire is the first attempt to treat ‘colonialism’ as an independent variable, bringing it under the domain of intellectual inquiry to explain certain foreign policy choices made by China and India. Miller argues that colonialism amounts to a singularly ‘historical transformative experience’ that has considerable currency when unpacked and conceptualized as a ‘post-imperial ideology’ or PII that instils a sense of victimhood and entitlement especially when faced with matters of territorial integrity and status. Drawing from trauma theory, Miller posits that the experience of colonial subjugation spurs a desire for territorial maximisation and international prestige to mollify the sense of victimhood one incurs. Despite the abundance of work done on colonialism and its effects from other social science disciplines, IR has yet to integrate this particular facet as a concept worthy of intellectual scrutiny. But this claim in itself might be rather hollow since theorizing within the field has been guided by considerations of power, which these two countries did not perceptibly possess, when the realist paradigm grew ascendant. Only recent shifts in the global power matrix exemplified by the rise of these Asian rivals have necessitated scholars to grapple more concretely with the ways in which they wield power and the range of factors that inform that process.

For Miller, China and India regarded and internalised the colonial experience as a ‘collective trauma,’ that engendered an identity shift as a ‘victim.’ And this sentiment rears itself when confronting three pressing scenarios – perceived threats to sovereignty, territorial borders are under question, and when national prestige is derided. In such scenarios, colonized countries revert back to their beleaguered status as victims, decrying their current state by invoking their tumultuous past to obtain concessions to their favour. In other words, colonialism becomes a ‘consciousness’ that is deployed to right the wrong in that particular case, whatever it may be. Miller traces the presence of PII and such behaviour in three particular cases – 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, 1998 Indian Nuclear tests and 2003 Sino-Japanese tussle that erupted following Japan’s quest to seek a permanent seat at the UNSC. Taking us through each case systematically through extensive news research gathered from media during those periods, Miller goes to argue that the discourse used by both countries in each of the three instances is steeped in anti-colonial rhetoric, which was used to legitimize and validate their actions. What was common in all the cases, as Miller argues, was a strong and resolute sense of victimhood that rose out of each nation’s odious imperial legacies, signifying their subsequent appropriation.

Miller’s account and treatment of colonialism and its discontents is instrumentally valuable given that we are now amid a fluid geopolitical scenario where the foreign policy choices of both China and India will be under heavy scrutiny; thus, accounts that render alternate explanations, other than the orthodox material ones, are urgently needed. Also, moving the spatially and, at times, temporally demarcated IR realm to consider history is critically important to ward off claims that point to the purported ahistorical nature of the discipline. However, Miller’s book, despite its pluses, raises more questions than the answers it seeks to provide. Three problems emerge. First, methodologically, Miller’s approach does raise some eyebrows. The first charge is methodological. Despite the inherent rigor in her use of statistical methods to infer how historical legacies continue to dog countries that were colonized, it is largely done so at the expense of sufficient triangulation or evidence of it. The second chapter contains descriptions of the exhaustive process that Miller undertook combing through the speeches of all the countries in the UN General Assembly from 1993-2007 to discern the range of discourses and rhetoric used and whether they point to the existence of a colonial hangover. This is done by identifying key terms like subjugation, humiliation, unjust, etc which are categorized into different categories to signify their rhetorical importance. Through this process, Miller argues that there exists a ‘significant statistical difference’ in the discourses of the states that have been colonized and those that did not. But this does not robustly indicate that countries that have experienced colonisation exhibit a colonial hangover, albeit in the three areas that Miller demarcates – territory, borders and status, since it does not discern the nature and character of the colonial experience, effectively reifying it. And also, the use of UN General Assembly speeches to denote the presence of a colonial victimhood is also questionable since the forum has generally been used a platform for bombastic speeches and sensationalizing rhetoric which makes relying on them alone to indicate ‘victimhood’ rather suspect.

