P. Raghavan: Animosity at Bay

Animosity at Bay. An Alternative History of the India–Pakistan Relationship, 1947–1952

Raghavan, Pallavi
London 2020: Hurst & Co.
Anzahl Seiten
247 S.
£ 40.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Volker Prott, School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Aston University

In Animosity at Bay, Indian historian Pallavi Raghavan challenges common narratives of Indo-Pakistani relations as a self-perpetuating „clash“ of incompatible religions and rival states. Exploring the early years after independence, Raghavan argues that partition created a common point of interest for the two governments – the survival and stability of their respective states. To achieve this stability, they were forced to work together to settle issues of minority protection, evacuee property, cross-border irrigation projects, migration, and trade, all of which had the potential to undermine partition and destabilise the two neighbours. In its emphasis on bilateral co-operation, cross-border connections, and a shared past, the book offers a much-needed transnational perspective on Indo-Pakistani history. This change of view is particularly important at a time when not a few scholars still explain the rivalry in rather simplistic terms as the result of stark national and religious dichotomies.1

Given the unprecedented scale of both interstate aggression and ethnic violence against civilians that characterised the 1930s and 1940s, one may indeed wonder why the partition of India, for all the violence it sparked, did not degenerate into the extremes of total war, mass exchanges of populations, and genocidal violence. Raghavan explains this restraint by the shared interest of both new states to „finalise“ partition: to create two clearly separate political, economic, and ideological units, India and Pakistan, somewhat paradoxically, were forced to co-operate.2 In the early years after partition, their relations were thus characterised by „hectic cooperation and dialogue“ (p. 185), with both sides aiming to produce a viable bilateral framework that would help them resolve pressing issues of citizenship, borders, migration, and trade. While mutual aggression and conflict never subsided, that bilateral framework effectively worked to mitigate tensions and ease the economic fallout of partition. Yet to properly function, it required a clear territorial and economic division of the two states.

The book explores this central theme of co-operation through demarcation across seven chapters that cover an impressive array of political, social, international, and economic history. Chapter 1 shows that there was a strong local push to deepen divisions as bureaucrats sought to seize partition as an opportunity to further their careers, working to separate the two states rather than opposing partition. Likewise, local governors in border districts pressed national governments to close borders and remove refugees and evacuees (Chapter 2) or to stop the flow of water across the border (Chapter 5). At the same time, historically grown connections across the new national borders and strong economic incentives forced governments to find agreements on trade (Chapter 7) and migration (Chapter 2).

In Chapter 6, one of the strongest parts of the book, Raghavan shows the surprisingly close alignment of Indian and Pakistani foreign policy, which she attributes to the two states’ shared history and their common strategic objectives in the early Cold War. Both states used the United Nations (UN) as a forum to fight the discrimination of Indians in South Africa, sought to secure US economic support without (yet) joining one of the Cold War blocs, and both rejected the partition of Palestine not because they were principally opposed to partition but because it was to be carried out against the will of the Palestinians.

The key innovation of the Indo-Pakistani relationship in this period, however, was the emergence of a flexible bilateral framework to ease tensions. For all their borrowing of historical and international „models“ and for all their emphasis on international arbitration, India and Pakistan primarily sought to resolve disputes among themselves. In this bilateral approach based on reciprocity, precedents like the League of Nations’ minority rights treaties and international organisations such as the UN and the International Court of Justice figured as loose reference points at best (Chapter 2) and as unhelpful nuisance at worst (Chapters 4 and 5).

Raghavan has written Animosity at Bay in an accessible and clear prose, although there is a noticeable number of typos and grammatical inconsistencies that may distract some readers. The study draws on a solid range of primary sources from India, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Bangladesh. Although Raghavan was unable to access archival material in Pakistan, she does a good job reconstructing the Pakistani perspective. It seems that writing a truly transnational history of India and Pakistan that pays equal attention to both sides remains a challenge for historians of South Asia.

Given the high ambition of the book, there are perhaps inevitably several shortcomings and omissions that should be seen less as criticism and more as an inspiration for further research. Crucially, as Raghavan’s study itself indicates, bilateralism was never enough to fully „finalise“ partition and, in the long run, bring about lasting improvements in Indo-Pakistani relations. It is perhaps the most important limitation of Animosity at Bay that in its laudable emphasis of co-operation, it tends to downplay the weaknesses and insincerities of bilateral agreements. As Chapter 4 indicates but not fully explores, for instance, initiatives such as the failed „No War Pact“ of 1949/50 served to a considerable extent to uphold both states’ international reputation as peaceful members of the international community worthy of foreign aid, while the two governments avoided binding international treaties and kept their options open for future military solutions. Without downplaying the importance of co-operation and common interests for Indo-Pakistani relations, then, the alternative account of unfinished business and a complex set of local, national, and international factors perpetuating the conflict remains compelling.3

Notably the first chapters would have benefited from a comparative perspective on cross-border co-operation between rival states – one could think of Indo-Chinese relations but also the emergence of two German states that needed to come to terms with the existence of the other half. Such a wider view would have helped us assess to what extent pragmatic cross-border co-operation in a context of inter-state rivalry is unique to the Indo-Pakistani context, which Raghavan at times seems to suggest, or whether what we see in Chapter 1 for instance is in fact a rather common expression of routine consular co-operation that hardly affected the otherwise hostile relations between the two states.

Raghavan makes several intriguing comments on the „models“ that policymakers in India and Pakistan used, including the League of Nations’ minority rights treaties or the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. Yet the book does not quite deliver on the promise to examine precisely how South Asians adapted these instruments to their needs, or whether the fact that some of these instruments had quite spectacularly failed to serve their purpose confirmed them in their scepticism towards international organisations and their preference for bilateral solutions. Raghavan makes no mention of the European Coal and Steel Community of 1951, and it would have been interesting to learn whether policymakers in India and Pakistan considered this latter as a model and why, if not, they rejected it.

In sum, and these critical reflections notwithstanding, Pallavi Raghavan’s study has the tremendous merit of opening our view to the transnational dimension of the Indo-Pakistani relationship. This change of perspective is essential for taking a fresh look at a seemingly intractable conflict.

1 See recently Sumit Ganguly, Deadly Impasse. Kashmir and Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of a New Century, Cambridge 2016, who claims that the cause of the tensions was a “greedy” (p. 20), religious, authoritarian, and unstable Pakistan confronting a territorially saturated, secular, democratic, and stable India.
2 It is one of the fundamental insights of border studies, which Raghavan unfortunately does not use in her analysis, that borders both unite and separate. See only Michiel Baud / Willem van Schendel, Toward a Comparative History of Borderlands, in: Journal of World History 8/2 (1997), pp. 211–242, here p. 216.
3 See the excellent study by Yasmin Khan, The Great Partition. The Making of India and Pakistan, 2nd edn., New Haven 2017.

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