Animosity At Bay: Rare focus on time when India, Pakistan resolved issues without much acrimony

By: |
June 28, 2020 4:30 AM

A rare focus on a time when India, Pak actually resolved issues without much acrimony.

A file photo of Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani PM Liaquat Ali Khan signing the 1950 pact for the protection of minorities.

The history of the India-Pakistan relationship is always seen in binaries—one a democratic, secular state; the other an Islamic, military state. The two countries that have fought three wars since Partition are routinely involved in border skirmishes and never hesitate to take on each other at international forums like the United Nations. At heart of the disputes and animosity between the two, apart from the bitter history of Partition, are also the very different institutions the two have. As such the differences between the two are often seen as irreconcilable.

Naturally then, most accounts of the relations between the two are always narrated in terms of animosity. Of course, there are other extremes while telling the story of the two nations. If one extreme talks of perpetual wars, the other—the Wagah Border kind of peaceniks—often lights candles at the border, talks of common heritage, people-to-people love and affection, and routinely indulges in mushairas.

In an atmosphere of such extremities, it is hard to find a balanced account of the two nations and their relationship. What is mostly found is either muscle-flexing nationalism or pacifism which might put Buddhism and Gandhism to shame. This is precisely the reason why Pallavi Raghavan’s Animosity at Bay, which delves into the relationship between the two countries in the years immediately after Partition—1947-1952—comes as a breath of fresh air.

Raghavan, who is assistant professor of international relations at Ashoka University, and lists her research areas as India’s international history and global history of partitions, has taken a novel approach. She has focused on the areas of cooperation between the two nations in the early years of Partition, between 1947 and 1952, in settling their issues arising from division. And she does this with finesse, without either stressing on muscularity or extreme pacifism. In resolving issues arising out of division, the two countries in a way also built their capacities in state formation.

As Raghavan puts it: “This book examines how a joint—and immediate— recognition of the necessity of finalising the partition was transcribed into the shaping of bilateral relations, while dealing with difficult questions such as rehabilitation of abducted women, negotiating a settlement on minorities, getting to grips with the question of evacuee property, negotiating on the division of the Indus rivers, and engaging with one another at international forums. These processes required the shaping of a parallel process of engagement and cooperation in India-Pakistan relations, which simultaneously took place alongside acts of hostility and violence.”

Of course, such cooperation didn’t come unhindered and was not always smooth, marred by the role politics played. There were differences, not only between the leaders of the two sides, but also among the leaders of the respective nations. Raghavan has, however, focused more on the role of bureaucrats from both the sides who were more involved in the nitty-gritties of the issues. This is interesting because the bureaucrats were part of a common heritage and structure— they both had learnt the ropes of administration and art of negotiations under the British and till yesterday were colleagues who were now sitting on opposite sides of the table reporting to different bosses and under pressure to get as much concessions they could from the other.

What also comes to light is that when a nation gets divided, it is not only a story of emotions, but more importantly how physical and financial assets get divided. In the areas where the two nations cooperated to create a lasting framework, there were limited successes as well as failures. For instance, when it comes to the Nehru-Liaquat Pact dealing with the minorities of the two nations—those coming from what is now known as Bangladesh to West Bengal and vice-versa—some resolution was achieved notwithstanding the heart burns. However, a no-war pact talk did not succeed at all. Negotiations on evaucee property did happen, though not with perfect outcomes. Talks on sharing of Indus waters got resolved successfully.

Raghavan brings out the details in the negotiations dealing with all these aspects without any hyperbole. The details provided by her of the negotiation process between the two nations on all the issues enumerated show that diplomacy is not about total victory or defeat and issues do not come to an end, but continue to linger even if some pacts are signed. However, the way forward is to continue to negotiate, negotiate and negotiate. It would be important to mention that the book does not delve into the Kashmir issue, which is the most vexed between the two and has become the key to defining the current relations between the two nations.

Still, some parallels between the past and present can be drawn. In Raghavan’s words: “The year 1950 had all the makings of the sets of causes that bring about both war and peace between India and Pakistan. Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan had fulminated in their constituent assemblies over each other’s duplicity over the refugee question; but they had also gone ahead with the shaping of a correspondence on the no-war pact…What was acknowledged on both sides was that the way to a lasting stability lay in finding answers that could lay the ghosts of partition to rest once and for all. And, to some extent at least, both governments made concerted efforts to bring this about.”

Currently as the relations between the two countries are bleak, it cannot be said whether the same efforts as deployed in the early years can improve relations or lead to some steps towards finding any kind of solutions, but there can be no two ways that negotiations should never be abandoned.

Considering that it’s her first book, Raghavan deserves full marks for choosing a subject that never got detailed attention by established scholars. However, it is the narrative where lay readers could find the book wanting. Perhaps she could have been more engaging in the storytelling part as the writing style resembles that of an academic paper.

Book details

Animosity At Bay: An Alternative History of India-Pakistan Relationship, 1947-1952
Pallavi Raghavan
HarperCollins
Pp 260, Rs 699

main visual caption:(A file photo of Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistani PM Liaquat Ali Khan signing the 1950 pact for the protection of minorities)

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