Pak­istan: A mis­take?

Maybe ev­ery­body would have been bet­ter off if Bri­tish-ruled In­dia had not been par­ti­tioned in 1947

Cape Breton Post - - Op-Ed - Gwynne Dyer Global Af­fairs Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

It was never my plan to tell Pak­ista­nis their coun­try had been a mis­take. I was 19 years old at the time, in Pak­istan for the sum­mer with 40 other young Cana­dian univer­sity stu­dents on a trip to fos­ter in­ter­na­tional un­der­stand­ing. I had al­ready re­al­ized that this was a com­pletely point­less ex­er­cise, but it was a free trip and I had never been out of North Amer­ica be­fore.

I also al­ready knew that stick­ing up hand­bills in La­hore an­nounc­ing a pub­lic de­bate in which the visi­tors would ar­gue that the cre­ation of Pak­istan had been a bad idea would be a very bad idea, but no­body asked my opin­ion.

So there were rent-a-crowd ri­ots in La­hore, and the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor of the time had us all ar­rested and shipped up to a boys’ school in Ab­b­otabad, empty for the sum­mer, un­til they could find enough seats on Pak­istan In­ter­na­tional Air­lines to ex­pel us all. (The same town was also, much later, the last refuge of Osama bin Laden, but I di­gress.)

Any­way, this month marks the 70th an­niver­sary of the par­ti­tion of In­dia and the in­de­pen­dence of Pak­istan, so maybe it’s time to re­visit that aborted de­bate. Es­pe­cially since the 18th prime min­is­ter of Pak­istan, Nawaz Sharif, has just been forced out of power by Pak­istan’s supreme court. In all those 70 years, not one of Pak­istan’s prime min­is­ters has ever man­aged to com­plete one full term in of­fice.

Pak­istan is not ex­actly a “failed state.” It pro­vides a very com­fort­able life for around five mil­lion priv­i­leged peo­ple, in­clud­ing the im­mensely rich Sharif fam­ily. (Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shah­baz will take over as prime min­is­ter as soon as he can quit his job as chief min­is­ter of Pun­jab state and get elected to the Na­tional Assem­bly). An­other 30 or 40 mil­lion peo­ple have a mod­est but tol­er­a­ble life, and the other 150 mil­lion just scrape along the bot­tom.

In­dia is not rich ei­ther. Per capita in­come in In­dia is only about 20 per cent higher than in Pak­istan, and the per capita in­come of In­dia’s 190 mil­lion Mus­lims – who are the poor­est of the coun­try’s ma­jor re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties – is prob­a­bly slightly lower than av­er­age in­come in Pak­istan. But it’s still worth ask­ing if ev­ery­body would have been bet­ter off if Bri­tish-ruled In­dia had not been par­ti­tioned in 1947.

The pro­por­tion of Mus­lims in the pop­u­la­tion of an un­di­vided In­dia would have been so high that they could not be ig­nored po­lit­i­cally. If Pak­istan (and Bangladesh, which broke away from Pak­istan in 1971) were still part of In­dia, Mus­lims would not be 13 per cent of that un-par­ti­tioned In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion. They would be more than 30 per cent.

Such an In­dia, as­sum­ing it re­mained demo­cratic, could never have ended up with a sec­tar­ian Hindu na­tion­al­ist like Naren­dra Modi as prime min­is­ter. One-third of the elec­torate would in­stinc­tively vote against him. By the same to­ken, Mus­lims who stood on a re­li­gious plat­form would not suc­ceed – but lots of Mus­lims would be elected to high of­fice on their mer­its.

If the Hindu ma­jor­ity haven’t mas­sa­cred the 190 mil­lion Mus­lims of to­day’s In­dia, then how were they go­ing to mas­sacre the 530 mil­lion Mus­lims of an un­di­vided In­dia? An es­ti­mated 10,000 peo­ple have been killed in Hindu-Mus­lim com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in In­dia since 1950, and three of the vic­tims were Mus­lims for every Hindu killed – but th­ese num­bers hardly com­pare with the im­me­di­ate and long-term cost in lives of Par­ti­tion

At least a mil­lion peo­ple were slaugh­tered in the mu­tual Mus­lim-Hindu mas­sacres of 1947, when 10 mil­lion peo­ple moved from In­dia to Pak­istan or vice versa. An­other mil­lion civil­ians were killed in the 1971 war that broke Pak­istan apart and led to an in­de­pen­dent Bangladesh. And although the four In­di­aPak­istan wars only killed about 30,000 sol­diers, both coun­tries

“In 70 years, not one of Pak­istan’s prime min­is­ters has ever man­aged to com­plete one full term in of­fice.”

now have nu­clear weapons.

Could it have hap­pened dif­fer­ently? Both Gandhi, for all his saintly sta­tus a pro­foundly sec­tar­ian Hindu leader, and Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah, the leader of the All-In­dia Mus­lim League and the founder of Pak­istan, were dead within a year af­ter Par­ti­tion. If the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment had not been in such a panic-stricken rush to get out of In­dia, there might have been

time for more mod­er­ate Hindu and Mus­lim lead­ers to ne­go­ti­ate a dif­fer­ent out­come.

Or not, as the case may be. This is purely a hy­po­thet­i­cal game, be­cause once par­ti­tion hap­pened it was ir­re­versible. But it would have cer­tainly been an in­ter­est­ing de­bate.


Sup­port­ers of Pak­istani de­posed Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif rally in fa­vor of their leader in Karachi, Pak­istan, on Tues­day,

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