India-Pakistan Relations, 1947-1957


A review of The Finality of Partition: Bilateral Relations between India and Pakistan, 1947- 1957, by Pallavi Raghavan.

Pallavi Raghavan’s dissertation is a counter-narrative of the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, thoughtfully argued through well-documented evidence gathered from British, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi archives. Examining foreign relations between the two countries during the first decade of their existence as sovereign states, she argues that New Delhi and Karachi (the capital of Pakistan at the time) cooperated on a range of issues despite ongoing animosity. Such cooperative endeavors have gone overlooked in the prevailing literature on South Asian political history and regional politics, and perhaps, contemporary political discourse. Dr. Raghavan aims to correct this by offering a revisionist account of the history of the subcontinent. Spread over 263 pages, it is an exciting read for anyone interested in reassessing the past of postcolonial South Asia. Moreover, she attempts to reach out to a cross-disciplinary audience of diplomatic historians, security studies scholars and those keen on drawing lessons from history in order to comprehend South Asian politics today.

The dissertation has five main chapters apart from an introduction and conclusion. Each of these chapters explores the various areas of cooperation between India and Pakistan during the decade of 1947-1957. Chapter 1 discusses the impact of Partition on the establishment of two foreign policy establishments that would generate more mutual hostility than camaraderie in the years to come.  By exploring the initial era of the two foreign offices — one in New Delhi and the other in Karachi — Raghavan examines not just their parallel yet inter-related institutional histories but also the genesis of two competitive foreign policy narratives that played out on the postwar stage of international diplomacy since 1947.

Chapter 2 explores the issues of inter-Dominion deliberations and the protection of Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Muslim minorities in India. It most notably enlightens us on the underpinnings of the attempt at formulating a ‘No War’ pact by Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan. Partition and the consequent displacement of population made the successful rehabilitation of refugees a key priority by both governments, concerned with establishing their legitimacy. Raghavan does not shy away from investigating the tense communal relations in the border provinces that often shaped local bilateral relations, but she highlights how amidst such acrimony earnest efforts were made for the Nehru-Liaquat ‘No War’ pact as a political and diplomatic solution to the shared predicament of refugees, migrants and minorities in the subcontinent.

Chapter 3 investigates the challenges for developing two self-sufficient economies, the issue of inter-Dominion trade, the “sterling balance” negotiations and the devaluation crisis. Raghavan demonstrates how both India and Pakistan deliberately carved themselves as independent economies that could survive without each other, despite historically being one entity comprising of interdependent economic sub-units. She shows us how business communities, bureaucrats and some politicians opposed this, given the economic losses they were incurring because of such artificial measures of economic separation. As a result of such measures, bilateral trade between the two countries gradually declined. This was, however, not without protest and dissent by individuals on both sides.

Chapter 4 examines the significance of territory and resources, namely, the fluid interpretations of interstate boundaries (especially in East Pakistan) and the sharing of the Indus Basin’s waters. The dissertation underlines how the two governments were willing to compromise on both land and water. The multi-level negotiations that took place eventually leading to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty demonstrate the complex cooperative and competitive nature that characterized India-Pakistan relations at the time.

Chapter 5 studies the importance of the status of evacuee properties to the two newly independent states. This concerned the compensations for properties evacuated on both sides of the border due to the population displacement resulting from the Partition. While politicians like Mohanlal Saxena and Azizuddin Ahmad perceived the parochial political benefits of exploiting the question of adequate compensation, the issue of evacuee properties also engendered ample dialogue between the two otherwise bickering parties. Notably, how abandoned properties could be utilized in both countries became a subject of substantive cooperation.

Raghavan does an impressive job at informing us of the cooperative endeavors undertaken by political establishments in India and Pakistan, helping to reorient our understanding of the nature of relations between the two South Asian neighbors. Her emphasis on the role of individuals in shaping institutions, policies and political futures allows us to perceive the intricacies of foreign policymaking and the challenges therein. Raghavan’s examination convincingly demonstrates that interstate relations, whether bilateral or multilateral, are hardly ever a zero-sum game. Foreign policymaking is rarely ever a dichotomous black and white universe, but instead is a lively color palette comprising a medley of various remarkable shades.

Dr. Jayita Sarkar
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Primary Sources
Archives of the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi
National Archives Bhabhan, Dhaka
British Library, London
Public Records Office, London
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Karachi

Dissertation Information: University of Cambridge, 2012. 263pp. Primary advisor: Prof. Joya Chatterji.

Image: Meeting of the Partition Council, May 1947, attended by representatives of the future governments of India and Pakistan

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