Opinion: 2022 AD: India and Pakistan A story of past, present and future. By Anurag Maheshwari August 5, 2009 Editor’s note: This is a historical narrative based on the views of the author. As the cataclysmic civil war of Europe was drawing to a close and the sun was setting on the British Empire, trouble was brewing within its crown jewel India. For 130 years the British dominated India through the skillful use of divide and rule policy while remaining the ultimate arbiter, but in 1946 the post-war ruin and panic forced the exhausted British to seek the quickest possible exit strategy. Against this rapidly transforming backdrop, the age-old fissures within Indian civilization erupted in full force, threatening to rip the country apart along caste, ethno-linguistic, and religious lines. Especially insurmountable were the profound religious and cultural division between Hindus who formed 70 percent of India’s population and Muslims who accounted for 25 percent. Despite numerous attempts by a frail and aging Mahatma Gandhi, misdirected political forces and irreconcilable personal ambitions of short-sighted leaders in 1947 partitioned the British-Raj’s 435 million subjects into the Islamic state of Pakistan, 85 percent Muslim, and secular India, 80 percent Hindu. The partition was traumatic for 11 million Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs who had to choose sides and migrate en masse or risk death and destruction. Especially affected were the large ethno-linguistic groups, the Bengalis, Punjabis, and Sindhis, as well as the tiny communities of Parsis (Zoroastrians), Kashmiris, and Marwaris. Bengal and Punjab, though united by language, were divided between India and Pakistan along religious and political lines. In 1947, the first Indo-Pak war over Muslim majority Kashmir ended in a stalemate. Kashmir became a persistent bone of contention between India and Pakistan. India’s aspiration was to become a modern, secular, prosperous, and inclusive republic that provided equal opportunities for Hindus and Muslims while preserving its ancient culture and heritage. The Pakistani elite fancied themselves heirs to the Turkic Sultanates and Mughal Empire which had dominated India from 1192 A.D. to 1719 A.D. Pakistan’s goal therefore was to become a model Islamic state, prosperous and modern, part of the Islamic world, and an eminence alongside secular Turkey and devout Saudi-Arabia. Both India and Pakistan had inherited an extensive irrigation system, rail and postal network, a modern legal system, a sophisticated bureaucracy, a trained military, and the English language from the British. British exploitation had left them poor and largely illiterate, all they had to do was invest in economy, infrastructure and family planning to improve the lot of their people. But this would prove to be easier said than done. Through partition along religious lines, Muslim majority Pakistan in large measure had solved its internal religious contradictions while sharpening and exacerbating contradictions with India. But by doing so it enabled the re-surfacing of centrifugal ethno-linguistic forces within its borders. Throughout its history, Pakistan would rely on Islam, its military, its dictators and the Kashmir conflict with India as the glue to prevent its disintegration into separate nations along ethno-linguistic lines. During the 1950s, both India and Pakistan restructured their archaic medieval era administrative sub-divisions along ethno-linguistic lines. However, from the beginning, there were deep misalignments between Pakistan’s ethno-linguistic groups and its power structure. West Pakistan was a mosaic of seven ethno–linguistic groups, while East Pakistan was largely homogenous — 99 percent Bengali. Although Bengalis were almost 60 percent of the total population of combined Pakistan, they were significantly underrepresented in the government and military and received only 35 percent of the central budget expenditure. The Pakistan Army was overwhelmingly ethnic Pashtun and Punjabi, from Northern West Pakistan, while the bureaucracy was filled heavily with educated and trained Muhajirs — the Urdu speaking migrants from North India who coalesced around West Pakistan’s southern coastal city of Karachi, the capital and financial center of Pakistan. India reconstructed itself as a mosaic of 12 major ethno-linguistic groups interspersed with dozens of minor ones. Influential social groups such as Brahmins were spread throughout India preventing any regional domination, and although caste problems continued to persist, in time people from all social and ethno-linguistic sections began to be assimilated in the power structure making Indian society more inclusive than at any point in its history. The chief architect of India’s constitution belonged to the lowest strata of the Indian society, the Dalit outcastes. In time many Muslims rose to positions of influence, including the President of India as well as many business and media magnates. After the British departure, both countries felt the need for a unifying national language to replace English. Pakistani elite sought to make Urdu their national language, which was written in Arabic. Indian elite chose to go with Hindi, understood to varied degrees by most, and native to 40 percent, mostly in North India. Both countries were rocked by protests