Akhand Bharat and Ghazwa-e-hind: Conflicting Destinies in South Asia

18 February 2014



0. Introduction: Narcissism of Minor Differences

One of the socio-political mechanisms that join civilization and war in a coevolutionary spiral is the ethno-sectarian realization of what Freud called the narcissism of minor differences, which not only accounts for ongoing disputes between neighbors, but can explain how such ongoing disputes can turn into morbid fascinations and neurotic obsessions that come to exclude rational calculation of interests, which in the strategic sphere is the operative form of rationality.

In Europe, narcissism of minor differences repeatedly set neighbors at each others' throats -- Jonathan Meades called this "neighborly murderousness down through the centuries." While we might first think of the Balkans in this connection -- Churchill made black humor of this European fratricide by saying that the Balkans produced more history than they could consume -- perhaps the central rivalry of Europe has been the rivalry of France and Germany, which led to the two most destructive wars in history. Many commentators have opined that the ulterior motive of postwar European efforts at economic integration were to bind France and Germany so tightly together than there would never be a repeat of the first and second world wars.

The same narcissism of minor differences that animated the geographical, linguistic, and cultural divisions of the Germans and the French in twentieth century Europe have been playing out since the 1947 decolonialization and partition of the Indian subcontinent between the ethnic, cultural, and religious identities of Muslim Pakistan and (mostly) Hindu India. As France and Germany imagined different destinies for the European landmass they shared, so too Muslims and Hindus imagine different destinies for the South Asian landmass that they share.

1. Manifest Destinies

While we associate the phrase "manifest destiny" with a particular phase of US expansionism into and across western North America, there is a much more general meaning implicit in the idea of manifest destiny. I appealed to this generalization of manifest destiny in my post Manifest Destiny: Roman and American. The essential elements of manifest destiny have been present in other places and other times than the Roman and the American instantiations.

What happens when two distinct manifest destinies collide? What happens when distinct conceptions of civilization are forced to confront each other? What happens when peoples who see themselves as part of distinct traditions are forced by historical and geographical circumstances to live next to each other? Often this confrontation is understood by partisans on both sides as each side posing an existential threat to the other. Moreover, perception of mutual existential threat often means a war of extermination once the appropriate trigger erupts within an escalation and so allows events to pass beyond a critical threshold. Wherever one finds revanchist or irredentist sentiment that looks toward a neighboring territory, one finds a ready audience for ideological justifications to covet thy neighbor's possessions.

Manifest destiny is, in a sense, a vision of the future of civilization, the unfolding of a destiny implicit in the life of a people -- it is a teleological conception of a people, and therefore often formulated in deterministic terms. The idea of "destiny" is of course a slippery term for geopolitics and geostrategy, given its eschatological and soteriological overtones, but it is precisely for this reason that the idea of destiny maintains a powerful hold over human minds -- a much more powerful hold than mere nationalism, for example, which does not usually extend its roots into the religious identity of a people in the same way that manifest destiny does. Any idea that moves masses in an age of popular sovereignty must be taken seriously by geopolitics and geostrategy, and destiny must be counted among these ideas. A destiny that grows organically out of the life of a particular people -- the destiny of a particular geographical, ethnic, social, political, or sectarian group -- has a particular appeal to members of that group. Vague and ambiguous conceptions that appeal to a potent mix of powerfully felt yet ill-defined sentiments such as patriotism, ethnic and sectarian pride, ethnic and sectarian autonomy, and self-sacrifice for an ennobling and edifying cause still today have significant traction in the popular mind.

2. Geopolitics and Big History

Manifest destiny incorporates all of this and more as well, and for that reason it deserves our analytical attention. An analytical approach to a concept as elusive and protean as that of destiny demands that we place the lands and the peoples and the ideologies in a larger theoretical context, and the largest possible theoretical context for geopolitics is Big History.

