Born from the British Raj, the two nations share a common heritage, but they are different in many important ways. India is already the world's largest democracy and will soon become the planet's most populous nation. Pakistan, soon to be the fifth most populous country, has a troubled history of military coups, dictators, and harboring terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.
The longtime rivals are nuclear powers, with tested weapons. They have fought four wars with each other and have gone to the brink of war several times. Meanwhile, U.S. presidents since Franklin Roosevelt have been increasingly involved in the region's affairs. In the past two decades alone, the White House has intervened several times to prevent nuclear confrontation on the subcontinent. South Asia clearly is critical to American national security, and the volatile relationship between India and Pakistan is the crucial factor determining whether the region can ever be safe and stable.
Based on extensive research and Riedel's role in advising four U.S. presidents on the region, Avoiding Armageddon reviews the history of American diplomacy in South Asia, the crises that have flared in recent years, and the prospects for future crisis. Riedel provides an in-depth look at the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008, the worst terrorist outrage since 9/11, and he concludes with authoritative analysis on what the future is likely to hold for America and the South Asia puzzle as well as recommendations on how Washington should proceed.
The book goes on to discuss that from its inception as a separate state, Pakistan’s foreign policy focused on ‘seeking parity’ with India and ‘escaping’ from an Indian South Asian identity. The desire to achieve parity with its much larger neighbour led Pakistan to seek the assistance and support of allies. The author analyses the relationship Pakistan has with Afghanistan, United States, China and the Muslim world, and looks at how these relationships are based on the desire that military, economic and diplomatic aid from these countries would bolster Pakistan’s meagre resources in countering Indian economic and military strength. The book presents an interesting contribution to South Asian Studies, as well as studies on International Relations and Foreign Policy.
In recent years the stakes have increased as India and Pakistan have each acquired a hundred or more nuclear weapons, blundered into several serious crises, and become victims of terrorism, some of it from across their borders. America is puzzled by the problem of dealing with a rising India and a struggling Pakistan, and Cohen offers a fresh approach for U.S. policy in dealing with these two powers.
Drawing on his rich experience in South Asia to explore the character, depth, and origin of Indian and Pakistani attitudes toward each other, Cohen develops a comprehensive theory of why the dispute between New Delhi and Islamabad is likely to persist. He also describes the terrible cost of this animosity for the citizens of India and Pakistan, including the region's high levels of violence and low level of economic integration. On a more hopeful note, however, he goes on to suggest developments that could ameliorate the tension, including a more active role for the UnitedStates in addressing a range of issues that divide the nations. Kashmir is one of these issues, but as much a consequence as a cause of the rivalry.
Can India and Pakistan resolve their many territorial and identity issues? Perhaps the best they can expect in the near term is a limited degree of normalization, including bottom-up ideas generated by the peace and business communities, as well as a realistic assessment by strategic elites of the two states' shared common interests.
"Right now, full normalization seems unlikely," Cohen writes in the preface, "so this book is suffused with conditional pessimism: normalization would be desirable, but there are worse futures than a projection of the present rivalry for another thirty years or more."