Friday, February 21, 2014

Is Pakistan the reason why India is not yet a Great Power?

I was rifling through Bangkok Airport (which is just amazing) on the long transits back to Africa and I saw George Friedman's book, the Next 100 Years, which simply seemed fantastical (in one scenario Turkey, Japan & Germany wage war on the US, Poland & UK in 2050 after the collapse of Russia).

Anyway as I crossed over to the next bookshop close to my departure gate I saw The Revenge of Geography of Robert Kaplan.

Now Robert Kaplan (along with Huntington, Asimov and maybe Bernard Lewis) are huge intellectual influences on how I perceive the world. I became far more of a geographical determinist my Eureka moment happened what a decade ago when I chanced on this article by Robert Kaplan, Roman Africa.

To get to my main point when I was in South East Asia (and ironically Razib had a very good post up on Cambodian genetics at around the time I was in Cambodia) I realised that Hinduism and Buddhism have usually been having a fairly fratricidal relationship over the millennia. However the Hindu Right pays almost no attention to Buddhism but instead subsumes it into a brotherly Dharmic ethos even though Bhutan, Sri Lanka (which are admittedly more ethnic than religious conflicts) and even Pakistan in the deep past (apparently Bangladesh and Pakistan had strong Buddhist history before re-Hinduisation; correct me if I'm wrong).

Around the time I was pondering this though that why do India focus so much on Pakistan and Islam when frankly South East Asia and the Indian ocean is the grand prize. Furthermore India is almost an uncontested power (after all the historic name was Indo-China for the Asean region) but still seems bedevilled by playing power politics in Central Asia, Kashmir, Afghanistan & Pakistan.

Robert Kaplan almost perfectly answered my question as to the overwhelming strategic role Pakistan plays in India's security. I had unfortunately forgotten my iphone so I would have scanned the whole chapter (it's that good) so instead I'm going to excerpt from a few other pieces of Kaplan's:

But the spirit of India has undergone an uneasy shift in this new era of rampant capitalism and of deadly ethnic and religious tensions, which arise partly as violent reactions against exactly the social homogenization that globalization engenders. Gujarat finds itself once again at the heart of what is roiling India, and what singularly menaces the country’s rise to “Great Global Power” status. India is home to 154 million Muslims, the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. India has arguably more to lose from extremist Islam than any other country in the world. Yet, as Dwijendra Tripathi, a historian based in Gujarat, lamented to me, “The Hindu-Muslim divide here is worse than at any time since the partition.” Not coincidentally, this rift is deepening even as Gujarat booms economically, with brand-new malls, multi plexes, highways, and private ports transforming it into a pulsing region-state athwart Indian Ocean trade routes.

The greater Indian Ocean region encompasses the entire arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Although the Arabs and the Persians are known to Westerners primarily as desert peoples, they have also been great seafarers. In the Middle Ages, they sailed from Arabia to China; proselytizing along the way, they spread their faith through sea-based commerce. Today, the western reaches of the Indian Ocean include the tinderboxes of Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan -- constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug smuggling. Hundreds of millions of Muslims -- the legacy of those medieval conversions -- live along the Indian Ocean's eastern edges, in India and Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

As the competition between India and China suggests, the Indian Ocean is where global struggles will play out in the twenty-first century. The old borders of the Cold War map are crumbling fast, and Asia is becoming a more integrated unit, from the Middle East to the Pacific. South Asia has been an indivisible part of the greater Islamic Middle East since the Middle Ages: it was the Muslim Ghaznavids of eastern Afghanistan who launched raids on India's northwestern coast in the early eleventh century; Indian civilization itself is a fusion of the indigenous Hindu culture and the cultural imprint left by these invasions. Although it took the seaborne terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November for most Westerners to locate India inside the greater Middle East, the Indian Ocean's entire coast has always constituted one vast interconnected expanse.
What is different now is the extent of these connections. On a maritime-centric map of southern Eurasia, artificial land divisions disappear; even landlocked Central Asia is related to the Indian Ocean. Natural gas from Turkmenistan may one day flow through Afghanistan, for example, en route to Pakistani and Indian cities and ports, one of several possible energy links between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Both the Chinese port in Gwadar, Pakistan, and the Indian port in Chah Bahar, Iran, may eventually be connected to oil- and natural-gas-rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and other former Soviet republics. S. Frederick Starr, a Central Asia expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said at a conference in Washington last year that access to the Indian Ocean "will help define Central Asian politics in the future." Others have called ports in India and Pakistan "evacuation points" for Caspian Sea oil. The destinies of countries even 1,200 miles from the Indian Ocean are connected with it.


  1. Pakistanis are over estimating themselves if they think pakistan is the reason that India has not progressed as much as it should have. India has been governed by corrupt politicians who have encouraged crony capitalism which has concentrated the power and the money in a very few hands. these people are not interested in the development of India just in how much can they stuff in their bellies and pockets.

  2. to be honest I agree- I am actually going to share the chapter if I can.

  3. the Hindu Right pays almost no attention to Buddhism but instead subsumes it into a brotherly Dharmic ethos

    The Hindu Right plays very close attention to Buddhism in India. Subsuming Buddhism is a domestic political strategy.
    "In 1956 five million Dalits, led by Ambedkar, converted to Buddhism. Ambedkar was concerned that they would still be labeled Untouchables if they demanded places reserved for affirmative action, and we have seen that this has continued to be a problem. On the other hand, he insisted that even when they became Buddhists they should retain the rights that he had fought so hard to win for Dalits.70 One of his converts said: “My father became a Buddhist in honor of Ambedkar but could not say so openly. I became a Buddhist too, but only orally, because on the forms you have to write down Scheduled Caste. If you are a Buddhist, you can’t get the scholarship. But I am proud to follow Ambedkar. Being Scheduled Caste causes inferiority in our minds. To be Buddhist, it makes me feel free!"...