Will Durant was my introduction to Big History. I suppose I owe this to Earl Fisher, as he was my impetus to read Durant's The Life of Greece while I was still in high school (by the way, thanks Mr. Fisher). At the same time I also read Burn's classic Western Civilization text (also at the behest of Mr. Fisher), but it was Durant that stuck with me. Burns was too much like a textbook. Long before I had read Pascal, I felt as he did: "When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man." After my school years, when I began my true self-education, I acquired Will and Ariel Durant's entire Story of Civilization series of books (purchased in a small used book store in Beaverton that no longer exists), which I still read and still admire as a synthesis of human history.

In the first book of the Durant's massive history, Our Oriental Heritage, Durant says this of the history of India and the Indian subcontinent:

"We must conceive it, then, not as a nation, like Egypt, Babylonia, or England, but as a continent as populous and polyglot as Europe, and almost as varied in climate and race, in literature, philosophy and art."

Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. I, Our Oriental Heritage, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954, Chapter XIV, p. 393

The first time I read this -- I was probably 16 or 17 years old -- it made an impression on me, and over the intervening years I have thought about this statement. For a Westerner like myself, European history is the standard of history, and I can recount, off the top of my head, the various movements and conflicts of peoples even in a small fragment of Europe -- for example, the English, Welsh, Scotch, and Irish peoples on the British Isles. On the continent, we know that Spain was only unified by granting special charters and traditional privileges to peoples within the Iberian peninsula, while Italy and Germany were only unified in the nineteenth century from a diverse patchwork of traditional political entities. To think that South Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, hosted a similar plurality and diversity of peoples, each with their own histories and traditions, was almost too much to take in. But I remembered it, and returned to think about this theme from time to time.

It is only in my maturity that I have begun to understand the truth of this quote from Durant, and to gain an inkling of the complexity of history as revealed in the synchronic "thickness" of a given geographical region (historians sometimes say they will give a "thick description" when they delve into details usually conflated by some overly-general yet convenient label).

In a previous post, Thoughts from Horseback, I quoted another passage from Durant that places India's religious traditions within its biological and climatological context, which again shows Durant as an authentic ancestor of Big History:

"Here and there, constituting one-fifth of the land, the primitive jungle remains, a breeding-place of tigers, leopards, wolves and snakes. In the southern third, or Deccan, the heat is drier, or is tempered with breezes from the sea. But from Delhi to Ceylon the dominating fact in India is heat: heat that has weakened the physique, shortened the youth, and affected the quietist religion and philosophy of the inhabitants. The only relief from this heat is to sit still, to do nothing, to desire nothing; or in the summer months the monsoon wind may bring cooling moisture and fertilizing rain from the sea. When the monsoon fails to blow, India starves, and dreams of Nirvana."

Robert D. Kaplan, in his recent book The Revenge of Geography, like Durant, sees South Asia as a geographical unity in spite of its contemporary political divisions, and for geopolitics, geographical unity can be more significant that passing political arrnagements:

"...the vast region that today encompasses northern India along with Pakistan and much of Afghanistan was commonly under a single polity, even as sovereignty over southern India was in doubt. Thus, for Indian elites, to think of not only Pakistan but Afghanistan, too, as part of India’s home turf is not only natural but historically justified. The tomb of Babur is in Kabul, not in Delhi. This does not mean that India has territorial designs on Afghanistan, but it does mean that New Delhi cares profoundly about who rules Afghanistan, and wishes to ensure that those who do rule there are friendly to India."


"This is a rich history that few in the West know of, while sections of the Indian elite know it in their bones. When Indians look at their maps of the subcontinent they see Afghanistan and Pakistan in the northwest, just as they see Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh in the northeast, as all part of India’s immediate sphere of influence, with Iran, the Persian Gulf, the former Soviet Central Asian republics, and Burma as critical shadow zones. Not to view these places as such, is, from the vantage point of New Delhi, to ignore the lessons of history and geography."

Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of geography: what the map tells us about coming conflicts and the battle against fate, New York: Random House, 2012, Chapter XII, "INDIA’S GEOGRAPHICAL DILEMMA"

Kaplan here more or less gives the Indian perspective -- his chapter, after all, is called "India's Geographical Dilemma," and one tends not to think of Pakistan as a geopolitical "power" due to its internal strife -- but it is a sanitized Indian perspective that fails to do justice to the fact that the geographical unity of India has only been approximated in the modern period under Muslim Mogul emperors and British colonialism.

3. Greater Pakistan and Greater India

Some Pakistanis harbor the idea of a "Greater Pakistan" which is expressed in the idea of "Ghazwa-e-hind" (or "Ghazwatulhind" depending on your transliteration; غزوة الهند). The literal translation of this is something like, "When the Prophet (PBUH) goes to war in the Indian subcontinent," however, over time the idea has come to signify something more like the Pakistani equivalent of Manifest Destiny. On the surface, this idea could be seen as overtly hostile to India, and in the some forums there are maps that show most of what we now know as India as part of a Greater Pakistan, as in this example:

gazwa al hind

Now, we all know that this is a fantasy, and that no iteration of contemporary Pakistan would be able to push across India like this, much less make it stick with boots on the ground. Such visions are eschatological dreams of true believers. But there are conceptions of a Greater Pakistan that are much more realistic. For example, there are many maps (check out the Pakistan Defense Forum) that show what is today Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single nation-state within one border, as in this example:

greater pakistan

It is, of course, very unlikely that the global powers that be would allow anything like this Greater Pakistan to come into existence, but the important thing here is that this is something like a rational and realizable vision for extreme Pakistani nationalists, whereas the vision of a Greater Pakistan including most of India is not realistic. The deep penetration of Afghanistan by the Pakistani ISI, and the ability of the ISI to exercise influence and to shape events in the region, make the idea of a Greater Pakistan including large swathes of Afghanistan a believable manifest destiny for Pakistan, since de facto Pakistani control of parts of Afghanistan is already a reality in some regions.

But Afghanistan is far from being controlled outright by Pakistan, and other destinies may conflict with this western vision of Pakistan's future. Another quasi-eschatological vision of a "greater" political entity
is Greater Khorasan (or Khurassan, or Khurazzan), which, like the ideas of Greater Pakistan and Greater India, are based on idealized historical models of greatest territorial extent of past empires. The most ambitious maps of Greater Khorasan and Greater Pakistan overlap considerably, and while these represent (slightly) distinct political eschatologies, both are ideas that draw from the traditions of Islamic civilization and frequently cite the same sources, so that these visions are not necessarily mutually exclusive -- which does not mean that they are necessarily compatible.


More obviously mutually exclusive is the Indian political eschatology of a Greater India. This Indian parallel to this Pakistani vision of Ghazwa-e-hind or Greater Pakistan is Akhand Bharat (अखण्ड भारत, Akhaṇḍa Bhārata, literally Undivided India), which is a conception of Greater India based on the historical unity of India prior to the partition of 1947, but carefully skirting the issue of this unity being based on British colonialism or Indian imperialism under Muslim rulers.


In the above illustrations of Greater Pakistan, Greater Khorasan, and Greater India maps are employed as tools of political propaganda, with vast geographical areas identified by a single bold color as falling within some expanded political imperium. Given the record of expulsions and populations transfers that marked the violent partition of India and Pakistan, merely to contemplate grandiose schemes of Greater Pakistan or Greater India humbles one by the mere idea of the magnitude of human suffering that would attend any attempt to realize such a vision, much less the successful imposition of a political eschatology. (Colors on a map indicating territory, like lines on a map indicating borders, are easy to draw, but their realization comes at a high human cost.) And yet, this is the dream of those who dream big on the Indian subcontinent.

