Independence Days Of India And Pakistan Tinged With Some Unfulfilled Aspirations
Neither India nor Pakistan can be said to be entering the 75th year of their independence in a joyous mood. Even if the pandemic had not dampened their spirits, the two countries would have known in their heart of hearts that the hopes and aspirations with which they emerged from colonial bondage have not been fulfilled to the desired extent.
Poverty remains a daunting presence while the record of the two neighbors in the fields of health, education and economy could have been better. For all practical purposes, India and Pakistan have been unable to shed the depressing tag of being backward since they remain quite a distance behind not only the advanced countries of the West, but even of some of the Asian nations.
Arguably, India has fared better than Pakistan in several respects. If It had been able to sustain the high growth rate achieved under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1998-2004) and Manmohan Singh (2004-2014) governments, India would have been among the region’s leading nations. But, having faltered for political reasons, like the Congress party’s penchant for socialism rather than pro-market policies, and the BJP’s reluctance to push ahead with “big bang” reforms, India’s growth had begun to suffer even before the pandemic dealt it a cruel blow last year.
The only achievement of which India can be proud is its thriving multicultural democracy. But, of late, doubts have been voiced even about this laudatory feat with some of the Western media and think tanks describing India as an “electoral autocracy” or only “partly free”. Even in the worst ship-to-mouth days of food shortage in the 1960s, India never lost its high democratic status as it is now in danger of doing on the eve of the 75th year of independence.
Pakistan, of course, lost its democratic credentials in the 1950s when it experienced the first of several military coups. Since then, it has been in and out of democratic and autocratic rule. However, Pakistan’s democracy has never had the prestige which is normally associated with this form of government because the elected leaders have nearly always been seen to be the military’s puppets.
Pakistan, India’s foreign policies
One reason why the uniformed personnel have held the whip hand in Pakistan (unlike India where the army is strictly neutral as in any self-respecting democracy) is the fear of the country being overwhelmed by India – a possibility against which only the Pakistan army claims it can provide adequate protection.
But this is not deemed to be the only guarantee of Pakistan’s security against a larger neighbor. So, it also prefers to depend on powerful friends like America, as during the Cold War, and on China at present.
Since both these friends of Pakistan have tended to behave like masters – unlike what Ayub Khan, the country’s first military ruler (1958-1969) wrote in his autobiography, “Friends Not Masters” – Pakistan’s foreign policy has generally been in line with what its powerful allies have dictated.
In contrast, India has been far freer although, during the period when it pursued a policy of non-alignment to maintain equidistance from the two superpowers of the time, America and the Soviet Union, New Delhi was perceived to be closer to Moscow.
Now, its proximity is to Washington, a stance that led to the India-US civil nuclear deal in 2005. In recent years, this closeness has been accentuated by the perception both in India and the US that the world’s largest and oldest democracies need to be partners in standing up to a belligerent and expansionist China.
But even as India and Pakistan have chosen their own divergent paths about both the forms of governance and their geostrategic positions, what may be regarded as unfortunate is the blighting of hopes after India, “made by God and Nature to be one”, as Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President said, was partitioned.
One of the expectations was that the division will at least mitigate if not solve the Hindu-Muslim problem in India with the minorities getting their own homeland. As for those millions of Muslims who chose to remain behind, and not opt for Pakistan, India’s commitment to secularism was expected to ensure their safety.
But progress on these fronts has been unsatisfactory largely because of domestic politics. In Pakistan, the Hindu and Christian minorities (and even the Muslim Shias and Ahmediyyas) are under duress because of the so-called blasphemy laws which are used to target them. And if anyone speaks up for them, as the governor of Pakistan Punjab, Salman Taseer, did, he is shot dead by an Islamic fanatic. In India, according to the former vice-president, Hamid Ansari, the Muslims do not feel fully secure anymore.
Even Pakistan founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s hope that the two countries will live in peace and harmony has not been fulfilled. He had said in Aligarh in 1941: “Let us, therefore, live as good neighbors; let the Hindus guard the south and western India and let the Muslims guard the northwest and eastern frontiers. We will then stand together and say to the world: Hands of India; India for the Indians”.
But, like his pitch for a secular polity in Pakistan – “you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques”, which displeased the hardliners – Jinnah’s wishes about good neighborly relations never fructified.
As of now, India and Pakistan seem fated to be enemies for the foreseeable future although sporadic attempts have been made to resolve their differences as to when Vajpayee went to Lahore in 1999 and Pervez Musharraf came to India in 2001. But the mistrust runs too deep for an easy patch-up.
Pakistan’s “deep state” comprising the army and the Inter-services Intelligence and their links with Islamist terrorists is the main obstacle. So the hostility persists.
The line-up of the two sides is also clear. While India is backed by America, China regards Pakistan as its “iron brother” who it can exploit to needle India.
For India and Pakistan, therefore, which were once a single country, the anniversaries of their independence days are burdened with thoughts of what might have been if the cabinet mission plan of 1946 for a united India, which Jinnah accepted, was not botched by the Congress party.
(The writer is a commentator on current affairs. The views expressed are personal. By Special Arrangement With South Asia Monitor)