Book Review: Purifying the Land of the Pure

On September 26th 2016 Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously passed the Hindu Marriage Bill. The Bill allows Hindu marriages in Pakistan to be recognized by the state Constituting approximately 1.6% of the population, Hindus in Pakistan have reportedly faced “neglect and unfair and biased treatment”. The marginalization of minorities in Pakistan has oftentimes come under scrutiny in the past, and Farahnaz Ispahani’s book Purifying the Land of the Pure cautions us against majoritarianism.

Ispahani discusses the “intrinsic relationship” between Pakistan and Islam, and its impact on the country’s policies concerning religious minorities. She begins her narrative by describing the state of religious freedom under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and goes on to describe its evolution through the various leaders Pakistan went on to have.

An interesting reflection of the change in religious openness is seen in architectural transformations. Ispahani points out that in the early days of Independence churches, synagogues, Parsi fire temples, and Jain and Hindu temples also found their place in the architectural landscape alongside mosques in Pakistan. However, over the decades following this picture of tolerance has turned topsy-turvy as Jinnah’s vision of a modern pluralist Pakistan has been abandoned for a Sunni Islamic Nation.

Now referred to as ‘blasphemy laws’ the introduction of a majority of Pakistan’s regressive religious laws happened under General Zia-ul-Haq’s rule in 1977-1988. Shias, Hindus, Ahmadis, and Christians were categorically targeted through various legal instruments. Ispahani explains that the purpose for creating Pakistan “was to protect the subcontinent’s largest religious minority.” However, it became a popular opinion amongst various leaders post-Independence that in actuality, the purpose for creating Pakistan was “the setting up of an Islamic state”. Furthermore, Ispahani explains that the rise of majoritarianism can be linked to efforts “by Islamic radicals to make Pakistan ‘purer’ in what they conceive as Islamic terms.”

Purifying the Land of the Pure serves as an examination of Pakistan’s relationship with religious extremism, and provides possible foresight on threats in areas where Islamist militancy is on the rise. The Indian Express lauded Ispahani’s book for serving as “a reminder that once the state and the society start conceding ground to majoritarian religious bigots, it will lead to where Pakistan has landed today.” India Today also termed Ispahani’s book a “brave narrative, described aptly by Asma Jahangir, well-known human rights activist, as ‘an amazing account of the manner in which Pakistan's laws were instrumental in perpetuating injustice and encouraging brute force by religious militants with impunity.’” 

Review of "Midnight's Furies"

Nisid Hajari, Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition. Houghton Mifflin, 2015.

The year 1947 marked a shift in international order in the aftermath of the second world war. At the forefront of this change was the emergence of two dominions, India and Pakistan, previously British India. While Pakistan was born out of the ideals of religious nationalism, India was dedicated to the fundamentals of secularism. Subsequently, the subcontinent experienced the largest forced migration, displacing almost six million refugees to new borders and a new identity. How did the common goal of self-governance transform into a rift between communities? How would the partition of the subcontinent affect the future of Indo-Pak relations? In Midnight Furies, Nisid Hajari attempts to answer these questions through his dramatic, often anecdotalist, and tragically entertaining style of writing.

Traditionally, one would be skeptical of reading a book on partition that is nearly seventy years removed from the actual event. However, while there is a shortsighted time frame, and a large emphasis on individual leaders affecting the relationship between the two new countries, the book specifically focuses on two important themes. First, in addition to a basic history lesson, Hajari puts the reader in the metaphoric driver's seat by punctuating his objective analysis with the personal experiences of individuals through anecdotes. Secondly, Hajari is able to humanize the revered leaders of the time. The details of their communication, the absurdities of their egos, and the depiction of their personal lives reveals their human flaws and tendencies, which is often overlooked when describing leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Jawaharlal Nehru. It was the experience of individuals that gave Partition the propensity to leave a legacy for the future of India and Pakistan. Hajari intends to make it more than “just a memory” of something that happened seventy years ago.

He begins the book with an incident involving Sikhs that planned to destroy a train with Muslim passengers. Hajari immediately draws the reader in by describing the “grim” expressions on the perpetrators faces as they checked their revolvers. He then goes into more depth, detailing personal belongings such as “ribbon-tied files; photo albums, toys, china, and prayer rugs” of the Muslim passengers that soon would succumb to the “firm press” (Prologue xiv) of the detonator. It is a gripping scene that holds the attention of the audience.

