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Future of Nuclear Power in India

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Nuclear power in India has significant potential for growth and for providing an increasingly large percentage of India’s energy needs. However, due to a combination of various factors including security concerns, safety issues (especially in conjunction with the potential for natural disasters such as cyclones and earthquakes), and domestic governmental and legal environments, India will probably not achieve its full nuclear energy potential over the course of the next two decades although there will be some growth in nuclear energy.

India has significant nuclear know-how due to its nuclear weapons program. Nuclear power in India has a potentially strong future due to the enormous energy needs of India as well as its neighboring countries, some of which it can export power to. In 2012, only 3.6% of India’s energy needs were provided by nuclear power, meaning there is potential for enormous growth, especially since a significant portion of its populations is not yet electrified.[1]While India has significant deposits of coal and there is hydropower potential in its Himalayan states, as well as in Nepal and Bhutan, geographical and demographic factors mean that for large parts of the region, nuclear energy has the potential to provide much of the energy needs of the population.[2]

India is likely to experience a growth in nuclear power over the next couple of decades, as a result of increasing energy demand as India continues to develop and industrialize. At the present, India has 20 nuclear power plants in operation, 7 under construction, 18 planned, 39 proposed, and 5 research reactors.[3] As such, it is currently one of the emerging centers of nuclear energy in the world, with plants currently in operation than China (17).[4] India also has the potential to be fairly self-sufficient in producing its own nuclear energy, without the need to import material or equipment because of its uranium and thorium reserves, the latter of which are vast.[5]

One major factor that could fuel India’s nuclear power growth is its integration into the global nuclear system. India has long been outside the global nuclear order as a result of not signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). “It could not become a nuclear-weapon state under the treaty, which limited admission to the nuclear club to the five states that tested before 1967. By testing after that date and by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons rather than accede to the NPT, India has long been a nuclear outlier. As such, it has been kept outside of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and until recently barred from international nuclear commerce.”[6] India’s integration into the international nuclear system began with the US-India nuclear pact of 2006, under which India separated its military and civilian nuclear programs, opening up the way for foreign investment in India’s civilian nuclear sector.[7] In 2008, the NSG issued a waiver to India, which enabled India to be supplied by member countries of the NSG.[8] Since then, India has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Namibia.[9] Indian companies since then have also said that they would invest over US $50 billion in expanding their manufacturing sector, incorporating new technologies and materials.[10]

These highlight the fact that India now has multiple steady sources of both nuclear material such as uranium and nuclear technology from developed countries. Even countries that had been previously averse to normalizing nuclear relations with India, such as Japan and Australia, have been exploring deals with India.[11] Of particular note is the deepening of relations between Japan and India, which has come about due to the current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies aimed at strengthening ties with other Asian nations in order to balance China. Japan, which has experience with dealing with safety issues due to a history of earthquakes and tsunamis and the Fukushima incident, can be especially invaluable in helping India address its nuclear security concerns.[12]

India has major security incentives to nuclearize its energy. Among major countries, it is especially dependent on energy imports to a greater extent than China, Russia, or the United States primarily because of its small hydrocarbon reserves.[13] India must import 90% of its oil.[14] In order to offset its dependence on foreign energy, the Indian government has pursued numerous diversification strategies such as bidding for oil concessions throughout the world, especially in Central Asia and Africa.[15] However, in many of these cases, India has been outbid by Chinese companies and is still, in any case, largely dependent on the shipment of hydrocarbons to India, and as such is vulnerable to security issues in the Indian Ocean such as piracy or to the fluctuation of oil and gas prices. In all these scenarios, increasing the percentage of its energy that is derived from domestic nuclear power plants seems wise.

However, nuclear power in India faces many problems that may impact its ability to build further plants and attract foreign investment. Despite the benefits that nuclear energy would bring India, a lack of coordination and strategic foresight in India’s government and among its political parties threaten to retard its nuclear growth. Like many other industries and projects in India, land acquisition is difficult and lack of safety measures a potential hazard. Furthermore, acquiring land and safety issues often lead to protests, even when proper procedures are followed. In a populist democracy such as India filled with opportunist politicians and a slow bureaucracy, protests can often cripple projects, seriously hurting India’s ability to develop infrastructure at a steady pace. For example, India’s largest automobile producer, Tata Motors, was forced to abandon its production of the Nano mini car in the Indian state of West Bengal in 2008 due to protests and attacks by villagers over the acquisition of land for its factory.[16] A series of haphazard and contradictory actions on the part of the government and the judiciary did not provide a predictable legal environment for the operation of the factor. Furthermore, protestors were agitated by the then opposition political party in West Bengal. Situations like this are common throughout India and can impact the construction of nuclear power plants in India.

A model for this sort of behavior is already being provided by the ongoing protests over the last two years over a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu. The Kudankulam plant has come under major criticism and protests by locals due to its proximity to the sea, as they fear a repeat of the Fukushima disaster and are upset by the failure of the government to compensate them for land near the reactor.[17] India’s already vibrant environmental activists have been instrumental in keeping up strong protests and discussing safety issues in the public domain.[18] However, as with many other populist movements in India, the government failed to act in a predictable and consistent way, with the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha first backing the protestors and then the nuclear power plant whenever each option seemed more favorable for attaining votes.[19]

Some of the safety concerns of activists over India’s nuclear energy are valid given the state of India’s nuclear technology. This may also be an obstacle that needs to be surmounted for India’s nuclear energy to reach its full potential. Because of the origin of India’s nuclear program- as a military program- the main focus was on the eventual creation of nuclear weapons and not security in the event of an earthquake or tsunami hitting a nuclear plant. Due to its exclusion from the international nuclear community, India’s safety technology is not as advanced as other natural-disaster prone countries, such as Japan.[20] Countries with much greater nuclear expertise than India have still had nuclear disasters, such as the United States, Soviet Union, and Japan, and given the clumsiness of other Indian rescue and evacuation operations in recent history such as during floods this summer in Uttarakhand, there is a genuine possibility that a nuclear disaster in India would be mismanaged. This knowledge might give protesters, both in the present and future more fuel for their actions as well as be a factor in the government’s somewhat slow approach to dealing with protests and fast-tracking new plants as it might be waiting for appropriate contracts from companies from the developed world with good safety records, such as France.

The Kudankulam plant also reflects another weakness of India’s legal protections for nuclear power, namely that of its nuclear liability law. Due to this law, India has recently failed to go through with a deal with Russia to set up two new power plants at Kudankulam.[21] This law “gives Indian nuclear plant operators the right to seek compensation from suppliers for a period of five years, and not for the entire lifetime of a nuclear reactor.”[22] However, this and other concerns have led to many global companies raising serious concerns over the liability laws, which they claim are too strict and not in compliance with international norms.[23] Due to internal policies in India, it is highly unlikely that the law will be amended anytime soon. As a result, it has played a role in preventing many American companies from doing business in India’s nuclear industry.[24] This is highly ironic given the enormous effort made on the part of the United States to bypass international norms and push for India’s acceptance into the nuclear club. Furthermore, Prime Minister Singh risked his political career in 2005 to push through the nuclear agreement with the United States in India’s parliament. Despite all this, India’s political situation makes it almost impossible for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to push through changes that would make foreign companies more comfortable investing in India’s nuclear sector. As a result, India has as yet failed to reap the full benefit of its nuclear cooperation with the United States and other countries.

Although India has enormous potential for becoming a major nuclear energy power, it is unlikely this potential will be met in the next two decades. India’s political and legal systems are largely gridlocked and have been so for the past few years. Even if this gridlock is overcome at the national level after the next elections in 2014, it is unlikely that India’s culture of political opportunism and populist agitation will simply recede in the next decade or so. As such, any further projects will probably proceed slowly through the bureaucracy and political system, current projects will be delayed, and planned projects pushed back, as most infrastructure and laws are in India due to an abundance of vested interests and governments too fragile or unwilling to risk their necks in order to push through changes.

India’s governments have a history, especially in recent times as coalition governments have become more common, in failing to pursue policies deemed beneficial, such as implementing new FDI schemes, the lack of which has driven away investment by Walmart and other large companies that could modernize India’s infrastructure. Even though India’s government has declared the expansion of the Kudankulam power plant to be “necessary for the welfare and economic growth of India,” it has failed to take steps to facilitate this, despite it being its prerogative to do so.[25] Furthermore, many writers assert that India’s leaders are not actually planning to utilize their nuclear power potential due to its effort and controversy and see its civilian nuclear program primarily as a tool to improve relations with the United States; and there are cheaper and more effective ways of providing more energy for India, such as importing gas from Iran.[26] Such a solution would appeal to political classes in a democracy where short term planning is preferred and more feasible than more strategic, long term planning which is difficult in a political system that is somewhat chaotic.

The results of such policies is that India will most likely continue to play it safe and avoid controversy and derive the majority of its energy from coal,  oil, and gas, though the share of nuclear energy will gradually expand. However, despite the efforts made on the part of India and by other countries, India will probably not experience a giant boom in nuclear power plant construction and foreign companies won’t be doing exceptionally brisk business in India as was expected in the late 2000s. A leading nuclear authority, Arjun Makhijani has asserted that in the near term, India’s nuclear sector will contribute at most 10-12% of its energy needs.[27] However, it is vital enough both as a source of national pride and energy that it is unlikely that nuclear power in India will go the way of Germany and be phased out.

