The Pathology of Partition

Both India and Pakistan have some bitter pills to swallow if they want to move forward, says Ishtiaq Ahmed

The Pathology of Partition
In this concluding essay on the so-called “unfinished agenda” of Partition, I shall submit some ideas on closing the controversy in the best interests of the people of this region. We need a holistic approach based on a vision and foresight that accepts Partition as a fait accompli, but recognizes simultaneously that the wellbeing and prosperity of the Subcontinent depends on whether India and Pakistan cooperate and build bridges. Before I present some ideas on a new approach, let me show that the maximalist positions inevitably lead to border tension, forced migration, ethnic cleansing, genocide, war – and possibly nuclear war.

On Kashmir, if India is determined not to let go of the part it administers, and if it will resist changing the existing de facto border (which locates even the Kashmir Valley in Pakistan), it could – besides using excessive force and going to war with Pakistan – resort to a sinister method of changing the demographic balance in the area. At present, Article 370 of the Indian constitution gives Kashmir a special status whereby non-Kashmiris can neither buy property nor settle in its territory. While India does have such arrangements with other peripheral states as well, it could always find ways of circumventing such strictures and resort to “ethnic flooding”.

That uneasy vigil - A solider keeps watch at the border
That uneasy vigil - A solider keeps watch at the border

Pakistan’s great friend China has used exactly this strategy in Xinjiang – the homeland of the Uyghur Muslims. The Chinese government has been resettling Han Chinese in Xinjiang, and now anywhere between 40 and 55 percent of the population is Han Chinese. The Uyghurs are already a minority or could be turned into one if ever China feels the Uyghur national movement is threatening its integrity and security. The Chinese have done this in Tibet too.

Of course, the best solution would be for India to vacate Kashmir if the majority of Kashmiris want to be independent or join Pakistan, but given the pathology of Partition, India is not likely to budge an inch if it feels its security and integrity will be adversely affected. I have argued elsewhere that the Kashmir dispute has hydro-political ramifications as well. At present, India enjoys the advantage of being the upper riparian. The Indus Basin Waters Treaty has thus far maintained a status quo, which distributes the water of the five Punjab rivers more or less satisfactorily, although the building of new dams has, in recent years, generated new complications, which can only be resolved through cooperation between the two states.
Most Indian Muslims seek only fairer treatment within India rather than  contemplate migration to Pakistan

Insofar as the Hindu Right’s standpoint on Indian Muslims is concerned, the idea of “sending” them to Pakistan could only be achieved if, one, they want to emigrate to Pakistan and, two, Pakistan is willing to let them in. I have travelled widely in India and, although one does come across Indian Muslims who believe that Pakistan is an ideal Islamic state, the vast majority are rooted in their local habitats and only seek fairer treatment rather than contemplate migration to Pakistan.

More important to note is that Pakistan has no open-door policy for Indian Muslims. On the contrary, any influx of Muslims from India is viewed with great apprehension. In 1972, when Z A Bhutto was going to Agra to meet Indira Gandhi, the Pakistan military instructed him not to accept that Biharis – who had fought on the side of Pakistan against the Bengalis and India – should be allowed to migrate to West Pakistan from East Pakistan where they were stranded. Quite simply, unlike Israel, which allows Jews from all over the world to immigrate to the country, Pakistan has no such policy. Thus, when Jinnah was leaving for Karachi in August 1947, he was asked at the airport what message he was leaving for Indian Muslims. He said that they should become loyal Indian citizens.

An Indian soldier in Srinagar stands guard as a Kashmiri woman passes by
An Indian soldier in Srinagar stands guard as a Kashmiri woman passes by

Under the circumstances, forcing Indian Muslims to flee to Pakistan would only be achieved if ethnic cleansing or genocide were imposed on them. Given that this would involve some 200 million people, only a fool could believe it might be done with impunity. It would most certainly drag India and Pakistan into a war, possibly a nuclear one. With regard to Muslims being accorded secondary status in India, the fact is that, even without any constitutional discrimination, the Muslim community lags behind in the job market and in businesses. As a whole, it is a poor and deprived community, ranking just above the Dalits, according to the 2006 Sachhar Report.

