International Politics

, Volume 52, Issue 2, pp 223–238 | Cite as

Explaining the evolution of contestation in South Asia

  • Nicolas Blarel
  • Hannes EbertEmail author
Original Article


India’s claims for regional hegemony have regularly been contested since its independence in 1947. The self-proclaimed emerging power is locked in an enduring rivalry with the South Asian secondary power, Pakistan. This article outlines the evolution of Pakistan’s contestation since independence and seeks to demonstrate how, when and why Pakistan adapted its foreign policy toward India. While the goals of Pakistan’s contestation remained constant, its means varied at two points in post-independence history. From 1947 to 1971, territorial disputes combined with a nascent nationalism drove the secondary power’s foreign policy elite to engage in war and open resistance, and the divergent domestic political ideologies of both countries complicated conflict resolution. With Pakistan’s devastating war defeat in 1971, direct means of contestation were no longer an immediate option, and a period of reluctant acquiescence ensued. The alleged involvement of Pakistani intelligence proxies in a crisis in Jammu and Kashmir in 1987 marked the beginning of a renewed phase of resistance, though now through indirect means of nuclear coercion and subconventional warfare. This form of contestation has increasingly manifested itself in bilateral crises with high potential of escalation and primarily targeted symbols of India’s South Asian hegemony, including its political and commercial centres in Delhi and Mumbai in 2001 and 2008 respectively or India’s diplomatic representations in Afghanistan. The article concludes that the current conditions of regional contestation in South Asia, most importantly the persistent revisionist versus status-quo domestic agendas, the presence of growing nuclear arsenals, and multi-tiered Asian rivalry constellations, undermine prospects for conflict resolution and complicate modelling future strategic behaviour in the region.


secondary powers rising powers politics of contestation asymmetric conflict nuclear deterrence India-Pakistan relations 


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lecturer of International Relations at the Institute of Political Science at Leiden UniversityWassenaarseweg 52The Netherlands
  2. 2.GIGA German Institute of Global and Area StudiesHamburgGermany

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