This is unfortunate, as India has both the potential and need to derive a greater percentage of its energy from nuclear power. From India’s point of view, it is absolutely necessary that it cleans up and rationalizes its confusing and indecisive political system in order to provide a more stable environment for investors. Furthermore, politicians ought to be more responsible and consistent in their public positions on various issues including nuclear power and infrastructure. For example, both of India’s main parties, the BJP and Congress tend to oppose the same policies they supported when in power, making it hard for them to agree to pass important legislation in a coalition driven parliament.  It will take enormous political courage on the part of India’s politicians to push through reforms and to not change tack after every protest. From the point of view of other countries and foreign corporations interested in doing business with India, it is important that they continue lobbying or advising the Indian government to provide more confidence for investors as well as a more stable and predictable environment. Not only will this assuage concerns but it will help India acquire the technology and efficiency needed to address domestic concerns about safety.


[1] “Nuclear Share Figures, 2002-2012.” World Nuclear Association. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Facts-and-Figures/Nuclear-generation-by-country/#.UmcM_FCThzV

[2]“IEC 2013: Securing tomorrow’s energy today: Policy and Regulations: Long Term Energy Security.” Deloitte. http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-India/Local%20Assets/Documents/IEC%202013/Long_Term_Energy_Security.pdf 4.

[3] “Asia’s Nuclear Energy Growth.” World Nuclear Association. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Others/Asia-s-Nuclear-Energy-Growth/#.UmcOVFCThzU

[4] Ibid.

[5] Deloitte, 5.

[6] Painter, Daniel. “The Nuclear Suppliers Group at the Crossroads.” The Diplomat. 10 June 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://thediplomat.com/2013/06/10/the-nuclear-suppliers-group-at-the-crossroads/

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Nuclear Power in India.” World Nuclear Association. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-G-N/India/#.UmcYKlCThzV

[11] Fensom, Anthony. “Atomic Allies?: India and Australia Explore Uranium Sales.” The Diplomat. 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 21 Oct. 2013.http://thediplomat.com/pacific-money/2012/11/01/atomic-allies-india-and-australia-explore-uranium-sales/

[12] Mian, Zia, A.H. Nayyar and M.V. Ramana. “South Asia’s misplaced confidence in nuclear technology.” Global Research. 21 April 2011. Web.  21. Oct. 2013. http://www.globalresearch.ca/south-asia-s-misplaced-confidence-in-nuclear-technology/24431

[13] Deloitte, 4.

[14] Kugelman, Michael (editor). “Foreign Addiction: Assessing India’s Energy Security Strategy.” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. October 2008. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/FINALASIA_SpecialReport_142_rpt2.pdf, 1.

[15] Kugelman, 3.

[16] “Ruled by Lakshmi.” The Economist. December 11, 2008. http://www.economist.com/node/12749719

[17] Harikrishnan, K.S. “Protest Never Ends at Indian Nuclear Plant.” Asia Times Online. 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/OB05Df01.html

[18] Deloitte, 21.

[19] “The Kudankulam Conundrum.” The Economist. September 15, 2012. http://www.economist.com/node/21562972

[20] Mian, Zia et al. “South Asia’s misplaced confidence in nuclear technology.”

[21] “India, Russia to Sign 5 Agreements; Kudankulam Pact Unlikely.” The Times Of India. 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-10-20/india/43220396_1_liability-law-rosatom-kudankulam-nuclear-power-project

[22] Sharma, Rajeev. “India’s Nuclear Logjam.” The Diplomat. 21 Nov. 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. http://thediplomat.com/indian-decade/2011/11/21/indias-nuclear-logjam/

[23] Ibid.

[24]”After US, India’s Nuclear Liability Law Trips Russia Kudankulam Deal.” Firstpost. 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. http://www.firstpost.com/world/after-us-indias-nuclear-liability-law-trips-kudankulam-deal-with-russia-1183791.html

[25] “Kudankulam: India Nuclear Plant Begins Operating.” BBC News. BBC, 22 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Oct. 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-24619985

[26] Kugelman et al., 4.

[27] Ibid.


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Written by Akhipill

October 13, 2013 at 10:31 PM

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The Roots of South Asian Instability

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Stability, according to Kenneth N. Waltz is defined as the durability of a system and its ability to peacefully adjust to changing circumstances.[1] Thus, the stability of a country, a region, and relations between states is achieved when, in any of these systems, there is an element of predictability and a high probability of peaceful, legal recourse for the resolution of any issues should the need to solve a dispute arise. Instability, then, is the converse of this description: it is characterized by unpredictability, an increase in violence and the use of force, and the decreased likelihood of order and cooperation.

As per this definition of instability, the region of South Asia is unstable on both the interstate and intrastate levels. There are several causes for this state of affairs in South Asia: interstate conflict is found in the form of continued tensions between India and Pakistan while intrastate conflict persists because Afghanistan and Pakistan both face terrorism and insurgency. These two causes of instability in South Asia are in fact related to each other and closely linked, primarily because the major source of militancy in the region is an insecure Pakistan, which often nurtured militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir in order to counter its rival, India.

The root cause of instability in South Asia is the conflict between Pakistan and India, which itself feeds numerous other types of conflicts in the region. This conflict is rooted in a territorial dispute over the region of Kashmir but has acquired a more general strategic dimension. One aspect of the conflict between India and Pakistan which causes instability is the nuclear weapons competition between both countries. Of course, it should be noted that nuclear weapons do not necessarily lead to instability; it is possible that rival states with nuclear weapons will continue to carry on normal relations.[2] This is the case with India and China, which, despite nuclear and strategy rivalry, have not been engaged in destabilizing each other and have been increasing their volume of trade over the past decade.[3] However, Pakistan’s nuclear program has been a destabilizing factor in South Asia, as noted by S. Paul Kapur.[4] Kapur noted that Pakistan’s nuclear program has made it more likely to pursue aggressive behavior since nuclear weapons shield it against all-out retaliation.[5] In fact, soon after Pakistan’s first nuclear test in 1998, Pakistani soldiers infiltrated Kargil in Indian Kashmir in 1999 with the intention of using their newly nuclear weapons status to their advantage by restraining India’s response and drawing international attention to the Kashmir issue.[6] Pakistan’s nuclear weapons have also shielded it against Indian retaliation in 2001-2002 in the wake of terrorist attacks against India’s Parliament traced to an extent back to Pakistan as well as during the 2008 Mumbai attacks.[7]

In response to Pakistan’s nuclear program, India has adopted measures that further destabilize South Asia. Pakistan as a state feels deeply insecure because of its comparative disadvantages vis-à-vis India in terms of population, resources, and military might.[8] This insecurity has been exacerbated by Indian strategies such as operation Cold Start which are designed to counter Pakistan’s potential nuclear use by striking swiftly at Pakistan in the case of war.[9] As a result of these fears, Pakistan has turned to alternative strategies to balance the scales between itself and India. Unfortunately, however, these strategies have destabilized both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani concept of strategic depth requires that Pakistan acquire extra strategic depth by having the option of retreating into Afghanistan in the case of a war with India.[10] This requires that any government in Afghanistan be friendly to Pakistan, if not controlled by it. As a result, certain elements of the Pakistani government have been supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been destabilized since the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979. Certainly, one of the major factors in the continued conflict in Afghanistan has been the support of Pakistan; however, there is no doubt that the conflict in Afghanistan has taken on a life of its own for other reasons. One reason is the continued American presence in the country which galvanizes a segment of the population into supporting the Taliban. However, the main cause for continued violence in Afghanistan is the opportunity for armed groups within Afghanistan to continue to have the ability to perpetuate their violence due the structural weakness of the Afghan state, which does not have a monopoly on violence within its country. When states weaken, power struggles among leaders intensify, regional leaders become independent and run parts of the country as warlords, and ethnic groups assert themselves.[11] Individual groups also feel compelled to provide their own security.[12] In such a scenario, according to Stathis N. Kalyvas, sovereignty either is segmented and fragmented, both of which denote that the central government lacks full control over its territory, as in the case of Afghanistan.[13] There are large pockets of northern Afghanistan where sovereignty is segmented- where several political actors exercise full sovereignty over distinct territorial parts of the state- as ethnic Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek militias essentially control various fiefs.[14] On the other hand, much of the rest of the country including the south and east where the Taliban are most active fall under the category of fragmentary sovereignty, where both the central government and the Taliban partially exercise limited sovereignty over the same part of the state.[15] The result is that neither is able to fully take on the functions of a state in controlling violence or building social institutions, resulting in continuing violence.

