strategy and culture

Culture may successfully explain strategy, and numerous geopolitical strategies may be found to have been impacted by culture. According to Rizvi (2000), culture as a strategy is a fact of political science and is a collection of all forms of values and ideas that tend to influence the general knowledge and explanation of security issues and the response as a result of such cultural influence. He proposes that strategic culture is a screening mechanism that allows policymakers to make decisions in the context of available options and situations. It could, therefore, be claimed that decisions based on strategic culture might be more influenced by the culture values and beliefs rather than the logical and tactical analysis. This is due to the fact that strategy influenced by culture tends to uphold the decisions which it could possibly use to provide an edge to its culture superiority over its counterparts or competitors. Rizvi (2000) claims that Strategic culture establishes pervasive and long-lasting strategic preferences by formulating concepts of the role and efficacy of military force in interstate political affairs, and by clothing these conceptions with such an aura of actuality that the strategic preferences seem uniquely realistic and efficacious”. This explanation makes sense as strategic culture is the result of some threat or adverse situation, the policy makers strongly believe exists in a given situation (Glenn et al, 2004). This fear of adversity is the reason which induces the policy makers to use culture as a strategy rather than a policy based on geostrategic realities, mutual respect, and shared interests. This study examines the role of culture as a strategy in the particular context of India and Pakistan and analyzes how culture as a strategy has shaped the past, present, and future of two most important countries in South Asia.


India and India-Pakistan became two separate states on 14th August 1947. Pakistan emerged as a new nation from within the India or prior Sub-continent. The people of Sub-Continent were ruled by British imperialism for more than a hundred years. During this period, Muslims and Hindus which were two major nations of the sub-continent fought together for the independence of their country. The war of 1857 witnessed both the religions fighting side by side for the sake of their country (Khan, 2005). After the war, the military power of both the nations was effectively controlled and eliminated by the British government and the local landlords who supported the British Imperialists in India. Both the Muslims and Hindus resorted to political means to achieve and work for the independence of the country. The Indian national congress soon emerged as a large political entity of the British India. In 1905, Bengal which was one of the largest provinces of the British India was separated into two regions namely the east and the west Bengal due to administrative issues. The partition was welcomed by the Muslims as this enabled them a separate province where they were in majority. However, such was denounced by the Indian national congress and the Hindus as they deemed it a conspiracy against the country (Spear, 1990). After intense resistance and protests, the Bengal was finally reunited. This however made the Muslims of the British India to seek unity and combine together as the reunited Bengal was a blow to their interest and well-being. The Muslims of British India formed Indian Muslim League to work for their political and economical rights. The Indian national congress represented all classes of people in India and various prominent Muslim personalities were also the part of the Congress. Among them was Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was a barrister by profession and was termed as Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity as he believed that the Unity of the Hindus and Muslims was the only way to achieve independence of India.

In 1915, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to India and in a few years, he preached his social and political ideas which he had previously tested in South Africa. He gradually took control of the congress and emerged as the most inspirational leader of India. During this period Muhammad Ali Jinnah opposed the political ideas of Gandhi and was forced to get sidelined. Within a few years Gandhi and his allies had taken complete control of the Congress and Muhammad Ali Jinnah after getting disappointed of the expected outcomes of Gandhi and his allies’ efforts, left India and settled in London. In 1935 Jinnah returned from England and assumed the control of the Muslim League. The elections of 1937 saw congress emerging as the largest party and Muslim league as the second largest party however quite distant to congress (Pandey, 2001). During Congress’s regime, the Muslim league allegedly claimed that congress worked against the interests of the Muslims. It also became a point of no return for the Muslims and Hindus to work together. The elections of 1946 witnessed Congress emerging as the largest political entity in the country however the Muslim league bragged majority of the Muslims vote in sub-continent. This gave validity to its claim that only the Muslim League represented the Muslims of India. As it became inevitable that united India cannot exist as a stable country, the British government left subcontinent with India and Pakistan emerging as two separate nations.

