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India - Pakistan: A Road To Peace

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By Dr. Arshad M. Khan *

The next Independence Day will celebrate 67 years of self-rule. Yet India and Pakistan are unable to resolve differences; instead extremism is on the rise in both countries. What a shame because the cultural roots are identical, and the peoples lived in relative harmony for a millennia until proactive colonial policies sundered the fabric of a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society. But there are are ways to leave differences behind, and one can learn from the experience of others -- no less than their own colonial power ...

In 1906, the border between the U.S. and British Canada was demilitarized when the British withdrew the last of their troops. It has remained so. Except for a nominal passport and customs check, people travel back and forth freely.

How did this happen when the U.S. and Britain had been intense rivals, fighting three wars in the previous century? The road to peace began with a dispute (in the 1890's) between British Guyana and Venezuela, when the British Admiralty informed their government they could not spare the resources to take on the U.S. opposition to the British position. The British backed off and agreed to arbitration. In return, the U.S. softened its stance on several issues. Fishing rights were agreed upon, then finally the Panama Canal, heretofore opposed by the British, and the Alaska/Canada border was settled. Much of this was behind the scenes, and kept secret from the British public and even Parliament -- the Opposition would have skewered the government because public sentiment was strongly anti-American, given that the two countries had been at war off and on for over a hundred years.

Thereafter, in 1898, Britain was the one major power that supported the U.S. in the Spanish-American war. By 1903, Teddy Roosevelt was likening a war with Britain to fratricide. The special relationship was born.

How long standing rivals become friends is the subject of Charles A. Kupchan's last book, "How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace". It is noteworthy that while the agreements with the U.S. were being cemented, Britain also signed a treaty with Japan -- it was not successful for the cultural dissimilarities prevented the two sides from overcoming fear and mistrust. Between the U.S. and Britain, cultural similarities eased the transition, and one can envision a future where they will for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

This article began with they year 1906. The year 1906 was also when the Muslims in India, out of fear, launched a party to defend their interests, and the Muslim League was born. A decade later in the middle of the Great War, a young Muslim lawyer by the name of Mohammad Ali Jinnah prepared a proposal, supported by both the Hindu dominated Congress Party and the Muslim League under the Lucknow Pact, for a post-war self-governing India as a Dominion of the British Empire, not unlike Australia, New Zealand and others. Had the British agreed and cooperated, the fearful, frenzied and needless slaughter of millions of innocents during partition in 1947 would have been avoided, and India would still be whole.

Why is this so important? Well, it is important because the problems the subcontinent will soon face -- if the scientists are right -- will be far more complex and handled better as a federated whole than as fragmented units bearing fear, suspicion and mistrust. Pollution, emissions controls, climate change cannot be handled individually when in a shared space. And the worst case scenario of severe water depletion from the increased ablation of the Himalayan glaciers threatens the granaries of the Indus and Gangetic plains.

India's growth rate is encouraging (although lagging lately) and the exploits of some of its businessmen make Indians abroad proud. That the Jaguar dealer , a mile down the road from me sells cars made by an Indian owned company brings a smile to the lips of anyone of Indian extraction. And plucky little Pakistan keeping up with India's per capita GDP plus developing a hundred-bomb nuclear arsenal merits some kudos. The fact is, the three countries share the same culture, and like the U.S. and Britain in the first example, therefore contain within the seeds of a lasting peace.

There are, however, other reasons why coming together is important. Consider India and China: They both started at about the same place in the late 1940s. But a comparison now is embarrassing for the subcontinent: Pakistan has become a client state; India lags far behind. Quite aside from Beijing's stellar Olympics, showcasing Chinese skills to the world, and the distressing Indian act to follow in the Asian games, the economic statistics confirm the obvious.

For 2013, China's nominal GDP per capita as reported by the IMF was $6569 as compared with India ($1414), Pakistan ($1295) and Bangladesh ($899). Countries like Singapore ($52,918), South Korea ($23,838), Taiwan ($20,706), Malaysia ($10,429) are all substantially higher, and sobering when we realize the subcontinent achieved independence first.

China is now the world's second largest economy, the subcontinent lags far behind. Transportation is the backbone of a modern economy, and China's arterial roads are modern, its railways comparable with, and sometimes superior to, the West. The fast growing high-speed rail network is connected by 400 km/h trains with record speeds under favorable conditions approaching 500 km/h.

Television coverage of disasters is a window into rural lives rarely encountered by the urban elite or economic statisticians. Lately, such coverage leaves the impression of a burgeoning rural middle class in China, well-fed villagers in Pakistan and destitute farmers in many parts of India. A cogent statistic confirming intuition is the percentage of low birth weight infants across Asia and the Pacific as reported by UNICEF for 2008. China at about 2% of live births has the least, beating even New Zealand, Australia and Japan; Pakistan is at 18%, Bangladesh is at 22% and India is dead last at an off-the-chart 30%. Low birth weight increases the chances of infants succumbing to illnesses, and such suffering surely deserves to be alleviated. Unfortunately, in the growing middle classes' headlong rush to consumerism, nobody seems willing to look over their shoulder at the ravaged detritus of policy folly left in their wake. As Mahatma Gandhi is reputed to have said, "there is always enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed."

The crippling defense expenditures in India and Pakistan for their wars, proxy wars, preparations for possible war, internecine wars, power projection, etc., etc, do little to enhance security in the face of a mutual nuclear threat. Endless war means endless suffering and endless waste. Pakistan is faced with insurgencies in Baluchistan and the Frontier Province; India has kettles building up steam in the north, northeast, east, south, center, and then, of course, there is Kashmir, that cauldron of discontent where democratic delusion came face to face with reality in the summer of 2010. And thousands of unmarked graves have been discovered. The latest problem is the punishment of university students for cheering a Pakistan cricket team!

We started with the case of Britain and the U.S., and how cultural similarity abetted the relationship. A closer parallel for the subcontinent might be found in Senegal/ Gambia where one people speaking the same language have been divided by a border where Senegal almost envelops the Gambia. Both countries are 90% Muslim, have the same language, so what divides them? Quite simply, colonialism. Anglophone Gambia, a thin strip of land wedged into the heart of Francophone Senegal. India solved its Portuguese Goa problem in a different way, while Indonesia failed; Senegal, instead, offered more seats in its legislature than Gambia's size would merit. It is what Jinnah asked for, and in hindsight that alternative might well have saved many lives and led to faster development.

Finally, consider the long-standing, bitter and often bloody Franco-German rivalry. If one travels that border now, one only notes its absence. Not only is it undefended but customs or passport controls are notable in their absence.

How that happened might well be a lesson for the subcontinent. It was economic cooperation leading to a customs union, while maintaining political independence, as well as adequate safeguards for the weaker economies. This European Community model could be one answer. An autonomous Kashmir within such a framework is a logical way of finessing that problem, and the money flowing to India and Pakistan from tourists on their way to the Valley should quiet any cries of protest. We are past feudalism, and both countries have to realize land belongs to the people who till it.

Imagine a prosperous subcontinent freed from the fear of war and nuclear apocalypse, on its way to joining the First World. It is a vision worth fighting for and high time a worthy people rid themselves of their painful legacy of colonialism.

* Dr. Arshad M Khan ( is a retired Professor. A frequent contributor to the print and electronic media, his work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.


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