The continuing war in Afghanistan has negative security implications for Pakistan as well because the Taliban operate on both sides of the border between the two countries and their respective branches on both sides of the border aid each other. Coupled with the rise of Taliban related militancy, Pakistan has had to deal with the exponential increase in domestic terrorist groups, a problem partially of its own making as Pakistan long nurtured jihadist groups as potential weapons against India.[16] These groups were originally intended to either cause trouble for India in Kashmir or, in the case of the Haqqani Network in the Waziristan area along the Afghan-Pakistan border, to continue to supply and aid the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to guard against Indian influence there.[17] However, according to the noted Pakistan scholar Ahmad Rashid, at the behest of the United States after its invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan lost control over some militant groups because of it conducted counter-terrorism military operations in its tribal areas aimed at disrupting Taliban safe havens.[18] This in turn led to internal militancy against the Pakistani government in Waziristan, which then provided a safe haven for training extremists from other parts of Pakistan, who have now begun fanning over the country and disrupting the country through sectarian attacks and attacks on secular institutions.[19]

As a result, Pakistan’s already corrupt and overstretched state is finding it even more difficult to put resources into economic growth and education, which may reduce the appeal of militancy for segments of its population. Instead, in addition to the disproportionate amount of money it puts into its military, it must divert further resources to fight counterinsurgency, a problem that it shares with Afghanistan. According to some academic literature, developing countries with large young populations- a youth bulge- could use their large pool of cheap labor to climb on the path towards prosperity if there are ample educational and economic opportunities, as is the case with India and China.[20] On the other hand, failure to invest in human capital combined with a youth bulge can lead to an increase in youth violence.[21]

Thus, as demonstrated, South Asia’s security problems stem both from interstate factors and intrastate factors. However, of the two, interstate security issues are the key to understanding the root causes of instability and conflict in the region. This may seem surprising at first, given the immense internal security problems faced by Pakistan and Afghanistan. Furthermore, when two countries become strategic rivals, such as China and India, or China and the United States, the nature of their interaction is often along the lines of competition rather than the sponsoring of deadly, destabilizing internal conflict as is the case in South Asia. By this logic, Indo-Pakistani rivalry ought to be continuous hedging and strategic countermoves against each other, while the insurgencies have the potential to destroy Afghanistan and Pakistan. International competition is the potential for conflict in many circumstances. However, because the internal and international security issues of South Asia are so closely linked, the internal issues cannot be solved unless international issues are solved. Pakistan will continue to sponsor militant groups as long as its relations with India remain unresolved and as long it continues to disrespect Afghan sovereignty.

The chief policy recommendation for solving security issues in South Asia would involve turning what is essentially an international terrorist and insurgency issue spread across India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan into three distinct local conflicts to be dealt with internally by all three countries. This can be accomplished only by removing the international element of the problem so that each country can deal with internal issues without worrying about interference or reaction on the part of the other country. Thus in India’s case, this would involve dealing with the insurgency in Kashmir without Pakistani influence, which would make its efforts easier and reduce the possibility of international or nuclear war. Pakistan would have to stop using militants to further destabilize its neighbors India and Afghanistan, but in doing so, it also reduces the fuel on the fire of militancy which has come back to haunt Pakistan itself. Instead of focusing on its neighbors, Pakistan could dedicate its resources on providing security, education, and economic opportunities in its own country.

Therefore, in order to reduce the international factors that feed Indo-Pakistani tensions, the best solution would be to encourage the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Other countries such as the United States can encourage this process, but ultimately for there to be true peace between India and Pakistan, both countries and their elites must fully accept a permanent resolution through the mutual acceptance of an international border satisfactory to both sides. Both sides must accept that as facts on the ground stand, neither will be able to claim all of Kashmir; rather both sides ought to accept making the de facto border the de jure border. Hopefully this will assuage Pakistan’s immediate security concerns and turn the Indo-Pakistani rivalry into something more benign, such as strategic competition without a militant dimension that undermines the security of both countries. Reducing conflict in Afghanistan too will involve Pakistan ceasing its support of militant groups such as the Taliban. Pakistan is less likely to do so though, if it does not feel as threatened by India. If the Taliban do not have the guaranteed support of Pakistan, they may move more strongly in the direction of negotiation. It will be a long time until violence is monopolized by the Afghan government; however with a decrease in violence, other possibilities such as political favoritism, containment, and divide and rule can be used to reduce violence there. [22] To conclude: more stability will come about through better international relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan and India.


[1] Nuno P. Monteiro, “Unrest Assured: Why Unipolarity is not Peaceful,” International Security Vol.36 No. 3 (Winter 2011-2012): 9.

[2] Peter R. Lavoy, “The Strategic Consequences of Nuclear Proliferation,” Security Studies Vol.4 No.4 (Summer 1995): 697.

[3] Thomas J. Christensen, “Fostering Stability or Creating a Monster,” International Security  Vol. 31 No. 1 (Summer 2006): 90.

[4] Kapur, Paul S., “Ten Years of Instability in a Nuclear South Asia,” International Security Vol.33 No.2(Fall 2008): 72.

[5] Kapur, 72.

[6] Kapur, 72.

[7] Kapur, 83.

[8] Kapur, 90.

[9] Kapur, 89.

[10] Kapur, 90.

[11] Michael E. Brown, “The Causes of Internal Conflict,” from Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict: A Revised Edition (September 2001): 6.

[12] Brown, 6.

[13] Stathis N. Kalyvas, “The Logic of Violence in Civil War,” Cambridge Press, New York (2006): 88, 89.

[14] Kalyvas, 89.

[15] Kalyvas, 89.

[16] Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “Washington’s Phantom War,” Foreign Affairs Vol.90 No.4 (July/August 2011): 15.

[17] Bergen, 15.

[18] Ahmad Rashid, “Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan,” Viking, New York (2012): 48-51.

[19] Rashid, 48-51.

[20] Jack A. Goldstone, “The New Population Bomb,” Foreign Affairs Vol.89 No.1 (January/February 2010): 34.

[21] Henrik Urdal, “A Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence,” International Studies Quarterly 50 (2006): 608.

[22] Paul Stainland, “The Future of Violence in Afghanistan,” The National Interest (July 18, 2012): 1.


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Written by Akhipill

May 5, 2013 at 10:07 PM

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China, India, and Iran: Goals in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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The purpose of this essay is to analyze the geopolitical strategies and goals of China, India, and Iran in the region that contains Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The focus of this essay is on the geopolitics of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and the strategies those countries and their neighbors, China and India, are pursuing in achieving their geopolitical and strategic goals in that region. This essay will focus on the geopolitical strategies of Iran, India, and China especially in regards to infrastructure. All the countries considered in this paper- Iran, India, and China- are pursuing strategic geopolitical goals in this region mainly for the following reasons: 1) to improve their own military and strategic position vis-à-vis their rivals, 2) to improve their economic position, and 3) to stabilize or destabilize the region depending on their needs. As a result, this paper will discuss military strategy, infrastructure, and trade in order to elaborate on what these countries are doing in pursuit of their geopolitical goals and why they believe such measures are necessary.


In the modern world, technology and transportation have made geopolitics seem antiquated, or at least forgotten.[1] However, technology and frontiers cannot erase the geographical truths that countries face when pursuing policies. The reality is that pipelines, roads, and most importantly at all, the consciousness of various nations and peoples all depend on the land and terrain. As the famous strategist and geography Nicholas J. Spykman pointed out, “geography is the most fundamental factor in the foreign policy of states because it is the most permanent. Ministers come and go, even dictators die, but mountain ranges stand unperturbed.”[2] The foreign policy goals of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and modern Russia are all surprisingly similar, as these states- no matter their ideologies- all had to deal with the same geopolitical choices.

Moving towards our region of focus, we find that geography also plays a large impact on the political and foreign policy calculations of the actors involved. For example, Afghanistan has always been important for whoever historically ruled any empire in northern India, which is today divided between the modern states of Pakistan and India. This is one of the reasons that both countries are interested in it today. Most invasions of the Indian subcontinent have come through Afghanistan, and into the Khyber Pass of the Hindu Kush mountains which leads to the plains of Punjab. This was a fact known to the Mughals who consistently fought with the Safavid Persians to control this border region and numerous native military leaders; Ranjit Singh, the Maharaja of Punjab expanded his empire to the Khyber Pass with the explicit goal of securing this passageway into India. Policy-makers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India know that what was called the Northwest-Frontier was “historically no frontier at all” but the heart of a geographical and cultural continuity that persisted on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.[3] As such, India and Pakistan’s interests are both directed at each other, though they also both seek transportation and trade links. Iran and Persian civilization historically included much of Afghanistan as well and political and economic links remain. China too seeks to pursue its goals which include political stability at home, economic growth, and international clout, all of which are interrelated, in the region. China’s goals are primarily to secure energy and transportation routes, prevent any unrest in its own western Xinjiang region, and acquire resources.[4]

This introduction on the importance of geopolitics serves to tie the next sections of this paper- focusing on interests of China, India, and Iran- under a common theme: that despite the advent of the modern world, countries still need to pay heed to their geography, especially their immediate geography, in order to secure their frontiers and pursue their interests. This paper will now turn to Iran, India, and China in order to study what those countries are doing to pursue their interests in our region of study.


Iran has mostly been focused on its west, the Middle East, rather than the lands to its east for most of the past few decades. This is rather uncharacteristic of Iran’s traditional foreign policy, which has always also placed a lot of emphasis on the region to its east, Khorasan as well. There are several reasons for this development. First, the existence of the Soviet Union and the persistence of Russian influence in Central Asia meant that Iran was reduced to a secondary power in that region and Afghanistan.[5] Second, the states to the east of Iran were traditionally weak or subservient to Persian influence; however, this changed with the emergence of Pakistan, which is arguably stronger than Iran due to its professional military, nuclear weapons, some industrial base, and large population. However, thirdly, the converse was true to Iran’s west, where no Arab country emerged with a size or population greater than Iran’s. As a result of this, and because of Iran’s post-revolutionary rivalry with Saudi Arabia and war with Iraq, Iran spent much of the 1980s and 1990s focusing on the Middle East.