The Beginning of Culture as Strategy

The culture as a strategy was first used as soon as the partition took place. The partition of India and Pakistan had happened in great hostility and both the nations were skeptic about the actions and intentions of the other. The grievances to both the sides were fueled by the Kashmir issue (Tanham, 1992). The majority of the population of Kashmir was Muslim however it was ruled by a Hindu Maharaja. As per the rules devised by the British Government, the Congress and the Muslim league all those regions which had majority Hindu population would join India while states with Muslim population would be annexed with Pakistan. The princely states were free to join whichever country it wished to annexed with. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the then Governor General of Pakistan lured the Nawab of Junagarh State to join Pakistan although the majority of the population of the state was Hindu. The Nawab announced his annexation with Pakistan. This was viewed as treachery by the Indian government and under the influence of "culture as a strategy", the Indian government attacked the Junagarh State and militaristically annexed it with India. This although impacted the strategic position of Pakistan it also at the same time enabled it to claim its right on Kashmir on the basis of majority population (Hudson, 1997). The maharaja of Kashmir announced his alliance with Pakistan however under the influence of Congress he changed his mind and announced his annexation with India. This was a great achievement for India on the strategic front. This act of Maharaja was viewed with the same feeling by Pakistan as Nawab of Junagarh’s act was deemed by India. As a result, the tribal forces of Pakistan raided on Kashmir which Pakistan claimed were not supported officially. The tribal forces were able to retain less than half portion of Kashmir. It could, therefore, be claimed that culture as a strategy became imminent as soon as both the countries achieved independence (Sondhaus, 2006).

Establishment of Culture as strategy

The hostility between both the countries continued even after the death of their founders. India strongly believed that strategically, Pakistan will not survive for longer and sooner or later it had to rejoin India due to its internal weaknesses. Pakistan too was aware of such situations and strived profoundly to maintain its separate identity as a state. As a result of partition, the only stable institution the country had got was its Army. The bureaucracy of the country was soon able to gain enough power with its coalition with the military to throw away the political leadership (Bajpai, 2002). The army soon assumed the complete power of the country. One reason, the people of Pakistan accepted military government was their fear of India. They believed that if the army is in government it could more effectively act against India as compared to Political government (Basrur, 2001). Here again, no rational explanation could be provided of the military coup. However, as "culture as a strategy" was effectively in play, it led to beliefs, norms, values, and historical experiences of the dominant elite in the country to influences their understanding and interpretation of security issues and environment, and shape their responses to these.

As soon as post partition riots ended in both countries and national and political life started to take shape in both the dominions various decisions were taken by the governments of both the countries which also showcased their strategic thinking. The world since 1950 started to divide in two poles led by Russia and United States. While Russia was world’s model of communism, the United States believed in the capitalist structure of the economy. Both the super power had exercised their influence on developed and developing nations and tried to lure them towards their particular block (Khan, 2005). The Government of Jawaharlal Nehru was more receptive to the possible outcomes of joining either block and therefore Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru along with other countries joined the Non-Aligned movement. This defined the strategic role that India assumed for itself in the world politics. It preferred not to join forces of the communist or the capitalist block in the cold war, and maintain good relationships with both the countries. This situation was completely opposite in Pakistan. As soon as the political governments were overthrown and military assumed the power of the country, it explicitly joined the Capitalist group by taking part in SEATO and CENTO military alliances formed by the United States. Here again, it could be claimed that the strategic culture was the main motive behind Army’s decision to join the capitalist group (Jones, 2006). At first, the military elite of Pakistan had its own insecurities due to conflicts with India. It required a support base which it could utilize for its disputes with India whether it was on Kashmir, water distribution or regional issues. Pakistan needed economic support to flourish its economy and military support to tackle any type of aggregation that India could initiate against it. Pakistani military elite’s decision making during this phase was therefore influenced by cultural factors and strategic culture was the most rational outcome at this particular stage. India under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru had no insecurities with respect to Pakistan and was, therefore, free to make political and international relations on the basis of geopolitical realities rather than cultural influences.

Strategic culture during wars

Pakistan and India had fought three wars. All the three wars to a considerable extent were influenced by the strategic culture. The first war between both the nations was fought in 1965, the second was fought in 1971 and the third was fought in 1999. In every war, the strategic culture was one of the main motivators to wage a war against the neighboring country. The use of culture as a strategy could be witnessed and analyzed in the war of 1965 fought between India and Pakistan. The official narratives of both the country claim that the war was started by the other side however if analyzed objectively at least the main motivator of the war could easily be identified which was once again, The Kashmir. India authorities claim, that the war was initiated by Pakistan when it started operation Gibraltar which was aimed at infiltrating forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against Indian rule (Feng, 2007). The Pakistani authorities on the other hand claim that it was India who started the war in the middle of the night on 6th September 1965 without any prior announcement. The war lasted for seventeen days and the premiers of both the countries met in Tashkent for discussion and finally, the war came to an end after Tashkent Agreement between Indian Prime Minister Laal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistani President General Ayub Khan.

