Shaking Hands with Clenched Fists: The Grand Trunk Road to Confidence Building Measures between Pakistan & India

The book under review’ Shaking Hands with Clenched Fists: The Grand Trunk Road to CBMs between Pakistan and India’ by Dr. Asma Shakir Khawaja is the first academic account that is a neutral depiction of Pakistan’s narrative on Indo-Pak relations. The book was published in May 2020 and gives insight, particularly from the perspective of Pakistan to the peace-builders, policymakers, government officials, students, researchers, social scientists, historians, and scholars of international relations. In this book, the author highlighted South Asia’s two main nuclear rivals, India, and Pakistan. She elaborated on their bilateral relations, which include the entire region’s social, economic, and political dynamics. It clearly articulates the nature of political, social, and economic issues, from the past to the present, by pointing out differences, opportunities, and variances of interest, the reasons for the lack of political will for sustainable peace, intentions with Kashmir, failure of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), Pakistan’s co-operation vs India’s expansionist approach, the role of perception building in derailing peace processes, conflict over natural resources, the impact of treaty violations, and affected masses in sub-continent due to socio-political tensions between long-standing rivalries. In short, we can say that not a single area is left untouched in this book that describes the origins of the complex bilateral relations that have been going on between India and Pakistan for centuries. Dr. Asma Khawaja describes the historical trends to show that India is withdrawing from its ongoing peace process against its promises. Hindu extremist groups such as the RSS and Shiv Sena are considered to have succeeded in destroying many CBMs. The author discussed Hindu nationalism based on the concept of ‘Akhand Bharat’ and how the BJP incorporates Hindutva ideology through its curriculum. The author argues that such religious interpretation threatens regional peace when combined with political issues.

The ‘Shaking Hands with Clenched Fists’ explains the Pakistani narrative on the Kashmir issue and Indian habits of withdrawal from all peace programs to resolve conflicts in the region. Since independence, India has shifted its goals post of Kashmir from “offering a helping hand to Kashmir” to “an integral part. The inconsistent policies of India for domestic and international vote bank results in a dichotomy. India used the Pakistan factor as a political dividend, creating a more antagonistic feeling toward Pakistan in public. The author argues that the parochial Hindu mindset is another obstacle to efforts like the Neemrana dialogue during Modi’s reign. The author suggests that to cut off Pakistan and India from mistrust, it is necessary to increase communication between the two sides and healthy trade relations through open borders that will link both nations. The author also emphasizes the promotion of tourism. She also wrote that countries need to realize that changes in positions and not interests are important to CBMs; moreover, CBMs should not be bound by time or situation and should not be used as a negotiating mechanism to strengthen the opponent.

The author further argued that the uncertainty of this discordant relationship eventually led to the development of nuclear weapons in the South Asian region. Similarly, Indian Foreign Policy and Media Policy have always remained hostile and aggressive, often due to indigenous pressure and inflexibility. On the other hand, Pakistan’s policies towards India have remained cooperative and secretive despite the brutal attacks, breaches of truce, and treaties from the Indian side. The Indian media needs to build a habit of peaceful journalism. The negative role played by Indian media continues to perpetuate and spit poison among the Indian masses by feeding hatred, creating negative stereotypes, and perpetuating hostile narratives.

This book is a comprehensive assessment of the necessity, importance, and loopholes of CBMs between Pakistan and India. It is an excellent combination of theoretical understanding and practical policy options. The author clarifies that South Asia continues to be one of the least economically integrated regions globally due to the ongoing animosity between the two major players in this critical region. In addition to the obvious economic benefits that both countries will receive from resolving their long-standing conflicts/issues, they will be better able to cooperate and tackle the growing threat faced by the international community that continues to breed instability.

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