The first chapter details the pogrom between Hindus, Muslims and the minority Sikhs in the August 1946 “Great Calcutta Killing” that ensued after a local Bengali leader’s antagonizing and rallying speech aimed to divide the communities. The leader had capitalized on the “to kill or be killed” rhetoric to rattle the Muslim minority. Hajari accentuates the individual experience of this incident through the eyes of a Hindu shopkeeper, Nanda Lal.

“Nanda Lal watched, frozen in place, as thugs piled out and ransacked a nearby furniture store owned by a Hindu like himself.  They tossed mattresses and chairs into the street and set them on fire. Then a hail of stones came pelting up the road toward him. Lal turned and fled.” (14)

Hajari’s anecdotal style must be commended for its engagement with the audience. Through his storytelling, the author is able to fit in objective analysis of Jinnah and Nehru’s unenthusiastic communications, their public relations campaigns, and their respective goals to lead as the “ambassador of unity.” His anecdotes display the disturbing reality that resulted from Jinnah and Nehru’s failure to coalesce politically; ordinary citizens were quickly transformed into committed flag-bearers of a grass-root project promoting religious communal violence between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs.

Another unique aspect of this book is its very real depiction of the leaders of the time. In India, Jawaharlal Nehru is revered, lovingly called Chacha (Uncle) Nehru, and is often remembered with his signature Gulaab on his chest. In Pakistan, Jinnah is honored as the Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader). However, Hajari is critical when describing these national heroes. In their role in creating the divide between India and Pakistan, Hajari alludes to their “inexperience, and ineptness, vanity, intellectual arrogance, unspoken prejudice, and plain, petty dislike of another.” (xviii)  Hajari is especially critical of Nehru’s political aims and his half-heartedness in including Jinnah’s political aims within his own. Hajari is unique in showing that Nehru and Jinnah both had bad qualities that their nations often don’t acknowledge – India and Pakistan tend to use these bad qualities to leverage their own versions of history.

However, Hajari while downplaying the Olympian-like leaders of the time exposes a key weakness in the premise of his point that Nehru and Jinnah are to blame for the rift between Hindus and Muslims, or India and Pakistan. His argument is weak in an already far-reaching theory. While countries’ policies can be influenced by the doctrine of an individual member of the elite, it is hard to magnify that influence. Nehru’s goals of forming secular India or Jinnah’s mission to have “a future in which they [Muslims] had control over their own destiny” cannot solely determine the future of India and Pakistan’s future policies. While providing advice for the future he alludes to the legacy of the two countries and its future leaders as the “heirs” of Nehru and Jinnah. No one can deny that these leaders were pivotal in the birth of their respective countries, However, there are other factors to consider as well. During partition there was an unequal division of the military between India and Pakistan. This led Pakistan to  build its military that ingrained a sense of paranoia towards a hostile takeover from India, and that itself is a significant point of conflict that is a legacy of the the partition. The borders created by Sir Radcliffe reconstructed strategic points, trade ports and water resources that not only affected the economies of the country, but also fabricated new communities near the Eastern and Western borders of India.

The second issue of the book is its very short time frame.  By using the word “legacy” in the title itself, Hajari extends the reader an invitation to understand the effects that are handed down to the future of the subcontinent.  While the author is able to extract the effects of partition, he ceases to prove whether this legacy is still alive. The timeline chosen to explain the legacy is short and unclear. Partition had much larger, long standing effects on the two countries in terms of the unequal separation of military and resources, and the border disputes that still riddle the relationship between India and Pakistan in the 21st Century.

The book also dedicates a significant time to the 1937 elections, the 1940 Resolution that formalized the sovereignty and autonomy of Pakistan as a separate nation, the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1942, and the Sikh Jathas or “death squads” that arose in fear of their communities in Punjab being split in between West Pakistan and northwestern state of Punjab in India.

It is important to give Nisid Hajari credit in exfoliating the partition, an event far-removed from 21st century youth, who only have their grandparents’ experiences and stories as a first hand account. Midnight Furies is an excellent read to understand the intricacies of negotiations between the elites in the transformative period of the subcontinent’s history. Hajari also must be commended for highlighting rather than underplaying the highly traumatic and devastating experience that was the partition of 1947.