However, this is changing as Iran has been increasing its links with Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Iran is interesting in pursing the following geopolitical goals: political and economic, although there are other reasons for its involvement in Afghanistan, such as the presence of Afghan refugees in Iran and the drug trade. Iran believes that it is important for it to assert political influence in Afghanistan in order to protect its eastern boundary. From Iran’s point of view, the presence of a friendly or at least neutral government or militant groups in Afghanistan is much more beneficial than a government that is beholden to or hosts troops from the United States, as Iran fears that American soldiers in Afghanistan can be used to attack Iran. Iran also has historically desired to counter Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, as the two states have sometimes had a tense relationship; likewise, Iran seeks to prevent the Taliban- who had abysmal relations with Iran when in power- from controlling Afghanistan.[6] As a result, Iran has supported Tajik and Hazara armed groups- which share linguistic or religious ties with Iran- since the 1980s in order to hedge against Taliban or Pakistani influence.[7] As a result, Iran supported the Tajik dominated Northern Alliance in the 1990s against the Taliban.[8] Iran has been able to use these groups and militias as proxies to pressure the Afghan government today not to implement policies that would adversely affect Iranian interests, such as shutting down trade with Iran, discriminating against Shi’as or diverting water from the Helmand River, which flows through both countries.[9]

This is not to suggest however, that Iran is beyond supporting the Taliban for its own political purposes, despite its support for anti-Taliban groups. In the same manner in which Afghanistan is geographical opportunity for Iran due to its close physical and cultural ties, it is also a liability for the United States, in the sense that the logistics of fighting in alien, mountainous terrain thousands of miles from home is a great difficulty for the United States, one that only becomes worse due to the Taliban. Consequently, Iran has also been supporting the Taliban since the 2003, when it was declared a member of the Axis of Evil by American President George W. Bush. This however, should not be constituted as Iranian support for a Taliban government in Afghanistan. Rather, Iran is using the Taliban for its own purposes against the United States. Peter Tomsen, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, summarized the Iranian strategy in 2006 by arguing that a weakened Afghan state [by the Taliban] lessens the likelihood it can become a U.S. ally against Iran. By maintaining a certain level of instability, he said, “it keeps us tied down. After all, we have air bases in Afghanistan where we could mount attacks on Iran.” Some analysts call it “managed chaos,” a strategy they say is similar to the one Iran employs in Iraq. Others see abetting the Taliban as a means to boost Iran’s leverage at a time when it is under pressure to end its uranium-enrichment program.[10]

Nonetheless, Iran does not wish to see the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan. Iran’s support of the Taliban will only be enough to cause discomfort to the United States and not enough to bring the Taliban back to power.[11] Iran is likely to abandon any assistance to the Taliban in the case of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. Iran desires to see the United States leave Afghanistan and a government friendlier to Iran come to power there. To this end, Iran has hedged its bets in all manner of ways, such as establishing closer relations with the Karzai government through the distribution of aid, money, and economic projects, as well as allegedly, bribes.[12]

From the point of view of both politics and economics, western Afghanistan is the most important part of that country for Iranian goals, and is a vital interest in a way that the rest of the country is not. Western Afghanistan, the area around Herat, was part of the Persian Safavid Empire until it was seized by the Afghans in the 18th century, and as a result, Iran considers this area well within its economic and political sphere of influence.[13] Iran has developed significant economic ties to this region of Afghanistan. Due to the weakness of the central government of Afghanistan, it is difficult to enforce national or international laws in this part of the country, and thus, Iranian trade with Afghanistan is one way for Iran to lessen the pressure of international sanctions on it. According to the Afghan Chamber of Commerce, an estimated 2,000 Iranian private firms, many financed by the Iranian government, operate in Afghanistan. Many of these businesses are located in Herat and aided the city’s economic revitalization after the fall of the Taliban. The Iranian government also directly funded the development of Herat’s transportation and energy infrastructure. A planned railroad will link Herat to the northeastern city of Mashhad, facilitating much-needed commerce and providing revenue to the both the Iranian and Afghan governments.[14]

While Iran is able to exercise a role in Afghanistan from a position of some dominance, this is not true of its relationship with Pakistan. Thus, Iran has to thread more carefully in order to achieve its goals in Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan have had many ups and downs in their relationship. Although relations between the two countries was cordial during the Shah’s era, in retrospect it seems inevitable that both countries would also have friction, as both are large Muslim countries seeking to expand their hard-power and soft-power in the same region. Moreover, they had conflicting interests in Afghanistan, as well as their different attitudes towards Saudi Arabia and the United States, with which Pakistan was closer to.[15] As a result, Iran’s ability to influence Pakistan politically is not great.

Nonetheless, Iran and Pakistan have been moving closer together for reasons of mutual economic convenience, which may, in the future, lead to greater political convenience. As in Afghanistan, Iran’s economic ties with Pakistan can be a means by which it reduces the burdens of economic sanctions on its nuclear program. On the other hand, Pakistan’s reasons for starting to draw closer to Iran, at least as off 2013, are more complex and hypothetical. If, for example, Pakistan were to incur further international isolation for whatever reason, be it related to terrorism, domestic stability, or its nuclear program, it would have to draw closer to countries that would not go through with sanctions regimes against it, one of which happens to be its neighbor, Iran. Due to increased criticism of Pakistan, especially in the wake of the capture of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011, Pakistan has calculated that it is better off having fewer enemies and more friends, just in case; in addition to Iran, Pakistan markedly improved ties with India and assented to the greater lifting of trade barriers between the two nations.

Given these parameters, Iran’s chief geopolitical goal in Pakistan is one of economic nature that benefits both countries economically without the worry of either country trying to politically influence one another. This project is the implementation of a natural gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan, a project that both countries signed on March 11, 2013. [16] This pipeline of course has the benefit of alleviating sanctions on Iran, with the added benefit that it could be extended to India, bringing Iran more cash. From Pakistan’s point of view, this pipeline allows it to import energy directly and cheaply in order to assuage its domestic energy crisis and perhaps help power its development towards stability.[17]

Iran’s relations with Pakistan are complicated. While both countries will draw closer to the extent that it will be unlikely that either country will support or aid in any hostilities against each other, it is also unlikely that both countries will become fast friends as their geopolitical goals in Afghanistan are too different, and their foreign relations are often at odds with each other, with Pakistan cultivating close ties with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states while Iran has maintained good relations with India. Although Pakistan’s relationship with the United States has soured in the past two years, it is unlikely that the establishment in Pakistan will allow it to deteriorate to the point where Pakistan finds itself closer to Iran than the United States, though any time Pakistan’s relations with the United States are at a low, it will become closer to Iran, as seen in the last couple of years.


At this point, this paper turns to India’s geopolitical goals in Iran and Afghanistan as Iran is not just a geographical player but also part of the games of other countries. India’s goals in Pakistan mainly involve the resolution of the Kashmir dispute and India does not have any active infrastructure projects in Pakistan. India’s goals in Afghanistan are driven by economic needs and strategic needs vis-à-vis Pakistan. India’s goals in Iran are primarily strategic (militarily) or economic in nature and are mainly driven by its relations with three other countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China.

First of all, India has a strong interest in Afghanistan remaining free of outside influence, primarily Pakistani influence.[18] An Afghanistan under Pakistani influence could embolden Pakistan against India because Pakistan would not have to worry about its western border and it would have the “strategic depth” it so craves. Strategic Depth is a Pakistani strategy that envisions Afghanistan as an extension of Pakistan, a place where Pakistani forces and weapons could retreat to if Pakistan were to suffer a defeat from India.  On the other hand, an Afghanistan that controlled its own destiny would prevent Pakistan from using it. This would suit India. Furthermore, an assertive Afghanistan would undoubtedly put pressure on Pakistan by influencing the ethnic Pashtun in the FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP). According to an Indian analysis, “once Islamabad is assured of a friendly government in Kabul, it will unleash all the terrorists at its disposal on India. This will only mean more trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, and it will embolden terrorist groups to attack our cities with greater frequency.”[19] Though this might be an exaggeration, there is genuine fear in India that an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban or influenced by Pakistan would lead to more terrorism in India. Likewise, India does not want Afghanistan to become a safe haven for anti-Indian terrorist and militant groups.[20]

India’s interest in Afghanistan is also strategic in nature, and in both an economic and geopolitical sense. Economically, India seeks to use Afghanistan both for trade and as a bridge to the rest of Central Asia and the Middle East. In order to increase its leverage in Afghanistan, prop up the stability of the Karzai government, and benefit its own growth, India has invested heavily in Afghanistan in the last decade. India has provided the most developmental assistance of any country to Afghanistan, estimated at between 1.3 to 2 billion US dollars in 2011.[21] India and Afghanistan have also signed a Preferential Trade Agreement.[22] Moreover, Indian companies have invested heavily in Afghanistan, “particularly in the agriculture, manufacturing, telecommunications, and mining sectors. Notably, in late 2011, no fewer than 14 Indian firms bid on an iron mining contract in Bamyan province that could generate $6 billion in investment.”[23]

India also seeks to use Afghanistan to project itself geopolitically into the region beyond, namely the Middle East and Central Asia. However, the Middle East is also accessible to India via sea, which Central Asia is not. Thus, India’s ability to project itself into Central Asia is particularly dependent on Afghanistan. India seeks to project its influence into Central Asia, both to live up to its aspirations as a great power, and in order to check the influence of other powers, namely China and Pakistan in that region. India currently maintains a military base in Tajikistan, which it uses to supply its projects in Afghanistan and which is supplied via Afghanistan.[24] According to India analyst Harsh V. Pant, India and the world will judge India’s success in Afghanistan and Central Asia as proof that it has become a global power; if India fails to succeed in its own backyard, this will cast doubt on its great power aspirations globally.[25] Thus, success in Afghanistan is essential to India.