Second, the issue of territorial integrity is one that deserves more sophisticated treatment. Both China and India, despite their state rigid notions and understandings of sovereignty and territorial integrity have not shied from intervening militarily when situations demanded them to. Their independent histories as nation states include wars that both have willingly commenced, most notable being China’s (Deng’s) war with Vietnam in the late 1970s and India’s successful intervention of East Pakistan in 1971 that led to Bangladesh. And these cases suggest that the presence of colonial grievances and PII, which is arguably omnipresent, does not deter them from engaging in intervention themselves. If the notion of territorial integrity and borders were that sacrosanct, then would these colonial legatees not share that sentiment which should effectively preclude the option of intervention in their strategic calculus? This aspect is worthy of more thorough empirical work.

And finally, in China’s case, how does the existence of PII clash or contend with competing visions of Chinese grand strategy or the variant schools of Chinese foreign policy that exist today. As scholars like David Shambaugh suggest, the role of China in the world today is a topic is fraught with contention with several intellectual and policy factions vying for the chance to shape the thinking behind China’s foreign policy. And this is also not a recent development. In a widely lauded recent book on eminent Chinese scholars going back to the early 19th century, Orville Schell and John Delury contend that the quest for national wealth and power has been a recurring motif in mainstream intellectual debates of China’s rule in the world, most of which were directly a product of colonial ignominy. Thus, the politics of victimhood exemplified by PII would in effect clash with Fuqiang or the legalist desire to restore China back to global supremacy; it has been argued that there exist certain voices (eg. Yan Xuetong) within China that continue to extol remnants of the fuqiang ideology. It would be interesting to analyse whether and how these competing discourses intersect and also trace their influence through that.

Perils of Power – Pakistan’s Quest for Nationhood

Muslim Zion – Faisal Devji

The Promise of Power – Maya Tudor

The creation of Pakistan and India through the severing of the subcontinent was one of the most bloody incidents in 20th century history. But history has been far kinder to India than its neighbour since their twin births a day apart in the summer of 1947. India’s entry into the pantheon of major powers is perhaps matched by Pakistan’s own descent into the failed state club; the divergence of both national trajectories has been nothing short of stark. Was this divergence inevitable given the politics underpinning nationhood in Pakistan? Or was this outcome an unintended consequence of a radical politics involving a misplaced attempt to conceive or ‘imagine’ a nation where it just did not exist, de jure or de facto? Two recent books grapple with this very question in different ways. Faisal Devji argues in Muslim Zion that the conception of Pakistan as a nation was an exercise steeped in irony since the idiom employed to do so was anti-territorial in nature, resembling the Zionist cause to create Israel through and after the war. Framing the nation through religious overtones under a colonialist context, the Muslim League sought to create a state through an ‘idea’, eschewing and consistently downplaying the conventional edifices of nationhood – history and soil. As a result, this endeavour was essentially radical and rather anathematic from the outset since its strength derived from an amorphous and fluid notions of territoriality, going so far as condemning the nature and purpose of the nation-state whilst aiming to secure it.


Devji’s analysis is pivoted around a critical historical conjuncture where the domestic politics of the subcontinent got entangled with international events, namely the recurring quest towards the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, also waged on similar grounds – resting on an idea. Drawing parallel to the methods deployed in both cases, Devji propounds that the creation of Pakistan cannot be understood without a proper linking to the politics of the empire, which also spawned variant notions of political organization that did not feature the nation state as the culmination of political power. Instead, considerable efforts and justifications were being jostled around regarding the validation of power on linguistic and religious lines sans a territorial ballast. Notions of a federation constituting different groups under imperial context were advocated as possible alternatives given the Muslim Leagues misgivings of nationalism that was bound by geography, which would have placed them under the whims of majoritarian politics (i.e. Hindu rule).