 

Review of "Networks of Rebellion"

Paul Staniland, Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse (New York: Cornell University Press, 2014)

As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan and enters into a new war with ISIS, the perceived failure to defeat the Taliban or significantly harm ISIS has raised new questions about the resilience of insurgent organizations. Insurgencies have had renewed interest in the wake of the Afghan and Iraq wars, leading to a plethora of works related to the subject. Yet despite the increased attention, some basic questions still confound academics and policymakers alike. Why do some insurgent groups endure in the face of opposition and counter-insurgency while others quickly fade away? Why are some organizations able to persist, despite a lack of social connection to the community at large? These are some of the questions that Paul Staniland attempts to answer in his book Networks of Rebellion.

The primary purpose of Networks of Rebellion is to provide a model to examine insurgent groups. In order to accomplish this, he specifically examines the social connections that insurgent groups possess. By using a social institutional theory, Staniland argues that this gives any analyst the proper framework to examine how cohesive or fragmented a group is, how the organization evolves or changes in structure, and how resources are utilized.

By investigating the prewar formation and social roots of insurgent groups, multiple important questions about the organization can be answered. How the group is formed, how resources are used, whether the organization is cohesive, and which types of organizations are vulnerable to break up. But first, there is a difference in the prewar bases that organizations cull from when joining an insurgency. These four types of bases are the social organizations that are most likely to be turned into a rebel group. The qualifications used by Staniland in identifying these organizations as insurgent groups focus on two factors: whether the organization is planning for violence and whether the organization is in political opposition to the government it is fighting.

The social roots of insurgencies are categorized into two types of linkages: vertical and horizontal. Horizontal linkages are defined by the ties the organization have across geographic and social communities. An example of this would be the connections of different branches of an insurgent group, or the connections between those with a similar political ideology. Organizations that suffer from weak horizontal connections will face trouble with communication and coordination with other sectors of the organization, nor will expansion into different areas or communities be easy. Vertical ties, on the other hand, are ties that the branch has to the community. This linkage allows the group to carry out political or social projects as well as gain the trust and cooperation of the community. To sum up, strong horizontal ties lead to robust central command by the organization, while strong vertical ties lead to strong local connections. It is through a combination of these two forms of linkages that the different types of organizations are categorized.

Staniland’s typology of insurgent structure falls into four different categories: vanguard, integrated, parochial, and fragmented. Integrated organizations tend to have strong vertical and horizontal ties, leading to the central command of the organization having strong central control while also maintaining strong local processes. Vanguard organizations possess strong horizontal ties with weak vertical linkages; parochial groups have strong vertical connections but weak horizontal ties and fragmented have both weak horizontal and vertical connections. The dyad the terrorist organization possesses does not necessarily guarantee that the group is popular or successful. Indeed, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF, initially categorized as vanguard) was much more popular among the masses than its rival Hizbul Mujahideen (initially categorized as integrated), but it failed to turn this support into organization strength. Yet while Hizbul Mujahideen possessed strong vertical ties, this did not make the organization popular among the people. Rather, the strong local ties came from its social base, Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious organization whose social services were present throughout Kashmir, giving Hizbul leaders knowledge about local affairs even if their ideology lacked mass appeal.

Another important aspect for Staniland’s analysis of insurgent group is change within the organization. The mechanism for change is dependent on what the organization was initially. For instance, fragmented groups could possibly become stronger organizations if they are able to merge with another organization. Although the mechanisms for change for each organization are possible, Staniland notes that this ability to change is not made equal for all organizations. Using the example of fragmented groups again, these organizations tend to be eliminated or disappear as a major force instead of going through change. Indeed, throughout all of his group selection throughout conflicts in South Asia and Southeast Asia, not a single fragmented group remains a major player in the conflict for long.

Staniland’s theory of a social explanation of insurgent origins and change is quite convincing, especially since he is competing with several other popular theories in explaining insurgent organizations. Other popular theories that Staniland refutes include that ideology or the resources a group possesses determines the structure of an insurgent group. Staniland’s theory will take an important place for academics and policymakers in examining civil conflicts and insurgencies.

