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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


India and Pakistan: The First Fifty Years
Edited by Selig S. Harrison, Paul H. Kreisberg & Dennis Kux

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
216pp. Index. 32.50/US$49.95; ISBN 0-521-64185-3. Pb.: 10.95/US$16.95; ISBN 0-521-64585-9.



This book, a collection of essays by ten prominent scholars, emanates from a conference marking the fiftieth anniversaries of India and Pakistan as independent countries at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in 1997. The nine essays - which are not comparative, but consider India and Pakistan separately - analyze the progress, problems and prospects of two countries which constitute one fifth of the world's population. They assess domestic political developments, economic directions, social trends, and foreign and security policies, including relations with the United States.

As Sonalde Desai and Katherine F. Sreedhar state, the goals of India's founders were, 'first, to unify the nation; next, to build a modern industrial state and promote economic growth; and in the course of those achievements, to reduce poverty and inequalities' (pp. 107-08). Paul Brass asserts that while India remains almost unique among new states in its ability to hold democratic elections, resist military coups, and incorporate new groups into the political process, it has witnessed increased corruption, communal tendencies, and institutional decay. John Adams traces the course of economic planning from Nehruvian reliance on industrialization at the expense of agriculture, through Indira Gandhi's subsequent attempts to lure voting blocs with redistributive policies, and ultimately the free market reforms of the past decade. The new policies, which have yielded GNP growth of from 6%-8%, however, have served to widen the economic disparities within the country. The sizes of the upper and lower classes are expanding dramatically. Life expectancy has doubled from 32 to 61 years since independence, but more than half of all children are malnourished. Since 1961 male literacy has doubled from 34% to 64% and female literacy has tripled from 13% to 39% for an average of 48% for both sexes, but spending on education and health lags behind most other Asian states.

The record in Pakistan, as Anita Weiss documents, is even worse. Key social-development indicators, such as sanitation, caloric intake, adult literacy - 36.4% for males and only 23% for females - remain among the lowest in the world, while population growth is one of the highest. The country's 161.8 million people are expected to double by the year 2017. Shared religion has failed to create a common identity among diverse ethnic and linguistic groups. Robert LaPorte explains how institutional performance has declined, as malaise and corruption in the civil service have increased to the highest levels in Asia. Marvin Weinbaum claims that there is a failure of governance which he attributes to a nonrepresentative, unaccountable decision-making process, chronic political instability and an obstructionist bureaucratic culture. Civil society is in danger of collapsing, as a self-serving leadership's misguided priorities have caused 70% of the country's budget to go for defense spending and debt servicing.

Clearly the strategic inheritance resulting from the partition of 1947 - especially the unresolved territorial dispute in Kashmir - has mandated that defense spending remain a disproportionate priority for two countries with scarce resources. Thomas Perry Thornton eloquently describes how Pakistan's continuing insecurity led it to seek alliances with the United States and China, and ultimately to produce nuclear weapons. Sumit Ganguly shows how the pillars of India's foreign policy - anti-colonialism, global redistributive justice, and nonalignment - have lost their relevance. Both countries are searching for a meaningful role in the post-cold war world. Stephen P. Cohen depicts the dilemma the United States has faced in attempting to formulate a policy towards either of these mutually hostile states without antagonizing the other - a situation that left both Islamabad and New Delhi dissatisfied, and the United States reluctant to get involved in a region where it had marginal interests.

The book's principal contribution is that it provides lay readers and scholars with nine well-written surveys and valuable data about the first fifty years of two ethnically diverse, populous countries. While one could make the case that the record suggests that Pakistan is a failed state and India is a state that is not working, the editors, who summarize each selection, prefer to conclude that they compare well with the performance of the United States in the years between the late 1820s and the Civil War.

Arthur G. Rubinoff
The University of Toronto


Arthur G. Rubinoff, The University of Toronto



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