    On November 4, 2001, more than fifty thousand Dalits converted to Buddhism in New Delhi. Some converted only as a protest against the mistreatment of Dalits, but others wholeheartedly became practicing Buddhists. On October 14, 2006, the fiftieth anniversary of the conversion of Ambedkar, Dalits again began to convert in large numbers. As a result, the Hindu Nationalist Party reclassified Buddhism and Jainism as branches of the Hindu religion, to prevent the mass conversions of the Dalits from eroding the political fabric, and several states, including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, introduced laws requiring anyone wishing to convert to obtain official permission first. In separate rallies, not connected to the conversion ceremonies, thousands of Dalits attempted to burn the new laws.72 In November 2006 the government banned a mass conversion rally in Nagpur that aimed at converting one million Dalits to Buddhism; the
    authorities were said to be under pressure from Hindu nationalists who called the rally a “Christian conspiracy.” Defying the ban and the barricades, thousands of Dalits from across India gathered at the Ambedkar Bhawan."
    - From The Hindus: An Alternative History (which is the new "Inspite of the Gods" for me; expect a lot of quotes :-) )

    why do India focus so much on Pakistan and Islam when frankly South East Asia and the Indian ocean is the grand prize.

    Dubai is our (Malayalee and many parts of South India) conception of the pinnacle of civilization. And Islamic Arabia is our grand prize. Tamils do tend to look east. But >60 years of being imprisoned under a restrictive regime has certainly taken its toll. We had Tamil and Malayalee exchange students from (Islamic) Malayasia with us for a month or so. It was amazing how easily we got along. At the time it was very surprising to me that they were much more taller, energetic and healthy compared to their half-starved anemic siblings in Bharath Mahan (Great)... I am very serious- We, particularly the women, actually looked like dwarfs compared to them!

    why do India focus so much on Pakistan and Islam

    Everyone in India most certainly needs to focus very much on Islam/Ummah (not particularly Pakistan, in fact I think Indians should be VERY FORCEFULLY try to compartmentalize their relation with Pakistan as separate from Ummah- nominal stuff like OIC membership notwithstanding) for trade and cultural contact. It is simply where India's future lies. China just seems way too much distant and alien frankly compared to Islam as far as India is concerned.

  4. If they take away the focus on Pakistan and Islam, they may have to resolve internal issues and divisions. LOOK TALIBAN!

  5. ^^ "Pakistanis are over estimating themselves if they think pakistan is the reason that India has not progressed as much as it should have."

    I agree. Pakistan is not to blame for India's lack of progress. After all, South Korea had North Korea as its neighbor. And yet, South Korea is a developed country today.

    India's lack of progress is because of the Marxism-Socialism which they undertook as a New Religion under Nehru and continued under Nehru's party for effectively 50 years.

    Pakistan has nothing to do with it. Indians should stop blaming Pakistan and instead look at their own failed Marxist policies that were originally promoted by Nehru for their lack of Great Power status.

  6. I agree that Pakistan is the cause of India's impediment to progress but for whatever different reasons. Pakistan is convenient whipping boy and vantage point for Indians own progress
    This is not to say Pakistan is innocent of various transgressions against India but that at best they should be considered an irritant. And despite their (and our) nukes which lets face it are probably of little conseuquence as they are duds
    I hear so many dimwitted Indian friends tell me, when I point out Indias various foibles, that atleast we are better than Pakistan. I heard numerous times and it is yet to get less stupider as an excuse.

    I was reminded of the time when I was I think the 8th grade , I returned home with a not too sparkling 55/100 in math and when my father was indignant I simply retorted my nogoodnik Goan classmate got a 9/100. My dad was having none of it. He said I should compare myself to the guy who gets 90 and above otherwise i will soon end up like happy go lucky Goan dude(who BTW now is a senior VP Investment Banking in Credit Suisse LOL)

    Similarly to use Pakistan to feel better about ourselves is just juvenile and pathetic

    I love Kaplan with some reservation. He makes many errors in judgement with regard to the subcontinent. A history he understands not that well. I am opposed to geographic determinism wholeheartedly applied to India as it smacks of Victorian era racism (martial races in cold AfPak/Punjab/Nepa- good, indolent baniyas and Shudras in hot South/Bihar-bad) and then proceeds to make erroneous conclusions from the same.

    He mentions Mahmud of Ghazni but neglects to mention only a couple of hundred years prior, Afghanistan was firmly in the hands of the Bengali Babu Pala empire!

    The mainstream Hindu right is thoroughly ignorant on pretty much everything including Hinduism so why do you expect it to have brilliant insights and knowledge on Buddhism.
    My view on Hinduism and Buddhism is fairly simple. The best Hindus Brahmins ,Kshatriyas et al were Buddhist well until the Gupta empire and when Buddhism collapsed due to the nonsensical Bhakti, attacks of Huns,prejudices of certain Hindu kings such as Shashanka (who went as far as to burn down the Bodhi tree )and the final touches by Muslims, best of Hinduism died with it
    Rajputs, Vijayanagar, Marathas etc were hanging onto scraps
    And the dirt ,chaos,indiscipline,squalor,indolence of HIndu India contrasts poorly with the energy, focus,self respect,cleanliness and order of Buddhist countries.
    And thats why Buddhist countries(Bhutan ,Sri Lanka and Burma all whom dealt harshly with Hindus) want little with Hindus. Why hitch yourself to a sinking ship?