However, India has a serious problem in achieving its goals in Afghanistan, due to the difficulty it has in directly accessing it over land. India’s traditional overland land routes ran out of the subcontinent through Afghanistan into the Middle East and Central Asia. However, the creation of Pakistan created a problem for India in the sense that an unsteady relationship with Pakistan largely cut India off of its traditional overland routes. In today’s terms, this makes it difficult for India to directly access energy resources via pipelines or trade using trucks and rail without an open border with Pakistan, something which has not happened yet. In fact, India cannot send goods directly to Afghanistan due to a restriction placed by Pakistan.[26]

As a result, Iran has come to occupy an important place for Indian policy-makers seeking to circumvent this issue by providing an alternative route to Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Middle East that bypasses Pakistan.[27]

Iran is important to India both for its energy resources and its transportation links. Iran is an important of Iranian oil and gas; however, this is not as significant as it could be because India does not wish to cross the United States, with whom it has a more important relationship, over the issue of sanctions on Iran.[28] Indeed, India has not fully supported Iran at the United Nations on the nuclear weapons.[29] India and Iran also share an understanding that neither wants Pakistan to have a free hand in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, despite all these other positives and negatives in the Indo-Iranian relationship, India’s main interest in Iran lies in its capability for India to solve its transportation and strategic issues. The most important element of the Indian transportation and infrastructure strategies in Iran and Afghanistan is the Iranian port of Chabahar, close to the Iran-Pakistan border. Iran is happy to host India at Chabahar because like its other projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Chabahar brings Iran cash and a decrease of its international isolation; likewise, Iran also benefits from the trade links India is building between Afghanistan and the port of Chabahar, which are many.

Numerous projects in Afghanistan all lead to Chabahar in Iran: “by constructing a 220-kilometer road between the Afghan cities of Zaranj and Delaram in 2008–2009…the Indian Border Roads Organization (BRO) connected the main Herat-Kandahar highway with existing routes leading to the Iranian port of Chabahar. Similarly, to facilitate Indian companies’ access to Afghanistan’s estimated $1 trillion in minerals and raw materials, Delhi is planning to build a rail link from Hajigak, a mineral-rich area in Bamyan province, through Zaranj, and onward to Chabahar. India is also working with Iran to build a 600-km road from Chabahar to the Iranian city of Zahedan, near the southwestern corner of Afghanistan that would follow a similar route to the rail line.”[30] Thus, Chabahar is extremely important in India’s Afghanistan strategy.


Interestingly enough, there is no major link between southern Afghanistan and the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which is near Chabahar. Consequently, Afghan goods will be able to travel faster via the Indian built infrastructure to Chabahar than to Gwadar, which is, of course, in India’s interests as this will decrease trade links between Afghanistan and Pakistan while increasing them between India and Afghanistan.[31]

In addition to serving India’s geopolitical purposes in Iran and Afghanistan and countering Pakistan, Chabahar port is also a key element in an emerging great game for influence and power in Asia: the rivalry between India and China. During the past decade, India and China’s rivalry has heated up as Asia’s largest powers have both expanded their strategic and economic interests throughout the region, often competing with each other. Chabahar is situated very close to Gwadar, in Pakistan; China has a strong interest in Gwadar, and in 2013, a Chinese company acquired the right to run Gwadar; the Chinese had been previously investing heavily in Gwadar for several years. In fact, the Indian decision to become active at Chabahar was partially influenced by the fact that China was in Gwadar, as India does not wish to be outflanked. Indian strategists fear that Gwadar is part of a Chinese strategy known as the “String of Pearls” strategy, which involves building a string of pearls (naval facilities) across the Indian Ocean in order to use them one day as military bases to protect its sea lanes and counter naval rivals, the chief of which is India.[32]

Indian analysts are especially concerned about Gwadar because it is better developed and funded than Chabahar. Chinese companies are also much more effective at constructing infrastructure. According to former Indian navy Admiral Suresh Mehta, “Gwadar has the potential to move much faster than Chabahar because the Chinese are involved. It will depend on how fast they can double the capacity of the Karakoram Highway [which connects China and Pakistan],” the Indian government official said, pointing to the pace with which China completed a port on Sri Lanka’s southern coast last year which has added to India’s fear of encirclement.[33] Beijing poured more money, $248 million, in Gwadar than India did at Chabahar.[34]  Although Chabahar is better linked to Afghanistan than Gwadar, India could swiftly lose its advantage to China; furthermore oil tankers coming from the Persian Gulf are more easily accommodated at Gwadar rather than Chabahar. More worryingly for New Delhi, the strategic location of Gwadar, 180 km from the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz [through which much of the world’s oil passes], offers China or Pakistan the chance “to take control over the world energy jugular and…[forbid the movement of] Indian tankers.”[35] As a result, the Chinese influence at Gwadar, along with other projects in the Indian Ocean (though Gwadar is the only Chinese project to the west of India, hence India’s fear of being flanked) gives China the access to the Indian Ocean that could allow it to become a major player in what was previously an ocean with only two large naval players- India and the United States.


The discussion on Chinese influence at Gwadar leads this paper to a discussion of Chinese strategic goals in the region. The paper will primarily deal with Chinese geopolitical goals regarding Pakistan, as China does not as yet have serious geopolitical strategies for Afghanistan and Iran. To resume the discussion on Gwadar and Chinese strategy in Pakistan, it is important to note the goals of Chinese strategy. Most importantly, China’s foreign policy is first and foremost driven by its own domestic concerns regarding economic growth and stability, and only secondarily by foreign concerns.[36] As a result, Chinese actions that are often interpreted by other countries to be hostile towards them are also deeply rooted in Chinese domestic concerns. A case in point is China’s String of Pearls strategy and Gwadar. China’s main concern is to secure its sea lines in order to prevent anything from hindering its economic growth; it is only an added benefit that such a strategy also helps it contain potential rivals.

Gwadar is important to China for two reasons, both of which involve bodies of water: straits.[37] The first strait is the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the energy that China depends on passes. China’s strategic purpose in Gwadar is to keep an eye on this strait and to potentially use naval force to prevent its oil imports from being cut off- in other words, to keep the Strait of Hormuz open. The second strait is the Strait of Malacca, the passageway in Southeast Asia through which a large percentage of Chinese energy imports and manufactured exports pass. As this is a bottleneck that could be used to strangle China, it is extremely vital for China strategically to seek alternative routes to lessen the impact of an incident in the Straits of Malacca on its economy. So in theory China need not ship all its oil supplies from the Gulf through the Indian Ocean and then up to Shanghai. Instead the oil tankers would drop off at Gwadar, and from there the supplies would be trucked through Pakistan and into China Thus, the development of Gwadar, close to the energy producing regions of the Middle East and the future possibility of extending the Karakoram Highway all the way to Gwadar is one means by which China can solve its “Malacca Dilemma.”[38]

The topic of Gwadar is closely related to the Karakoram Highway, the road between China and Pakistan. It is the first road across the Himalayas, where previously only narrow paths existed and most trade and travel routes had to go around the Himalayas. Thus, the Karakoram Highway is one of the feats of modern construction. As the historian John Keay writes about the highway: “it was thought geographically perverse. For if ever there was a frontier decreed by nature it was the Himalaya chain. This, after all, was India’s Great Wall; behind it the peoples of the subcontinent had traditionally sheltered from the whirlwinds of migration and conquest….”[39] The highway was built in the mid-1970s when both Mao Zedong and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto were in power in their respective countries; at a height of over 5000 meters (16,000 feet), it is the world’s highest highway and cost thousands of lives.[40] That the Chinese would instigate such a feat is clearly a demonstration of the long-term Chinese desire to have a dependable land route to the western Indian Ocean and the Middle East.  The Karakoram Highway is truly a geographical game-changer because it links East Asia and South Asia in a way that they have never been linked before. While it is linked to the Pakistani road network, it has yet to be linked directly to Gwadar. However, at the present moment, there are plans to do so and widen the highway from its present two-lanes to facilitate the movement of trucks and tankers.[41]

Karakoram Highway 2

Beyond Gwadar and the Karakoram Highway, China and Pakistan have traditionally have had very good relations, being described by former Chinese President Hu Jintao as “higher than the Himalayas, deeper than the Indian Ocean, and sweeter than honey.”[42] The genesis of this strong relationship was forged by both countries after the 1962 Sino-Indian War as both countries realized that they had a mutual interest in countering India.  In addition to serving its geopolitical goals, China’s relations with Pakistan are mainly strategic; however, overall, China’s relations and geostrategic goals in Pakistan are narrowly focused on security related issues and China does not consider Pakistan to be a major economic partner.[43] China’s interest in Pakistan is to mainly focus on using Pakistan to balance India. As the Pakistan scholar Steven Cohen puts it, China’s goal is “to pursue a classic balance of power strategy, using Pakistan to confront India with the possibility of a two-front war.”[44] The idea, however, is merely to keep the pressure on India, which China sees as a threat but not as an existential threat, and thus not one that needs to be dealt with too strongly. In the meantime, however, China and India have continued to develop economic relations and trade between the two countries has increased, making it less beneficial for both countries to go to war with each other. Thus, while China seeks to use Pakistan as a safeguard against India growing too comfortable in exerting its power in the region, it is not interested in any further action.

