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Intractable Animosity

D. Suba Chandran

By Stephen P. Cohen
Brookings Institution Press, Washington, 2013, pp. 237, price not stated.


Professor Cohen’s writings on the India and Pakistan have always elicited great debate in both the countries since his first work on the subject. Though an outsider, along with scholars with India and Pakistan, he has authored some of the most outstanding accounts of the multiple conflicts between the two countries. This book—Shooting for a Century should be read along with his earlier works, to appreciate the basic arguments, explanations and the future projections.   This book is neatly divided into seven essays—focussing on the context, conflicts, an account of positions of India and Pakistan, set of explanations as reasons for the conflicts, prospects of them getting resolved, and finally a critique of American strategies and interests vis-à-vis India and Pakistan.   Cohen’s basic contention is that while much of the India-Pakistan conflict lies in the realms of high strategy and identity, it also revolves around the absence of trade and normal discourse, size disparities and three geo-strategic issues: Kashmir, water and the Siachen glacier. Though Kashmir issue has been there since the Partition, its intensity waxed and waned as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. So is the divide between the two countries over the sharing of Indus waters. Siachen is a post 1980s issue, which many in India and Pakistan consider is not an intractable conflict and could be resolved. Clearly, Kashmir, Indus and Siachen are expressions of an inherent problem between the two countries and not the only reasons for the conflict.   How to explain the above? What are the primary reasons for the conflict between the two countries? Cohen provides six explanations: Culture and Civilization; State Identity; Kashmir; Identity and Creating an ‘Other’; Outsiders; and Strategies. Since this section, along with future projections are the most important ones, these explanations need larger discussion. Cohen starts his first explanation disputing Huntington’s thesis—Clash of Civilizations, rightly so, for contributing the ‘world’s stock of misinformation about India and Pakistan’. Cohen repudiates the Huntington thesis by citing how Muslim populations lived peacefully under Hindu rulers and vice versa, and also underlines the widespread commonalities between the two communities from social intercourse to cuisines. The Cohen conclusion on this issue is not to confuse the differences between Indians and Pakistanis with differences between India and Pakistan. While the former may be very small, the latter are quite large with respect to adherence to constitutional ...

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