That said, the social linkages theory advanced by Staniland does possess some shortcomings. His theory cannot explain what strategies an insurgent group will take, nor can it be explain why some leaders choose or do not choose to create insurgent organizations from their social bases. This of course is understandable and would naturally fall outside the scope of the work. While the organizations in Kashmir fit fairly well with all aspects of the theory laid out, several other case studies does not fall neatly within his paradigm. Staniland himself admits this, but again this is not of major concern as several of the case studies lack reliable information on the structure of the organization (e.g. the Tamil insurgency and the civil war in Afghanistan) and the conclusions that can be reached fit within the broad contours of the theory.

Although Staniland’s theory is useful, one major type of organization in insurgencies that he does not cover are foreign groups. Groups like AQ and LeT fighting in Afghanistan or Kashmir are not present in his case studies nor in his analysis at all. In many modern insurgencies, foreign groups often play a major role in the fighting against, or even with, the state. Whether it is Hezbollah and ISIS in Syria or Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Kashmir, foreign organizations can play a vital part in civil conflicts. Lashkar-e-Taiba can be a very useful case study for this purpose.

Can Staniland’s theory apply to Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir? Already the theory faces several shortcomings. Although LeT’s structure can be described as integrated within Pakistan, this does not necessarily apply to Kashmir. Through LeT’s social organization, JuD, they are able to vertically link themselves to areas all over Pakistan, especially in the Punjab province where the group is based allowing for local information and ties to the communities. There is also a fair amount of centralization within the command structure of the group allowing for minimal dissent and fragmentation. So clearly the organization inside of Pakistan can best be described as integrated.

Yet, the same vertical ties are not present in Indian-held Kashmir. Most members of LeT are Punjabis, not Kashmiris. Many of the fighters and leaders of the organization lack what Staniland considers to be the best creators of horizontal linkages. Many of the fighters were not students or in organizations together, nor can the fighters rely on ethnicity to be a foothold into gaining vertical connections. Although the fighters and Kashmiri population share the same religion, this by itself is insufficient for creating connections. While Kashmir is known for possessing a Sufi-inspired form of Islam, the orientation of LeT is a Salafi connected school (Ahl-e-Hadith).

The fact that the group is from a different country also makes the application of Staniland’s theory difficult as it did not have to undergo a structural change that many domestically based groups will have to undergo. Although the organization might face pressure from the Pakistani government not to conduct attacks, they have little to worry about in terms of counterinsurgency or counterterrorism efforts. Indeed, the theory would possess much more concrete explanatory power should the organization become directly involved in the insurgency against the Pakistani state. So the theory has a great weakness in explaining foreign non-state actors, as the connections and pressures they face are inherently different from those based in the territory under civil conflict.

Nevertheless, Paul’s theory still possesses great explanatory power in examining the structures of insurgent groups in general. Even with LeT, we can use the variables examined by Staniland’s theory to explain the structure of the organization with great accuracy. The book itself is a fresh injection of original thought for a subject matter that has seen an excess of publications in the last decade and will be a useful guide for academics and policymakers alike. 

 

Review of "The Good War"

Jack Fairweather, The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan (New York: Basic Books, 2014)

In The Good War, Bloomberg Middle East editor Jack Fairweather asserts that impractical expectations and insufficient preparations failed to “win the war or keep the peace” in Afghanistan. Fairweather, who spent significant time with British forces near Kandahar, provides a straightforward, scorching arraignment of British and US military strategists in their attempts to execute a war in a country they were grossly uneducated about.

The author presents an engrossing, detailed narrative of the war in its various layers and stages, from its initial popularity post-9/11 to the withdrawal of troops, along with the botched attempt to recreate a nation. Fairweather’s derision of the combined arrogance and ignorance of Western leaders highlights the ultimate message of his work: the shortcomings of American military power.

The narrative also delves into several personal accounts of the new radical generation of Taliban and Afghani citizens, as well as unpublished archives and many interviews. Most interestingly,  Fairweather documents the growth of the Taliban through rampant corruption emerging not only from the opium trade but also from the integration of billions in misguided financial aid . Over the years the flawed system perpetuated a slippery slope of extra troops and wasted funding.  What was needed, and was only achieved ten years later, was for Western powers to come to a peace settlement. The political and social realities of Afghanistan as a nation must be accepted in order for the country to redevelop and heal after its turbulent history.