Thus, there seems to be a gap between the Chinese and Pakistani perception of where their relationship should go. Despite the fact that China considers Pakistan to be geopolitically convenient and a remarkably loyal ally, China is not as enthusiastic about its relationship with Pakistan as Pakistan is with China because Pakistan is merely one interest among many for a large power such as China, which has other pressing interests in East, Southeast, and Central Asia. On the other hand, Pakistan often considers its relationship with China to be its most important relationship and critical for its survival. This is demonstrated by Pakistan’s almost immediate offer to the Chinese that they establish a naval base after the events of Abbottabad in 2011.[45] This offer however was immediately rejected by China so as to not unduly alienate the United States or India.[46]

Beijing prefers to act cautiously and keeps in mind the longue durée when it comes to grand strategy. It also has a tendency to not act explicitly unless own territorial integrity or vital interests are threatened. As a result, it has repeatedly turned down Pakistani offers for more explicit, military cooperation or a formal alliance, preferring to help Pakistan more indirectly through by selling it weapons.[47] China is interested in working with Pakistan but not propping it up or taking part in military adventurism. In both 1965 and 1971, when Pakistan fought wars with India, China rejected helping Pakistan directly. Pakistan miscalculated that China shared Pakistan’s level of concern over India and would be willing to go to war against India in order to help a friend.[48] Even then, Pakistan persisted in seeking direct Chinese assistance, as during the Kargil War in 1999, in which Pakistani soldiers infiltrated Indian-Kashmir; Chinese leaders remained neutral and rejected requests for support from Pakistani leaders.[49] That Pakistan does not publically air its disappointment and continues to act reverent towards Beijing underscore the importance of China for Pakistan or rather the continued consensus within Pakistan towards attempting to deepen ties with China. However, to conclude from these cases, China’s involvement in Pakistan “will closely reflect Beijing’s own priorities and evolving risk assessments” rather than unequivocal support for any Pakistani priority. [50] Nonetheless, China will not abandon Pakistan as it has already invested so much money and effort into Pakistan in order to secure its own interests; it will just not give primacy to Pakistan’s interests but will keep Pakistan friendly, just in case.

China does have some interests in Afghanistan. Like most countries, China desires a more stable Afghanistan so that economic projects can be implemented and the threat of militancy be reduced. Numerous Chinese companies have major mining contracts in Afghanistan, worth billions of dollars. However, China has not grand geopolitical strategy for Afghanistan. Likewise, with Iran, China maintains some ties, primarily to keep its energy options diversified. However, Chinese companies eager to make profits are wary of doing business in Iran for fear of falling under American sanctions. China takes a cautionary position on Iran’s alleged nuclear program, but ultimately there are no strong geopolitical plans for Iran from the perspective of China. China’s main routes for land pipelines and roads pass through Central Asia or Pakistan.


In a region as prone to change as Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, it is difficult to make future projections as circumstances can rapidly change at any time. However, some possibilities can be noted. The future of the rivalry between China and India at Gwadar and Chabahar is uncertain. While both ports are important to these countries, they are but one element in grand strategies that span across Asia. The possibility exists that these ports may not meet their full potential: in Chabahar, India has not been developing the port as fast as it could because of wariness over American sanctions and a desire to maintain strong relations with the United States. Gwadar, which is in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, contains continued instability and an ethnic Baluch revolt which also slow down its development by the Chinese. Thus, one should not expect to see the rivalry between the two ports develop swiftly over the next decade. However, in the longer term, the rest of the century will continue to feature competition and rivalry between India and China. It is unlikely that either country will give up assets they already have, and in the medium-term future, it is likely that both ports will be the site of intense competition.

Moreover, even if the two ports are not used by the two countries to compete with each other, they are important for their trade-route strategies and are hardly replaceable geographically unless relations between China and India and India and Pakistan improve tremendously, so that the Chinese can reach the Indian Ocean overland by way of India and India can reach Afghanistan overland by way of Pakistan.  This, however, is unlikely. However, hypothetically speaking, if Pakistan and India were to resolve the Kashmir dispute and normalize relations, this would bring stability to the region and solve the geopolitical problem of Afghanistan. Pakistan and India would probably continue to remain rivals in this scenario, but it would be a more competitive and benign rivalry and the Chinese presence would not be so menacing for India. While this scenario is optimal for stability and economic growth, it is unlikely. Pakistan, India, and China have all been known to maintain their positions regarding key issues such as borders for long periods of time and have not shown much inclination to implementing a solution. Furthermore, from Iran’s point of view, as long as it is under sanctions, a grand settlement between India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan might not be in its interests as this would reduce the necessity of Iran as a trade hub or ally. Overall, it is likely that current trends will continue: Indo-Pakistani Rivalry, Sino-Indian Rivalry, and Iranian resistance to giving up its nuclear program. Thus the current geopolitical trends, strategies, and developments will gradually continue to intensify.

To conclude, as stated in the introduction and demonstrated throughout this paper, geopolitics are extremely important in determining the strategies of Iran, India, and China in the region that includes Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Geopolitics is responsible for Iran’s strategy in Afghanistan and India’s strategy and infrastructure construction in Afghanistan and Iran. Geopolitics is responsible for China’s strategy of building the Karakoram Highway and involvement at the Pakistani port of Gwadar. It explains the Indo-Pakistani competition in Afghanistan and the Sino-Indian competition in the Indian Ocean and near the Strait of Hormuz as manifested in their activities at Chabahar and Gwadar. Geopolitics continues to be a key determinant and influencer of the policies of countries.


[1] Robert Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography (Random House: New York, 2012), 35.

[2] Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography, 29.

[3] Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography, xvi.

[4] “Not as Smooth as Silk,” The Economist, March 2, 2013.

[5] Shireen T. Hunter, Iran’s Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era (Praegar: Santa Barbara, 2010), 3-17.

[6] Alireza Nader and Joya Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan,” The RAND Corporation (2011), 1.

[7] Nader and Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan,” 1.

[8] Nader and Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan,” 1.

[9] Nader and Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan,” 13.

[10] George Bruno and Lionel Beehner, “Iran and the Future of Afghanistan,” Council on Foreign Relations (March 30, 2009).

[11] Nader and Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan,” 7.

[12]Nader and Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan,” 7.

[13] Nader and Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan” 3.

[14] Nader and Laha, “Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan,” 7-8.

[15] Harsh V. Pant, “Pakistan and Iran’s Dysfunctional Relationship,” The Middle East Quarterly Volume XVI, No.2, (Spring 2009).

[16] “Pakistan and Iran: Barren Ground for a New Pipeline,” The Economist. March 16, 2013.

[17] “Pakistan and Iran: Barren Ground for a New Pipeline,” The Economist. March 16, 2013.

[18] David M. Malone, Does the Elephant Dance (Oxford University Press: New York, 2011):


[19] Peter Chalk and Larry Hanauer, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” The RAND Corporation (2012), 11.

[20] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 11.

[21] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 17.

[22] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 16.

[23] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 17.

[24] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 13.

[25] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 13.

[26] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 17.

[27] C. Christine Fair, “India and Iran: New Delhi’s Balancing Act,” The Washington Quarterly (Summer 2007), 145.

[28] Fair, “India and Iran: New Delhi’s Balancing Act,” 149.

[29] Fair, “India and Iran: New Delhi’s Balancing Act,” 153.

[30] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 17.

[31] Chalk, “India’s and Pakistan’s Strategies in Afghanistan,” 17.

[32] “Churning the Oceans,” The Economist, November 24, 2012.

[33] Sanjeev Miglani, “India and China’s Rivalry and a Tale of Two Ports,” Reuters, March 25, 2013.

[34] Miglani, “India and China’s Rivalry and a Tale of Two Ports,” Reuters.

[35] Miglani, “India and China’s Rivalry and a Tale of Two Ports,” Reuters.

[36] George J. Gilboy and Eric Heginbotham, Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior (Cambridge University Press: New York, 2012): 45-53.

[37] “Churning the Oceans,” The Economist.

[38] “Churning the Oceans,” The Economist.

[39] John Keay, India: A History (Grove Press: New York, 2000), 113.

[40] Keay, India: A History, 113.

[41] Miglani, “India and China’s Rivalry and a Tale of Two Ports,” Reuters.

[42] Michael Beckley, “China and Pakistan: Fair Weather Friends,” Yale Journal of International Affairs (March 2012), 9.

[43] Beckley, “China and Pakistan: Fair Weather Friends,” 9.

[44] Beckley, “China and Pakistan: Fair Weather Friends,” 10.

[45] Beckley, “China and Pakistan: Fair Weather Friends,”  9.

[46] Harsh V. Pant “The Pakistan Thorn in China-India-U.S. Relations,” The Washington Quarterly, Winter (2012), 84.

[47] Beckley, “China and Pakistan: Fair Weather Friends,” 11.

[48] Beckley, “China and Pakistan: Fair Weather Friends,” 11.

[49] Beckley, “China and Pakistan: Fair Weather Friends,” 14.

[50] Evan A Feigenbaum, “China’s Pakistan Conundrum,” Foreign Affairs, December 4, 2011.


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Written by Akhipill

May 1, 2013 at 10:12 PM

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To What Extent are the United States and India Destined to be Natural Allies?

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To paraphrase a common line, “there are no permanent allies and enemies, only permanent interests.” This phrase ought to be kept in mind when describing the relationship between the United States and India. In the present geopolitical atmosphere, for the foreseeable medium range future, the interests and aspirations of both countries make a closer partnership sensible and desirable to many in the United States and India. However, the relations of both countries will be influenced by a number of complex domestic and international factors that will only permit a closer partnership up to a point.