To achieve this, politics and tactics of the Muslim league became rather exclusive and addled. Engendering a ‘Pakistan’ that hinged on an idea required conscious historical delusion and institutionalised historical deracination. Without turning their back on history, Devji argues, the ideational vigor of Pakistan would have been sapped, in turn, imperiling Muslim efforts to protect their interests in a united India. To facilitate this process, major party figures allied with aristocratic class to reconfigure their political objective, that of an Islamic state crafted out of an ostensible Muslim nation in the subcontinent. However, it is interesting to note that coalescing around this end goal took time since events unfolded within an imperial context where halfway across the world, Pan Islamism was finding it’s legs with the Khilafat movement that found great resonance in pre-independent India. Indeed, many Muslim elites went so far as proclaiming India as the locus of the Islamic world with the hope of establishing a grand confederal system cut across Islamic lines. But the dissipation of the Khilafat moment punctured these incipient hopes and returned the focus back to the subcontinent wherein Jinnah and his compatriots within the league sought to carve a nation on the basis of juridical and constitutional means which ultimately boiled down to Islam.

Devji then proceeds to measure and comprehend the role that competitive nationalisms played within British India since the quest for an independent Muslim state also ushered along in its wake attendant desires of other minority groups, namely the Bengalis in the east, Tamils in the South and particularly, the Dalits who all sought to emulate the League’s strategy to forge an independent nation ostensibly free from Hindu domination. Ambedkar’s role here is critical given his endless struggles to gain parity for the Dalits through and eventually outside the colonial framework. Indeed, as Devji underlines, Ambedkar’s strategy amounted to carving out an independent political space by drawing from Jinnah’s playbook to contend that the backward castes and untouchables were equally deserving of determining their political destinies; he linked the demands of his group to Muslim grievances but his calls were seldom met with the requisite seriousness. Responding, Ambedkar threatened mass conversion of Dalits to all of the other religious groups, eventually settling on Buddhism. Ambedkar soon realised the fickleness of Jinnah’s campaign that was clothed under communal tropes and his disdain toward competing minority groups and their ongoing attempts to create and independent political space for themselves. Ironically, instead of supporting each other, these groups played off each other to eventually gain more space against the Congress juggernaut. As Devji astutely identifies, Ambedkar’s strategic ploy was to support the Pakistan movement to gain a more sturdy foothold within Indian politics, recognizing that a massive Muslim exodus would finally give him the opportunity to insert ‘Dalits into the space it would vacate.’ Despite the rupture that accompanied partition, remnants of this minority  politics continues to dog India to this day. The political empowerment of the dalits and other minorities clamoring for effective representation has resulted in a massive regionalisation of Indian politics and the rise of regional, vernacular and caste oriented parties that wield considerable clout today.

The biggest casualty of Jinnah’s radical politics has been the fractious fight for the soul of Pakistan that plagues the integrity of its body politic more so than ever today. Devji brilliantly dissects how the founding of the nation based on an ‘idea’ with heavy religious overtones resulted in the politicization of religion, ushering it into the public space for scrutiny. No more was Islam a neutral, esoteric, external compass used by citizens to live their lives with dignity and honour. It became a part of the political discourse or perhaps, even the fundamental fulcrum upon which the nation’s political being drew inspiration and succor. By doing so, Islam was left bereft of traditional authority; it became a active exoteric guide that governed public life, conceptualised as a system that ‘prompted action on its own name alone.’ And this subsequently led to its appropriation in various forms in the name of religion or the ‘state’. The rise of blasphemy, persecution of the Ahmadi’s, repeated invocation of Islam in public life all emanate from the inviolate nature of religion which is twinned to the nation’s founding and integrity. Any deviations from it thus jeopardizes the integrity of the national project as a whole, hence necessitating high levels of intolerance.