The lessons offered in the book, published this past November, can be applied in the wake of the threat of ISIS, which once again has spurred intense debate on Western intervention. The region of Iraq and Syria that the terrorist group has emerged out of also has an acutely complex history and ethno-religious social structure. The U.S. and its allies cannot afford to make the same mistakes again; they must enter into the fray with an extremely clear understanding of the area’s dynamics. Fairweather’s words of caution must be heeded in terms of the current crisis, or Western forces will once again be looking at a prolonged, expensive conflict.

 

Kashmir Through Their Eyes

Basharat Peer, Curfewed Night: One Kashmiri Journalist’s Frontline Account of Life, Love, and War in His Homeland (New York: Scribner, 2010).
Rahul Pandita, Our Moon Has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits (New Delhi: Random House India, 2013)
Haider. Directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, performed by Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Shraddha Kapoor, and Kay Kay Menon, UTV Motion Pictures, VB Pictures, 2014. Film

Typically when Kashmir is discussed among scholars, it receives one of two treatments: as a potential flashpoint between India and Pakistan, or as an area that has been affected by jihadist terrorism. Yet the perspectives of the state’s residents are consistently overlooked by observers. On the too few occasions when Kashmir’s human rights issues are discussed, it is again through one of two lenses. Right wing Hindus emphasize the plight of the Kashmiri Pundits (also Hindus) to the extent that crimes committed against the Kashmiri Muslims are considered justified. On the other hand, the Pakistani government and Islamists attempt to use the Kashmir issue as an ideological rallying cry to attack the Indian government, despite the Pakistani military and proxies committing similar atrocities against Kashmiris, Balochi, and the Pashtuns themselves. It seems that on both sides of the Line of Control, the effects of the conflict on local Kashmiris have been overlooked.

Two books published by Kashmiris living in the Indian state help to bring the experiences of Kashmiris to external audiences. Rahul Pandita’s Our Moon has Blood Clots discusses the author’s traumatic upbringing during the cleansing of Hindu Pandits from the Kashmir Valley. Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night takes on the experience of a Kashmiri Muslim living through the Indian occupation and counterinsurgency operations. Peer’s account also led to his appointment as the writer for the Vishal Bhardwaj film, Haider. Haider was intended to be the final film in Bhardwaj’s trilogy of Shakespearean adaptations for Indian audiences, after Maqbool and Omkara. Despite the film’s critical acclaim, it is also Bhardwaj’s most controversial. It was greeted by calls for a boycott by right wing Indians due to its portrayal of the Indian army. Nonetheless, the release of Haider along with the publication of Peer’s and Pandita’s books represent an important step in bringing the experiences of growing up in Kashmir to a broader audience.

Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night serves both as a personal narrative of Peer's life and a journalistic account of various Kashmiris’ experiences growing up under occupation and conflict. Peer was only 13 years old when he witnessed Indian paramilitary forces fire on peaceful protesters, an event known as the Gawakadal Massacre. Influenced by this experience, Peer debated going to Pakistan and training to become a militant as the Azadi (freedom) movement picked up steam. Although he could be characterized as sympathetic to some of the demands of the separatist movement, his family has also been targeted by separatist militants who viewed his father's work in the civil service with suspicion.

Rather than focusing on major political figures, Peer instead focuses on the everyday people affected by the conflict. The people tortured in the infamous PAPA-2 torture camp, the wives of the disappeared men (the ‘half widows’), and the families of militant fighters all have a voice in Peer’s book. As Peer primarily focuses on the people who have had to suffer through the same circumstances as he did, the tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits receives only a brief treatment.

Rahul Pandita helps fill this gap with his work, Our Moon Has Blood Clots. While Peer's book could be characterized as a journalistic account of the conflict, Pandita's publication should be seen as a memoir. His chronicle focuses primarily on his experience growing up in the Kashmir Valley and the removal of the Pandit population. Pandita details the 1947 war through the eyes of his uncle (father of his beloved cousin Ravi, who was killed by militants). The narrative Pandita paints is emotional and heartbreaking. Despite the importance of the Pandits’ removal, rarely before have commentators discussed the issue at length, instead treating it as a footnote in the insurgency’s history. Even in India, as Pandita points out, the experience of the Pandits has been overlooked, including by those typically associated with human rights advocacy.

