The case for Indo-Pak unification

Sometime back  I ran into an elderly man at work. Since I live in an area of Canada that is densely populated by immigrants from Indian Punjab, I knew the gentleman was from India. After I was done helping him out, he looked at my nametag and asked me where i was from in India. I told him I wasn’t from India, but Pakistan. A wide smile appeared on his face, and he asked me which city in Pakistan I was from. After I mentioned I was from Lahore, his smile got wider and his eyes got teary eyed. He told me his family is from Jaranwala ( a small town in the Faisalabad district ), and that they immigrated to India following the partition in 1947. We spoke for a while, as he asked me questions about the place he formerly called home,  and as he was leaving he uttered the following words “Partition nai hona chahye thi ( partition should not have taken place )”

This was not the first time the de-merits of partition crossed my mind, but it was a moment that raised countless more questions.

India and Pakistan both celebrate their 69th independence days, either today or tomorrow. Almost a quarter of a century has passed and the political and military leaderships of both countries remain at loggerheads. The question isn’t whether foreign relations between India and Pakistan are good. The question is whether foreign relations both countries will remain in the ‘manageable hostile’ zone. The problems between both countries are well documented and don’t need repetition – from water disputes to the murky business of intelligence agencies, the countries take two steps back for every step taken forward. An abundance of economic and military resources are allocated to ensure that the hostile neighbour remains in check.

But despite the hostile attitude towards each other on the federal level, the average Indian and Pakistani connects effortlessly. There is no politics. No religion. No Jinnah. No Gandhi. No Bhutto. No Nehru. There is only the ease of familiarity, the ease that comes with being in surroundings involving people that share the same socio-cultural history for large parts, there is only the comfort of being in surroundings involving people that share the same traditions for large parts. There is something quintessentially South Asian that breaks down borders and makes everything smooth.

Why then, do India and Pakistan remain in a perpetual state of hostility at the federal level?

Time has shown that the two-nation theory was flawed. Less than 30 years into Independence, Pakistan lost its eastern wing. This is not to put down Jinnah’s credentials as a statesman of the highest order, but carving out an un-natural geographic division based on religious grounds was always going to fail sooner or later. While the situation in British India before partition was hostile, in hindsight, a united India might have dealt with the problems better.   Partition only multiplied the problems into two, with the added horror of mass bloodshed on either side.

As things stand currently, India and Pakistan both have their unique set of challenges, large chunks of which are exclusively linked to the hostile foreign relations between them. India’s involvement in the insurgency in Balochistan is common knowledge, whereas Pakistan involvement in the insurgency in Kashmir is also well documented. India has historically gained mileage with political groups in Karachi, whereas Pakistan was actively supporting  the Khalistan Movement in the 1980s. The red corridor in India continues to experience Naxalite-Maoist insurgency, with Pakistan having been accused of supporting it. Similarly, Pakistan has accused India of supporting terrorist groups active in the country today. India, despite on the way up economically, suffers from massive levels of poverty and malnourishment. Pakistan is in a significantly lower position economically, and it suffers from problems such as illiteracy and poverty on top of it.  Despite these glaring problems, both countries allocate significant chunks of their resources on activities aimed at weakening each other.

Both countries remain crippled by the narratives built around memories of the crimes of Partition, as politicians (particularly in India) and the military (particularly in Pakistan) continue to fan the hatreds of 1947 for their own interests. But despite that, it is pertinent to remember that the division of what is modern day India, Pakistan and even Bangladesh, is chillingly un-natural. The communities that were divided in 1947 had coexisted for almost a millennium and a United India would have dealt with its problems following the British withdrawal better.  If one is to celebrate independence on the 14th and 15th, do it for independence from the British – not from each other.

Unification may only be a dream, but the world has seen stranger things. Why not this too?

This post originally appeared on the Express Tribune Blogs on August 16, 2016.



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