The war of 1965 is an elaborative case of strategic culture. Even eighteen years after separation, Pakistan was not able to forget Kashmir. One of the main reasons of such was the Water resources that it obtained through Kashmir which India could stop any time causing greater harm to Pakistan, the strategic importance of Kashmir for Pakistan and the historical relations that Muslims of Pakistan specially the people of Punjab had with Kashmir. All these reasons never let Pakistan forget Kashmir. Under the influence of strategic culture, Pakistani authorities planned operation Gibraltar which as discussed above was aimed at infiltrating forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against Indian rule. Pakistan military establishment at this point rejected the possibility of a full-scale war with India. As Rizvi (2000) suggests that decisions based on strategic culture might be more influenced by the culture values and beliefs rather than the logical and tactical analysis, the same was showed by the Pakistani military establishment in 1965. Operation Gibraltar never succeeded in its objective the Indo-Pak war of 1965 caused thousands of causalities on both the sides. It would be interesting to note that the military capabilities of Pakistan were far below that of India. Still, Pakistan’s stand in the war is an interesting case of political and military history. It could, therefore, be safely claimed that strategic culture was the reason behind the first full-scale war between both the countries (Bajpai, 2006).

The relationships of India and Pakistan with China

China is one of the most important countries in the world generally and in Asia specifically. The importance of China becomes twofold in the perspective of conflict between India and Pakistan and the strategic culture adopted by the both the countries. From partition in 1947 since today, China has remained one of the toughest challengers for India in geopolitical superiority and economic power. On the other hand, China is one of the few countries of the world who have explicitly closer ties with Pakistan. The relationship shared by India and Pakistan with China is also greatly influenced due to the strategic culture. The first war between India and China was fought in 1962 on border conflicts. Since then, India had three military conflicts with China and these conflicts along with regional competition led to negative relations between India and China (Scobell,2002). On the other hand, Pakistan was quick to observe the nature of Sino-India relations and the importance of China in regional and world politics. Realizing the situation, the foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan under President Ayub Khan strived for better relations with China. Since then Pakistan has very close ties with China and both the countries support each other on political, international and bilateral matters (Zhang, 1992). It is, however, important to note that the basis of these relations is again the strategic culture. From a cultural perspective, Pakistan has an India-centric policy regional level. Considering the fact, any nation which is in direct conflict with India makes it a suitable contender for Pakistan to create and extend relationships with. In the case of China, this has been more obvious due to the perceived importance of China in regional and international politics (Gray, 2007). The importance of cultural strategy in the perspective of trilateral relationships could also be observed in the case of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. China and Pakistan have collaborated on CPEC which is being termed as a regional game changer. CPEC is an under-construction $54 billion economic corridor in Pakistan that aims to connect Gwadar Port in southwestern Pakistan with Xinjiang in far-western China. The project is a collection of various infrastructure and energy projects and includes the establishment of special economic zones. From a realistic perspective, Pakistan and China both need a project like CPEC as it is considered quite an ideal project for the economies of both the countries. It could however also be noted that at the back of the project lies the dream of China and Pakistan to emerge as the most efficient regional powers and increase their influence in the regional decision making, effectively impacting if not outright eliminating, India’s influence in the regional decision-making. If at one hand economic prosperity is the prime objective of policy makers of Pakistan in the context of CPEC, they also wish to emerge more economically efficient against India under the influence of strategic culture. Such has been also shown by Indian authorities when Phunchok Stobdan, former Indian Ambassador claimed that CPEC is also motivated by the "strategic intent of besieging India” alongside its objectives of economic and regional development.


This study examines the role of culture as strategy in the particular context of India and Pakistan. Culture can effectively explain strategy and on geo-political front various strategies could be found to have been influenced due to culture. It was identified that fear of adversity is the reason which induces the policy makers to use culture as a strategy rather than a policy based on geo strategic realities, mutual respect and shared interests. India and Pakistan initiated their national and political journey with great hostilities towards each other. These hostilities led policy makers of both the countries to make a number of decisions on political, geo strategic and international relations front which were greatly influenced by culture and strategic culture. Under the influence of strategic culture the army assumed complete political power in Pakistan. The military elite of Pakistan had its own insecurities due to conflicts with India as a result it joined the U.S block in cold war for military and economic support. Jawaharlal Nehru was more receptive to the possible outcomes of joining either block and therefore Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru along with other countries joined the Non-Aligned movement. The strategic culture was the reason behind the first full scale war between both the countries. The relationship shared by India and Pakistan with China is also greatly influenced due to the strategic culture. Culture as a strategy in particular context of India and Pakistan is not only important for policy makers but historically has remained one of the most important sources of decision making.


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