One prominent theme in Pandita’s book (as well as his articles on the subject) is the complicity of the Kashmir Valley Muslim population in cleansing of the Pandits. While Kashmiri Muslims did not advocate for collective punishment, Pandita points out that relatively few Muslims came to the aid of their Pandit neighbors. Instead, some even took advantage of the chaos to their own benefit (e.g. taking Pandit property and closing down Pandit businesses.) In Pandita’s view, for there to be true reconciliation between the Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims, the Muslims must acknowledge and apologize for their role in the exodus. Whether one agrees with Pandita’s assertion that all Kashmiri Muslims were complicit, it is true that there remains a sizeable section of the Valley population that views the exodus as a conspiracy engineered by the Indian government. All of this works into Pandita’s narrative that the insurgency in Kashmir was an Islamist uprising. This puts it at odds with Peer’s work.

While Pandita seems to view the militancy in Kashmir as purely Islamic, Peer paints a picture of a nationalist struggle. Pandita uses anecdotes about Kashmiri Muslims supporting Pakistan during cricket matches while the Pandits supported India as proof of the growing influence of radical Islamism amongst the Muslims in the valley. Peer points out, however, that it would be more accurate to say that the supposed support for Pakistan was simply the 'not India' option. Peer does mention the plight of the Pandits, but he does not talk at length about the prevalence of conspiracy theories implicating the Indian government rather than local Muslims, or discuss the issue of reconciliation. Again it should be emphasized that while Pandita’s book is a personal memoir of his experience during the cleansing of the Pandits, Peer’s remains a journalistic account, inevitably leading to some difference in tone and narrative. Despite these inconsistencies, both books provide a valuable bottom-up view of the Kashmir conflict.

Haider, written by Basharat Peer, applies many of the stories detailed in Curfewed Night to the tale of Hamlet. Upon release, Haider attracted controversy. It has been accused of being many things, including: anti-army, anti-national, and anti-Hindu. A hashtag, #BoycottHaider, started trending on Twitter in the days surrounding the release. On some right wing Hindu websites, soldiers disparaged the film, arguing that civilians shouldn't criticize military conduct. Despite this, Haider went on to become a box office success. Another hashtag in defense of the film (#HaiderTrueCinema) removed the previous hashtag from the trending list. An Indian military officer who served in Kashmir also wrote an article defending the film.

Arguably, Haider is the first successful mainstream Bollywood film to look at the Kashmir conflict from the perspective of a Kashmiri Muslim. Many Bollywood films that are set in Kashmir either shed a positive light on the Indian military (Jab Tak Hai Jaan) or fail to really dig into the realities of the conflict and the lives of those who have to live through it (Mission Kashmir). Others, like Sikander, are usually unsuccessful in achieving mainstream success. Haider represents an important step for Indian cinema in depicting sensitive subjects. As Zakir Hussein at the Indian Council on World Affairs has said, the strengthening of democratic traditions in India will see the release of more films on difficult issues such as these.

Many critics have argued that Haider not only ignores the plight of the Pandits, but also serves as propaganda for jihadist and anti-Indian writers. However, while the conditions brought about by military occupation set in motion the story of Haider, examining the Pandit issue would have been a distraction from the plot. Nor would it be fair to expect one movie to examine the entire conflict. Haider presents one side of the issue, a side that is usually downplayed in Indian discussions of the Kashmir question. If anything, Haider opens up the door for other films that could illustrate the different perspectives.

Movies like Haider and the books by Peer and Pandita represent an important step for audiences, both domestically and internationally, in focusing on the human side of the Kashmir conflict. While some of the perspectives and stories make for uncomfortable reading, they also help analysts to understand the forces and motivations driving the conflict.

Review of "The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics"

Andrew Small, The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, New York, Oxford University Press, 2015

In this engaging book, Small attempts to disassemble the relationship between two major players in Asian geopolitics: the historically unstable Islamic state of Pakistan and the communist, totalitarian People’s Republic of China. The China-Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics identifies the importance of this mostly secretive bilateral relationship and untangles the dynamics between the two countries. Small makes some compelling arguments which are aided by interviews with Chinese, Pakistani, American, and Indian experts and officials, as well as secondary sources such as books by academics. Small argues that “Pakistan lies at the heart of China’s geostrategic ambitions from its take-off as a global naval power to its grand plans for a new silk road connecting the energy fields of the Middle East and the markets of Europe to the mega cities of East Asia.” However, his most critical analysis is of the imbalance in the relationship between the two countries. Small hints that Pakistan has a mythical view of its relationship with China, believing that China’s backing is steady and long term. In reality, he argues, China backs Pakistan only when its own self interests are at play.