Looking at the territorial integrity of the nation, does Devji’s thesis lend credence to the notion that Pakistan was destined to be sundered as it was in 1971 with the creation of Bangladesh. One can argue that to be the case. Given the fickle and rather fragile foundations beneath Pakistan, independent of other factors, the nation was arguably more amenable towards disintegration than nationalisms that rest on more solid grounds. Though Devji does not explore this question further, he does add that this ‘ideational’ genesis is perhaps one of the reasons why Pakistan was able to overcome the loss of its eastern wing rather expediently since its fragile foundation did not prize territory as a determinate constituent of nationhood. Devji’s penetrating account, though devoid of an understanding of the domestic politics between variant domestic groups (bureaucracy-military nexus), ethnic strains that characterize and plague Pakistani politics and international exigencies (Indian and US bilateral relationships) which vitiate democratic impulses in Pakistan and perpetuate the stronghold of the military and bureaucracy, does provide us an interesting frame and tool to better understand the complex politics of Pakistan, which will be critical in the coming years insofar as global and regional stability is concerned.

Maya Tudor’s The Promise of Power considers the puzzle of regime divergence of India and Pakistan since their founding, especially the reason why two countries with similar institutional inheritances, colonial legacies and economic situations departed in quick succession in terms of regime type and regime stability, with Pakistan veering towards autocratic rule and India consolidating democratic roots. The answer, Tudor claims, lies in the institutionalization of political parties pre-independence and their propensity to function as able institutional conduits, resolving distributive conflicts between the social groups they represented through various means – party discipline, ideational commitment to democratic rule, solid programmatic agenda to advance and the institution of democratic and consensual intra-party structures. Tudor’s argument goes further to trace why political parties were able to engender variable institutional outcomes – democracy or autocracy. The fundamental difference is the material interests of existing social classes, which necessitated the formation of political parties who can ably represent and advance the interests of prevailing social groups. The rise of an educated, urban middle class who bristled and suffered under odious colonial practices and rules led to them reposing their faith in the hands of the newly created Indian National Congress that quickly secured the support of a broad domestic coalition. And in Pakistan, the entrenchment of a feudal class consisting of landlords who thrived under colonial rule militated against the establishment of a strong and steadfast political party that could unite the different muslim groups, already fragmented by class differences, priorities, interests and geography.

Tudor’s arguments and book is immaculately laid out and delineated. Each chapter considers a different variable in the formation of the regime and concomitant factors contributing to the regime’s stability. As mentioned before, the initial chapter is the added value since it traces how political parties contribute to regime stability and instability. Tudor’s argument explores the underpinning class logics leading to the formation of political parties and how their subsequent methods of representation contributed to the divergence in the destinies of India and Pakistan. The emergence of the INC was the consequence of an educated urban middle class who sought effective representation following the colonial government’s ineffective governance. Middle classes in India settled on the Congress as the vessel to advance their material concerns who in turn did so by creating an adept party infrastructure that represented a broad spectrum of interests through the development of an inclusive ideology. Once independence arrived, the strength and experience of the Congress proved decisive in dealing with and overcoming various conflicts and eventually institutionalising a set of political practices that consolidated practices of collective rule. On the other hand, the emergence and entrenchment of an aristocratic class in the provinces that eventually made up Pakistan led to a weak accord being cemented between these landed interests and their principal representative, the Muslim League. Once the Zamindars gained adequate protections through the institution of separate electorates, the ML proved redundant and soon became moribund. Before their subsequent rise triggered by Congress’s astonishing gains during the 1937 elections, the League did not attempt to create a broad based coalition that would support it and neither did it aim to create a forward looking agenda for its constituents in the provinces where it gained majority support. Once independence was gained, its lax foundations and weak political support eventually gave way as the party grew incapable of brokering between variant domestic interests. And this inaugurated cycles of political instability with the army and bureaucracy stepping in to institute order over decades.

Tudor’s argument and presentation may perhaps be too neat given that similar variables amounted for diametrically different political outcomes in both countries. However, her analysis falls short of considering how international pressures impinged on the quest for nationhood in Pakistan. And here Devji’s thesis can be brought as another piece of the puzzle to Tudor’s analysis – the imperial context. The overarching historical context as Devji argues was appropriated by Jinnah to justify the desire for an independent Muslim nation within the subcontinent. The coupling of material interests and an ideational core in the form of an Islamic state gave Pakistan succor as it emerged as an independent nation on the world stage. However, on both counts, developments gravitated towards autocratic, not democratic rule.