4. Manifest Destiny and Eschatological Wars

While dreams of political eschatology were once mere fantasies, and it is easy to consign them to a pre-modern past that lives today only in the dreams of deluded antiquaries, contemporary technology has given new impetus to the idea of eschatological wars (that is to say, cosmic wars); Pakistan and India are now both nuclear-armed nation-states, and the rational reconstruction of the traditional state on the basis of the nation-state model means that both powers meticulously plan for nuclear engagements. (Cf., e.g., Race to the End: Pakistan's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea to develop battlefield nukes by Tom Hundley, 05 September 2012, and India 'unlikely' to deploy Cold Start against Pakistan)

Planning for doomsday was once the sole preserve of raving prophets; now it is the daily occupation of professionals. Together with a de facto tolerance for state-sponsored weaponization of eliminationism as long as it is kept below the threshold of atrocity, doomsday planning becomes the natural telos of escalating atrocities. If atrocities can be explained away as hostages to fortune, and doomsday as the technological implementation of manifest destiny, the lives of millions of human beings might be dismissed as being of little account compared to the cosmic forces in play.

5. Tolerating Fanaticism through Facilitating Moderation

I have no doubt that there are a great many sophisticated and cosmopolitan Indians who understand that the future of India lies in greater integration with the global economy, improving living standards for its people, broadly-based recognition of the importance of democracy and human rights for long-term global stability and prosperity, all of which would be turned back by any attempt to act upon Akhand Bharat as a political ideology. And I have no doubt whatsoever that an equally proportional number of sophisticated and cosmopolitan Pakistanis understand precisely the same in relation to any attempt to act upon Ghazwa-e-hind as a political ideology. Such individuals as I have described would immediate recognize the appeal to any such retrograde ideologies that would result in socioeconomic retrogression as an opportunistic and probably purely cynical political gambit for power on the part of ambitious and unscrupulous elements.

However, it is not the sophisticated and cosmopolitan outlook of Indian and Pakistani elites that shapes the history of the subcontinent, but rather it is history and geography that shapes the elites. Even the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan members of society -- that elite segment of society from which political leaders are usually drawn -- remain captive to ideas of manifest destiny that are likely to be destructive of all the whatever gains have been realized through economic development. Why is this the case?

In my post Hearts and Minds I quoted Sam Harris on the relationship between religious moderates and religious extremists...

"...people of faith fall on a continuum: some draw solace and inspiration from a specific spiritual tradition, and yet remain fully committed to tolerance and diversity, while others would burn the earth to cinders if it would put an end to heresy. There are, in other words, religious moderates and religious extremists, and their various passions and projects should not be confused. One of the central themes of this book, however, is that religious moderates are themselves the bearers of a terrible dogma: they imagine that the path to peace will be paved once each of us has learned to respect the unjustified beliefs of others. I hope to show that the very ideal of religious tolerance -- born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God -- is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss."

Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005

Implicit in Harris' formulation is a more general principle, as applicable to manifest destiny as to religious identity, which I stated as, "...ideological moderates of any kind, subscribing to any set of (vaguely held) beliefs, provide cover for ideological extremists who are willing to put their beliefs into practice in an uncompromising form." I will call this the principle of facilitating moderation, since, according to the principle, moderates facilitate the beliefs and actions of extremists.

The ideological moderates likely to be found among Indian and Pakistani elites facilitate the fanaticism and militarism of the masses -- much as Soviet and American elites during the Cold War had to play to the vulgar us-against-them dialectic of the masses. And while India and Pakistan find themselves sharing a border and coveting the same landmass for their manifest destiny, Soviet and American military planners reflected the global ambitions of the conflicting ideologies that defined the Cold War: each side in the conflict had a vision and a destiny for the planet entire.

6. Conclusion: A Problem of Civilization

Is respect for the unjustified beliefs of others pushing us toward the abyss in the Indian subcontinent? Yes and no. In the Darwinian struggle of ideas, science and technology are rapidly transforming our knowledge in unprecedented ways, and in the long term the sheer efficacy of science and technology triumphs over barbarism and superstition, which become marginalized as a result. Technologically implemented eschatological wars that seek to embody a long-imagined manifest destiny can only be successfully prosecuted by societies in possession of the scientific and industrial infrastructure necessary to the waging of industrial-technological warfare, and the unpleasant reality is that, whereas victory once lay with the larger battalions (as Napoleon observed), victory now lies with the higher technology.