India and the United States have been moving towards a closer partnership over the past two decades for a variety of reasons. Both countries have a common interest in fighting against terrorism and promoting stability in Afghanistan. Both countries have a common interest in balancing against China and preventing the rise of a hegemonic power in Asia. Both countries share common democratic values. Both countries have benefited from the opening of India’s economy to more trade in 1991 which has led to closer economic as well as cultural ties between both countries. In many ways, the elites of both countries are more comfortable with each other on a cultural and political level than either is with elites of China. Furthermore, the initiatives of George W. Bush towards India were positively received in both India and the United States and led to the building of trust, especially because of American support towards India’s nuclear ambitions.

All of the above factors led to the thawing of a relationship that was once rather frosty during the Cold War. The relationship between the two countries has become much friendlier and many in both countries would like to form a formal alliance in order to ensure that democratic liberal values continue to play a major factor in Asia while checking China on both geopolitical and ideological levels. While this desire could lead to a closer partnership between the United States and India, it is unlikely a formal alliance will form unless a major military humiliation forces India to change its current policy. The reasons for the limitations in the partnership between India and the United States can primarily be attributed to India’s unwillingness to commit formally to any alliance against any neighbor. This is evidenced by New-Delhi’s constant instance that military exercises with the United States and other countries are not directed against China. India’s instance may be truly sincere and it may not desire to alienate China in an Asian system that is increasingly being dominated by China. Though unlikely, India wants to retain the option of bandwagoning with China if the United States were to decrease its involvement in Asia. India is also wary of being left to deal with Afghanistan if the US were to abandon it in 2014; this would understandably cause resentment in some circles in India. It is also possible that many in the United States believe that it should deal directly with China and establish a G-2 system through which to influence the world. Another factor that prevents closer ties is India’s strategic culture which traditionally emphasizes non-alignment and moral belief of India’s greatness. This belief combined with India’s size would make it difficult to ally formally with a great power if that leads to it being perceived as a junior partner which it itself aspires to great power status.

Finally, much is made of common democratic values shared by the United States and India. However, these common values do not necessitate a closer partnership as both countries will pursue policies in their interests as India is currently doing so with its lukewarm desire to join in on sanctions against Iran and India’s previous support for the junta in Burma. In this sense, India is not too different from China in that it is a large country that pursues its own interests as it sees fit rather than automatically aligning itself with American priorities. Continued American refusal to come down harder on Pakistan will also constrain future Indo-United States cooperation. Thus, it is likely that there will be a number of limiting factors towards the formalization of cooperation between the United States and India through an alliance though they will continue to cooperate on a number of issues where their interests intersect, and overall goodwill between them will likely increase for the time being.

Written by Akhipill

January 13, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Nukes Do Not Help Pakistan

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Nuclear weapons have primarily constrained Pakistan in its rivalry with India. There are several important ways in which they have constrained its rivalry with India.

Firstly, Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons has led to the reduction of its international credibility vis-à-vis India, making it likelier that other states will increasingly align themselves with India and its positions in its rivalry with Pakistan. This is because Pakistan is generally considered an untrustworthy partner due to its history of double dealing (as with the US in Afghanistan) as well as a sponsor of militant and terrorist groups in neighboring countries such as India and Afghanistan. Given its history of instability and willingness for a first-use of nuclear weapons policy, its possession of nukes has only made other countries even more distrusting of it and willing to constrain it.

Secondly, Pakistan’s nuclear program is expensive, an expense it can barely afford given its crumbling economy, infrastructure, tax base and substandard education. As India’s economy is significantly larger, it can afford to spend more on its nuclear program and military while proportionately spending less of its revenue than Pakistan on the military. In the long run Pakistan’s attempt to keep up with India militarily will damage it as it cannot compete with an economy that is already 8 times larger than it.

Thirdly, the existence of nuclear weapons makes it harder for Pakistan to attempt to fight a conventional war with India (in order to wrest Kashmir from it, for example), as this could lead to a nuclear war. Pakistan is no longer in a position to attempt adventures like its 1965 War without risking a destructive scenario. As a result, its conventional military options become limited, forcing it to resort to more asymmetric options which are generally unable to make long term gains and make Pakistan seem even of a pariah state. These asymmetric options require militant groups which are destabilizing Pakistan itself.

Fourthly, in the event of a nuclear war with India, due to the reasons of geography and size, India would merely be severely damaged while Pakistan’s use of nuclear weapons would set into motion a chain of events that would probably led to its utter destruction.

It is true that nuclear weapons have emboldened Pakistan in some ways. They have led to the perception in Pakistan that it has erased the conventional military advantage of India and if it is able to construct and deploy tactical battlefield nukes, this advantage might be employed on a tactical level as well. Furthermore, it allows some cover for Pakistan to act with impunity in sponsoring terrorist attacks on India without fear of reprisal. While these issues have had some security consequences for India, they have not affected India’s overall long-term advantage over Pakistan nor are an existential threat to India. As long as India’s economy continues to grow, its advantage over Pakistan will continue to grow and unless Pakistan acts in an especially irrational manner by deploying nuclear weapons against India in a surprise attack, Pakistan will find its ability to influence India several constrained in the long run. In totality, despite Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons in an attempt to balance India, Pakistan has been declining more and more relative to India in power, prestige, and ability and it has found nuclear weapons to be a constraining factor.

Written by Akhipill

December 30, 2012 at 8:15 PM

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Summary of Linguistic, Racial, and Demographic History of India and South Asia: Indo-Aryan Migration, Establishment of Vedic Culture

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The genetic and linguistic history of South Asia (here referred to in shorthand as India) is complicated and often controversial. The number of misconceptions is enormous but one in particular stands out and must be addressed before the start of this summary. It is the controversy over the “Aryan Invasion Theory,” which holds that the classical civilization of India was established by Aryans who invaded from the northwest. It needs to be made clear that linguistic change does not mean invasion or population changes. After all, there was no major population change, genetically speaking, at this time. Another method of identifying whether major population change has occurred or not is provided by archaeology. Archaeology divides regions into archaeological cultures wherein regions have similar pottery, tools, and the like. Earlier and late cultures have tools that seem to have developed from each other. A major change in artifacts in a short period of time is generally thought to signify a population change in the region. In the case of India, the archaeological cultures before and after the spread of Vedic culture (1700-1200 BC) are similar and do not seem to imply a major invasion. There does not seem to be a major invasion, and even a migration must have been fairly small. The most distinctive trace of a migration- and there must have been at least some influence from outside of India to explain Sanskrit- is the language itself, a language which does not have original terms for South Asian fauna and flora such as elephant (the word is etymologically related to the Sanskrit word for hand, given the resemblance of a trunk to a hand).


The map above shows the spread of pottery cultures in India. Cemetery H seems to have given rise to Copper Hoard and then Painted Grey Ware as this culture slowly spread; there is no difference between these cultures and the pottery from before. The Swat culture seems to represent an initial small settlement of Aryans who then materially assimilated into the Cemetery H culture while imparting their language on the non-Aryan people of that culture. Why and how this happened is a mystery but it is fairly well known that the Aryans were an elite in this culture who believed that their language was sacred. The origins of what is today called the caste system can be found here, but that is beyond the scope of the topic I wish to discuss right now.

The history of early South Asia must reconcile two facts that seem contradictory: 1) The genetic differences between North and South Indians are minor. They are both related and mixed with each other, and for all practical purposes are one race, distinct from all other races. There has not been any significant outside genetic output to Indian genes for over 20,000 years. 2) On the other hand, most Indians speak languages that seem to originate from outside of South Asia. It is abundantly clear, on the basis of linguistic terminology that the Indo-Aryan languages of north India derived from Sanskrit entered India from outside. But it is also likely that Dravidian languages, which dominate South India are not native to India either. The native languages of India seem to have largely vanished except for a couple of isolates. Indians in general are more closely related to people in the Middle East than other regions and this is obvious on the basis of looking at the physical features of Indians alone.  Genetic information confirms this.


The native population of India can still be seen in the “Adivasis” or tribal people of India, many of which have features that classify them as Australoids. Australoids were among the first people to migrate out of Africa and remain scattered throughout South and Southeast Asia; however the main population of Australoids are the Australian Aborigines. It is likely that by 20,000 years ago, this ancient Caucasian population was the majority population in India with some admixture. Because there was a shift in race, and not just in language, this phenomenon was demic diffusion. This is a demographic term referring to a migratory model, developed by Cavalli-Sforza, that consists of population diffusion into and across an area previously uninhabited by that group, possibly, but not necessarily, displacing, replacing, or intermixing with a pre-existing population. However, since then, there seems to have been no major population replacement in India, with new groups being assimilated into the larger Indian population. 

What seems to have occurred around 1700 BC is a small migration of Indo-Iranian peoples from Afghanistan into South Asia who became the Indo-Aryans while the Indo-Iranians who remained outside of India became the Iranians. There may be a small genetic trace of this migration in the Indian genome. However, the language shift that occurred- people began switching to speaking some form of Sanskrit or related language- is entirely due to elite dominance. This is an interesting phenomenon, in which the language of the elite minority is adopted by the majority. For example, modern Indians are aware of the growing use of English among many circles in India. The use of English has endured because of its use among the elite and the desire of the non-elite to emulate the elite. Thus a language spreads without major population shifts. There need not be a major conquest or migration. Another case where a language spreads without significant genetic or population change is when African-Americans speak English as their native language instead of an African language. I will now summarize what seems to have happened.