and backlash throughout the 1950s-60s. In India, non-Hindi minorities, especially ethnic Tamils and Bengalis vociferously opposed the imposition of the Hindi language. Faced with such disintegrating reactions, Indians came to their senses and made Hindi a second official language, along with English. Thus the language crisis was successfully defused. In Pakistan, the most severe backlash was among Bengalis in East Pakistan. Bengalis who were justifiably proud of their rich literary and cultural heritage rejected Urdu and sought to make Bengali the national language of East-Pakistan. The West Pakistanis, stung by such agitations continued to bitterly bicker with the Bengalis over language and power-sharing issues and with India over the status of Kashmir. By 1950, the highly strategic region of Kashmir was torn between India, Pakistan, and China and shared proximity with the USSR. The cold war was raging and both the USSR and U.S. sought alliances with India and Pakistan. India was freshly freed from British influence and remained neutral, but Pakistan, aware of Soviet and Indian proximity, chose to ally with the U.S. In 1960, Pakistan moved its capital from southern city of Karachi to newly constructed Islamabad near its northern border, a few miles from the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi and close to Kashmir, China and USSR — where all the cold-war action was. The relocation of the capital caused deep resentment among the Muhajir minority, who rapidly lost influence in Pakistani politics to the majority ethnic Punjabis. The late 1950s Sino-Soviet split, the 1962 Sino-Indian war at the height of Cuban missile crisis, and the 1969 Sino-Soviet war led to a loose Indo-Soviet alliance aimed at containing China while the U.S., China and Pakistan drew closer so that the world’s two largest democracies drifted further apart. In 1965, a second Indo-Pak war over Kashmir almost bankrupted both countries and again led to a stalemate. In India, this led to a political crisis in which the old guard was purged. In 1966 Indira Gandhi, the youthful scion of the influential Nehru-Gandhi family emerged as the new leader. Aware of India’s weakness, Indira Gandhi immediately took steps to expand the military, agriculture and industry, as well as nuclear and space programs. 1968 witnessed the birth of India’s premier intelligence agency — the Research and Analysis Wing *— to rival Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. 1971 was a watershed moment in subcontinent’s history. The East Pakistan Bengalis, tired of being treated as colonial subjects by West Pakistan, rebelled and affirmed full and immediate independence. Any reconciliation became increasingly unlikely. In order to quell the Bengali independence movement, the West Pakistan army was mobilized and unleashed an orgy of mass slaughter, arson and rape. According to Bangladeshi sources, between one and three million Bengalis were exterminated and 200,000 Bengali women were raped. The ruling elite in West Pakistan implicitly impressed upon the Bengalis that since they were incapable of protecting even their women, their demands for self-rule were untenable. Indira Gandhi led the diplomatic offensive in major European capitals and personally met with President Nixon in the White House to plead the Bengali cause. The enormous unfolding humanitarian crisis with millions of victims pouring into eastern India also became a contest of wills between Gandhi and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who misled President Nixon into aiding Pakistan against the Bengali people. With no support forthcoming, India and Pakistan were at war. A relatively well-prepared India launched a blitzkrieg and within two-weeks crushed the West Pakistan Army and took control of Dhaka. On December 16, 1971 Bangladesh was born from the ashes of East Pakistan, and 93,000 West Pakistani soldiers were taken as prisoners of war. The parliament of India gave Gandhi a magnificent ovation as the incarnate of Durga, the Hindu Goddess of Power. The Bangladeshi parliament responded with similar enthusiasm. Noam Chomsky cites this war as one of the two examples in modern history in which a larger nation went to war against a smaller country for humanitarian reasons. The deeply shaken Pakistani elite realized that winning a conventional war against India would be extremely difficult. By 1971, Pakistanis had spent 60 percent of their time under brutal military dictatorships and the heavy-handed bullying had caused deep resentment even among West Pakistan’s minorities. If the Bengalis could be free, why couldn’t they? After 1971, inspired by the Bangladesh movement, the ethnic minority independence movements gained substantial momentum. The Pashtuns were proud of their heritage, that no one in history except the Turks and the Mongols had subdued them. They were well represented in the Army, filling 40 percent of its ranks despite being only 15 percent of the population. They rigorously adhered to their unique pre-Islamic tribal code, Pashtunwali. Pakistan’s civilian leader at the time was Zulfiqar-Ali Bhutto, an ethnic Sindhi and the founder and leader of Pakistan People’s Party, the largest political party in Pakistan. These political realities and interlocking of power placated the ethnic Pashtuns and Sindhis and their independence movement subsided.