But we aren't home free yet. There is no reason for smugness, and much reason to yet fear the danger. Industrial-technological warfare, as it grows in sophistication, presents an existential threat to civilization, and possibly also to all life on Earth. In so far as these means are placed at the disposal of those who still believe in cosmic wars, and who see modern technology as a means to realize an eschatological end, the advancement of science and technology only brings us closer to anthropogenic extinction.

Keynes famously said that the long term is a misleading measure because, in the long term, we are all dead. The danger here is that in the short term we also may all be dead. The prospect of industrial-technological warfare among societies still envisioning their destinies in agrarian-ecclesiastical terms means that we are at the present stage of history passing through a window in which the means to destroy ourselves are provided by novel developments that have not yet changed our societies, and our traditional societies provide the pretext for war on a scale not possible for agrarian-ecclesiastical civilization.

Ultimately, then, this is a problem of civilization -- perhaps we could say a problem unique to civilization. Civilization changes our means more readily than it changes our ends, and that puts advanced means at the service of stagnant ends. The problem of civilization is, then, resolved by the need for more civilization. But how are we to expand civilization so that its ends are brought up to a level equal to its means? That must be a question for another time.

. . . . .


. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

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8 Responses to “Akhand Bharat and Ghazwa-e-hind: Conflicting Destinies in South Asia”

  1. Dexter Trask said

    “I can recount, off the top of my head, the various movements and conflicts of peoples even in a small fragment of Europe…” This is part of what make you such a pleasure to read, Nick.

    I know that you were limiting the scope of this post to South Asia, but I have trouble excluding in my mind the other Manifest Destinies inextricably linked to the region (the ancient extent of the Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates, Pan-Turkism, and the indelible Russian fear of what might come riding over the eastern [and southeastern] horizon)–to say nothing of the other grand eschatology war that cannot be excluded from the region, Sunni versus Shia.

    Nor need motives be particularly extreme or eschatological to be destabilizing; sheer propinquity can often do. It’s often overlooked that one of the reasons that the ISI cultivated its relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan was to give Pakistan strategic depth (lines of communication, access to airfields) in case of an Indian invasion.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Thanks for your insightful comment!

      It is interesting that you mention other conflicts among ideologically-inspired manifest destinies, as after I finished this post I started drafting another post on just this point. If I have the time and energy I will try to divide the world up regionally and discuss these kind of conflicts theater-by-theater.

      One of the problems (if it could be called such) of the Sunni-Shia divide in the Muslim world is that the populations are so intermixed in many places. True enough, most of KSA is Sunni, and most of Iran is Shia, but places like Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, and other regions have an overlay of populations which means that ideological foes live side by side.

      Best wishes,


  2. gregrlawson said

    A great piece as usual. My sense is that until humanity essentially conquers itself, the animal of pre-civilized man remains very much present, just beneath our veneers of civilization and waits for opportunities to break lose.

    I believe you are reasonably fond of Nietzsche, so as he says, anything that is “a living and not a dying body…will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant – not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.” He also says, even more elegantly: “Not necessity, not desire — no, the love of power is the demon of men. Let them have everything — health, food, a place to live, entertainment — they are and remain unhappy and low-spirited: for the demon waits and waits and will be satisfied.”

    This means these conflicting destinies will always have some tinge of the eschatological to them.

  3. Deepa Bhat said

    The entire globe to be saffron. Why not? It only means ‘Dharma’ ruling.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Would you really want an entirely and exclusively saffron-colored world? Don’t you think that we benefit from some degree of pluralism?