The seven chapters of the book are thematically arranged, beginning with a discussion of whether Chinese involvement in the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars framed their close ties. Small argues that Chinese support for Pakistan in the midst of these wars was hardly present. The US under Nixon tilted towards Pakistan but apart from sending the USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal, did little to change the realities on the ground. Rather, President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger hoped China would step in but, as Small explains, “It was clear to virtually every Pakistani visitor who passed through Beijing how uncomfortable China was with the crackdown in East Pakistan.” Not only had a senior Chinese official turned down a request from Pakistani General Yahya Khan “for a morale boosting trip,” but even during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s trip to China in November 1971, “there was never any question of active Chinese military involvement and such an eventuality was not even discussed.”

However, Small argues that China’s “greatest contribution” to Pakistan’s security has “never really been the prospect of an intervention on its behalf,”but instead lies in China’s aid in building Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program for “the ultimate means of self-defense.” He agrees with Aparna Pande’s argument in Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy, that military, and specifically nuclear ties between the two countries are central to their relationship. Further, China has helped boost Pakistan’s conventional military strength and build Pakistan’s military industrial complex. Small argues that while the Pakistani military has always preferred American equipment to Chinese equipment, China surpasses America in its nuclear assistance to Pakistan. This is evidenced by the nuclear reactors China has already built and future reactors that they have committed to build.

The lack of Chinese military intervention can be explained by its fear of Islamist militancy within its own borders. While China supported Pakistan’s use of non state actors – jihadis – for anti-Soviet purposes during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1970s and turned a blind eye to jihadi terrorism against India, Beijing has always expected and demanded that this would not spill over into China, especially Xinjiang. The rise of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement and the Uyghur insurgency has become “the greatest sore point” in Sino-Pakistani ties. While Pakistan has always promised to do all it can on this front, the last decade has shown both Pakistan’s inability and possibly even unwillingness to act against these groups and actors.

The presence of Pakistani jihadis has soured Pakistan’s economic relations with China. Although Pakistan has always publicized its deep economic ties with ‘all weather ally’ China, Small demonstrates that this is far from the reality due to security concerns. The 2007 Lal Masjid incident—in which Islamic militants confronted the Pakistani government, and the abduction of Chinese engineers from Lower Dir in October 2008 were key incidents that lowered Chinese confidence in Pakistan’s ability to provide security and hence, future economic prosperity. Small asserts that after providing Pakistan with assistance in nuclear technology, Beijing is now uncomfortable with how Pakistan is using jihadis under the nuclear umbrella. “That has not stopped it from supporting Pakistan’s nuclear program but it has prompted Beijing to play a growing role in helping to defuse crises on the subcontinent and pushing Pakistan towards lasting ways to stabilize its relationship with India. Beijing may still be a vital enabler for Pakistan but nowadays it is also determined to limit the potential risks.”

The China-Pakistan Axis is one of the few books that untangles the complicated and important relationship between Pakistan and China in great detail. However, Small’s central question— whether Pakistan does in fact have a mythical view of its relationship with China, does not play out and gets lost towards the end of the book.  Small ends his book with the following argument:

“China has its fears about the country’s [Pakistan’s] long term future. The challenge of dealing with a country that is both the greatest source of China’s terrorist threat and the crucial partner in combating it, is challenging to navigate. Pakistan cannot match the trade and commercial prospects of its larger more economically successful neighbor. But friendship, the one commodity that Pakistan can offer China more convincingly than any other country, matters more to Beijing than it used to. As a result, the China-Pakistan axis is almost ready to step out of the shadows.”

Although Small cites official sources saying that China will not help Pakistan if it instigates a conflict, he does not follow this scenario through to a conclusion and ends on an optimistic note. It is as if he is almost hesitant in claiming his argument out loud. Nonetheless, Small’s account is a significant contribution to the previous dearth of academic literature on the geopolitical relationship between Pakistan and China.