This map is a good summary of Indo-European movements in Eurasia.

The first Indo-Aryans to entire South Asia must have been very similar to the Iranian people in Afghanistan and Bactria. The ancient Avestan language of the Iranians is so close to Vedic Sanskrit that they are often thought to be dialects of each other. The Indus Valley Civilization seems to have collapsed in the Punjab region due to overpopulation and environmental factors by 1700 BC. The Punjab region was in a state of some political and economic chaos. Around this time, some Aryan tribes probably crossed into parts of this area, such as the Swat Valley. Some of them may have just arrived in Afghanistan around this time.  They may have seen an opportunity to expand their grazing lands (they were pastoral nomads) in an area without central authority. Being a somewhat warlike people, they may have raided or may have been invited by villages in the Punjab to protect them against enemies. In any case, an Aryan elite soon became the dominant group of the farmer population in the Punjab region. This agricultural culture was expanding, both through migration and cultural diffusion into the Gangetic river valley eastwards. By this time, this culture can be called the Vedic culture. People in the Gangetic region adopted the iron tools of the Vedic culture to chop down forests and join in this culture, which meant adopting the pottery and tools of a people who themselves had adopted the language and some religious rituals of a small group among them. Thus the Aryan culture and Sanskrit language was adopted by an agricultural culture that had weak political organization but was still in the process of colonizing new territory.  This is the summary and result of the research I have done on this topic and seems to be the best explanation for India’s linguistic and genetic situation. In addition to the physical evidence, a lot of what happened can be constructed from early Indo-Aryan sources such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Mahabharata, the greatest epic of all time. This textual analysis is pretty interesting in and off itself.

Moving on from the Aryans, another mystery has sought my attention lately. What language did the Indus Valley people speak? At first, it seemed to be obviously Dravidian. But Dravidian people were farmers whose language might distantly resemble an ancient Near Eastern language called Elamite. So the Dravidians themselves might not be native to India. The existence of numerous non-Dravidian groups scattered throughout north and northwest India seem to indicate that the Indus Valley people may have only been partly Dravidian and that Dravidians themselves began migrating from the Iranian Plateau to India around 4000 BC, as farmers seeking new lands. Ultimately, all people have to come from somewhere since nobody spontaneously sprung up in any region so everyone must have an origin somewhere. Since Dravidians are a very dark Caucasian and not Adivisai tribal peoples,  they too might have had a Middle Eastern origin. Dravidian may have spread to India through agricultural/population diffusion similar to the way Sanskrit did, though it spread along a more southerly route- along the coast of Iran, then Sindh (in Pakistan), into Gujarat and peninsular India- explaining why the Punjab and Ganges valley were not yet Dravidian when the Indo-Aryans themselves arrived. The earliest foreign words in Sanskrit are not from a Dravidian source and seem to be from an unknown third source, probably reflecting the original language of the Punjab farmers.

I advocate the theory then that both the Dravidians and Aryans arrived not too long from each other in India and spread their languages through the same processes of elite dominance, once in the South and one in the North, though the Dravidian influence on Indo-Aryan languages gradually becomes more and more obvious as Indian languages evolved.  Having done a lot of research on this topic, I’ve found a lot of scholarly literature on the Aryan migration issues but not much on Dravidian issues. I would welcome more information and resources on Dravidian origins.

As to who the Indus people were originally, they must have been the earliest settlers from the Middle East, around 20,000 years ago before they were linguistically changed by the new arrivals. A language isolate called Burushaski survives in the Hunza valley of Kashmir and may be related to the original language of these people. As Indus writing has not yet been deciphered, it is unknown if this is true or not.  Deciphering this script would be one of the most momentous and important discoveries made in linguistics. The southern Indus cities may have already become Dravidian by the time the were built but the northern ones, probably not. Sanskrit only acquired Dravidian language features after it moved a bit sound around 1400 BC. The earliest foreign words in Sanskrit seem to be derived from a language that can be partially reconstructed from this information and is sometimes derived Para-Munda because it might be very distantly related to the Munda languages of eastern India. Munda languages themselves are related to Khmer and Vietnamese and it might be possible that this Austroasiatic language family is the original family of South and Southeast Asia, later replaced by Burmese and Thai in Southeast Asia and Sanskrit in India. Para-Munda can also just be another language isolate. This mystery requires further evidence to be solved, though the theories I summarized above about the spread of Aryan and Vedic culture across India seems to be fairly widely accepted now by scholars. Some nationalists in India find it problematic that the Aryans and Sanskrit language were not originally from India but they ought to be comforted to know that the ensuring culture was a fusion and probably not the result of violent conquest. Nor were these Aryans the “white, blond-haired, blue-eyed” Aryans of myth. They probably looked very similar to people in Afghanistan and Pakistan today. The term Arya itself is derived from a term meaning noble and has no racial connotation in Sanskrit. Anyone who joined the Aryan culture became noble. Later on, by the time of the Buddha, the word lost even that cultural connotation and simply meant noble, and could be applied to various warriors, sages, or individuals who did good deeds.


Map of the possible linguistic situation in early Vedic India.

Written by Akhipill

December 18, 2012 at 11:23 PM

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Modernity: South Asia vs East Asia

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Earlier today, I was listening to a song and it got me thinking about music and what it can tell us about how countries modernize.

I enjoy listening to South Asian (Indian, but also Pakistani, etc.) music. One of the things that I enjoy the most about it is how good Indian music is at fusion. It mixes a number of classical Indian genres with Islamic genres and Western genres and blends them together in an extremely harmonious fashion.  The song above is a good demonstration of this. It is both clearly modern and clearly directly derived from Indian traditional music as well.

Of course, Indian music has been doing this for a while, so it ought to be good at fusion, but Indian culture is not the only Asian culture in the last century that has been significantly impacted by Western music. There are some movements in the West and East Asia that try to do this, but this it not the norm. For music that does a good job of fusing traditional and modern sounds, consider the Japanese group Rin’ and Loreena Mckennit, one of my favorite Western artists.  The point I wish to bring up is the fact that when it comes to East Asian music (Chinese, Korean, Japanese), I’ve notice that the music is either traditional and based on the classical music of those cultures or modern, which is music almost completely copied off of Western pop and rock models without any native influence except for the fact that the language of the lyrics is still Chinese/Korean/Japanese. I generalize of course.

This is indicative of a fact that I and many others have observed about East Asia, though it is a difficult phenomenon to describe because of its complexity and subtlety. The way East Asia has modernized is very different from South Asia’s way. For East Asians, that past is a tradition that is in many ways finished. That ancient era being over, it can lie serene in the past, while a new era was to be built on top of it, based primarily on Western technology. But since the past was shelved, often inevitably, culture was also shelved and Western culture came with Western technology. If you observe a wedding in China or Japan, you will find the brides wearing a Western style white gown getting married in a pseudo-Christian ceremony. This is not to say that Japanese or Chinese culture is no longer distinct from the West. The differences are vast. But the way they adopted to modernity by taking on the entity of the West as a layer that often obscured their original cultures, though their social and family patterns (and food) are still clearly Asian.

But even the most modern Indian or Pakistani couple will wear traditional clothing to their wedding. For South Asians (and also the people of the Middle East if they decide to fully commit to the path of modernity), the past is not a tradition which ended to be followed by a new tradition based on Western modernity. Rather it is a living tradition that has merged with both cultural and technological modernism from the West.

The best way to explain this phenomenon is to understand that East Asians and South Asians have two different conceptions of time.  To borrow terminology used by the magazine, “The Globalist,” the two types of time are:

1. Homogeneous (Sequential)

2. Heterogeneous  

Homogeneous time is associated with East Asian way to modernity.

There was the assumption that time was homogeneous. Either one was modern, or one was what came before. So one doubled: one put on a Western suit and was modern or one wore a kimono and was traditional, but one could not dress in a kimono and be modern.

On the other hand, heterogeneous time can be found in India

A [traditionally dressed man] at a cash machine is entirely a participant, just as he is, in the entity known as modern India. To find cognitive dissonance with an ox-cart on an expressway may do [in the West] but there is nothing dissonant about it to the Indian sensibility.

Of course these attitudes are not etched in stone. There is no doubt that Indians will be seduced by a Western, materialist, consumer economy and give up some of their old attitude while East Asians may bring back some of the older aspects of their culture due to mounting nostalgia.  But for the moment, this is the reason that India has never felt the the angst caused by loss of culture felt by other cultures that modernized. Russian and Japanese literature is full of such angst. How did India manage this feat? The Indian social system has been remarkably persistent in perpetuating itself  spontaneously without any government or cultural body to nudge it because people in India just have a habit of “doing their thing.” This means India is able to have several centuries exist within its boundaries simultaneously. Although, in terms of the arts and people’s existential ability to make sense of the world, this is a good thing, this also means economic and social development proceeds slowly.

So here we have it. Two Asian methods of modernization. Replicating the West and Adapting the West.

So why are their notions of time different anyway? It probably has to do with their traditional conception of time. India’s conception of time is eternal and cyclical where everything happens at once while China’s version of time is more tethered to the events of its dynastic cycle. India’s history is metaphysical while China’s is based on historical events. This topic is worthy of further elaboration at a certain point.

Written by Akhipill

December 18, 2012 at 12:41 AM