      Best wishes,


  4. Akhand Bharat is a stupid story…Pakistan and China dont wear bangles….okz

  5. larry svart said

    Well, good God/dess almighty, an actual native Oregonian (I’m a native Portlander) whose intellectual odyssey is at least as deep and inclusive as my own… and with predictable huge overlaps of fields of interest/competence, etc. Having only just today stumbled upon your website, and thus having not comprehensively immersed myself in your full range of comments, I have not even hardly started reading this particular post. Nonetheless, my sense of the importance of your work has impelled me to post this comment.

    So, just to at least introduce myself at an elemental level as well as provide some possibly useful feedback of a general sort anyway, let me first provide some minimal CV data. Although the great bulk of my education has been auto-didactic, it’s roots benefited from undergrad work at U. of Chicago and my later PhD at UW…in geography, with huge amounts of work in economics but all focused upon natural resources management and the entire massive subject of human/nature interactions/relationships. While I taught for awhile at UW, I later became a land use planner. My passion for knowledge without limits over the years since radically transformed my understandings as I devoured history, philosophy, psychology, etc. Oh, plus I did get my bit of appropriate peer-reviewed publications on fairly wide-ranging subjects.

    Anyway, among many strong impressions from reading several of your posts, the fact that you also have had Bertrand Russell, Karl Jaspers, Will Durant and many other luminaries important to my own expansion of awareness is rather non-surprising confirmation of my own experiences. So here it is that some of your remarks regarding Big History are especially relevant to our mutual interests…and to which perhaps I can contribute additional suggestions for you.

    Your concept of a “formal” historiography and the idea of an “integral” history (in your quoting of isaiah Berlin), with appreciative nod to Jaspers, is especially apropos. Although Jaspers really developed the concept of the Axial Age, its actual existence was first noted in the mid 19th C.. However, the conventional notions of conventional historians has basically been nihilistic with regard to the concept of any conceivable “world history” that is integral. They are dead wrong. It has been a quarter of a century since I wrote a substantial essay that operationalized the concept of Axial Time such that periodizations of all world history before and since can be linked to a de-centered, truly non-biased (ie., scientific) chronometry rooted in non-controversial key events throughout the Old World ecumene. Now, for all sorts of reasons that are not relevant here, I have never yet had this revelatory understanding submitted to the appropriate journal (J of World History, or some-such).

    However, at the time I did provide a copy of this draft essay to Ken Wilber, who responded with an encouraging thumbs up. Now this is where I must ask about your degree of immersion in HIS work, presuming you have at least come across it. And given his polymathic genius and depth and range of work, if you have not yet done so, I cannot strongly enough urge you to become so informed. And moreover, I would also point out that if you were to make the mistake of relying upon the web critiques of his work, BEFORE READING HIS MOST IMPORTANT WORKS FIRST, you will fail to extract the most significant aspects of it. As to which of those writings are most relevant or useful in that regard, without question you should fully absorb all the content of his opus, at the very least: Sex, Ecology and Spirituality. Don’t be put off by the title, for it is clearly more of an insider joke (and way of ginning interest) as it is a cogent summary of the contents. In particular, the hundreds of pages of dense footnotes make for a sumptuous repast. (It is no coincidence that Wilber’s entire orientation is explicitly toward development of integral knowledge, period.)

    So, in conclusion, let me make a few points. First, I have been starved of actual engagement with individuals capable of and interested in the range of issues at the depth which you exhibit…here in Oregon. I would therefore look forward to meeting with you or at least establishing a web connection. Second, I would be very interested in an intensive discussion about Ken Wilber and his work and the subjects of his work. Third, I am fairly certain you would find my many years (decades actually) of investigation into operationalizing the concept of the Axial Age with an Axial Time chronometry to be of value to you…if you are truly as interested in Big History as your posts definitely imply.

    Amazing, what you have done/are doing, Keep up the good work. Hope to hear from you soon. If you live in the Portland area we really need to meet and share.

  6. Rajan sharma said

    Hindusthan jindabaad jab tak RSS jinda hai tab tak hindustan jinda baad hai jinda baad rahega ……….am rajan uppal from jammmu(akhnoor) RSS sanvya sevak…jai hind

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