Ironically, Partition left the most vulnerable one-third of the Muslim community in India and created a state where Muslims were already a majority. In any event, allegations that the Congress Party “indulged” the Muslims and built a vote bank in its favour may have some basis in reality insofar as the arithmetic of the Indian election is concerned, but there is no evidence that this translated into economic or social benefits to the Muslims. On the contrary, Indian Muslims have been left behind in the overall development of the Indian polity.
The only way for the Hindu Right to impose its will is through fascist antics

The truth is that the poorer sections of the Indian Muslim community – the vast majority of who are converts from the poorer sections and lower castes of Hindu society – were despised by the Muslim Ashraaf (those claiming foreign forbears) as much as caste Hindus looked down on Dalits. In all fairness, they deserve to benefit from the reservation policies of the state as much as other depressed communities. Fundamentalism and extremism thrive when people feel they have no stake in the system. Political sagacity requires that these deprived sections be integrated into mainstream Indian development. In any case, secular forces in India are by no means so weak that they would let India become a theocratic state. The only way for the Hindu Right to impose its will is through the antics of Hitler and Mussolini: storming their parliaments and imposing fascism on their people.

The India-Pakistan border (the orange line), floodlit for surveillance purposes, is the only border visible from space - Courtesy NASA-Reuters
The India-Pakistan border (the orange line), floodlit for surveillance purposes,
is the only border visible from space - Courtesy NASA-Reuters

While the partition of India is the root-cause of so many problems that have cropped up since then, history has moved on and I see no signs of either side wanting a reunion. On the other hand, I am convinced that, if the present situation in Kashmir is disturbed, it will lead to war between India and Pakistan. Equally, Indian Muslims being driven across the border, lock, stock and barrel, is a sure recipe for war. Reducing Indian Muslims to second-rate citizens may not have such dramatic consequences immediately, but it would require drastic measures to undo the Indian constitution. With Nepal also choosing a secular constitution, the writing is on the wall for all to see: political development is not possible without secularism and democracy. India as a Hindu theocratic state will regress, rather than progress, in nation building.

Disturbing the LOC in Kashmir or stirring up the Muslim population in India will set in motion processes of forced migration, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The cumulative impact of such a disturbance could easily be war, a nuclear war. Pakistani scientist Dr Samar Mubarakmand boasted recently that Pakistan’s missile program was more advanced than India’s. He is reported to have said that Pakistan could wipe out India in a few seconds, adding that the Indian government had no idea about the targets of Pakistan’s missiles.

On the Indian side, there are calls to call Pakistan’s bluff, which would mean starting a war with Pakistan. When thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops were amassed on the border in the aftermath of the 13 December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, President Bill Clinton observed, after talking to both sides, that a bizarre and surreal complacency prevailed among military commanders and security experts about going to war with nuclear weapons and winning it. He calculated that, in the case of an all-out showdown, 500 million Indians (out of a total population of 1 billion) and 120 million Pakistanis (out of a total population of 170 million) would be annihilated. Recent reports suggest that both sides continue to expand their nuclear arsenals.

Here's the problem, says sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik - Courtesy AFP
Here's the problem, says sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik - Courtesy AFP

Allegedly, Pakistan will soon possess the third largest number of nuclear weapons. The Indian military chief, General Dalbir Singh, has pronounced that India should be prepared for short, swift wars, to which Pakistan’s defence minister, Khawaja Asif, retorted that Pakistan was ready for any war, short or long! I am not privy to the preparations on either side, and so in no position to predict the outcome of a nuclear showdown, but my hunch is that a nuclear war will effectively render the Subcontinent uninhabitable for a long time. The dance of death will continue generation after generation because of the radioactive fallout and other such chain reactions.

Under the circumstances, a holistic closure to the unfinished agenda of Partition requires that we find a win-win formula that is practical and workable. If the LOC were to be mutually agreed as the international border between India and Pakistan, it could be backed by an arrangement whereby bona fide Kashmiris would move freely across the international border, interact with one another, do business and develop a framework for settling down anywhere in Kashmir. India and Pakistan could retain sovereignty over their respective parts, but both should ensure that non-Kashmiris do not settle on either side. The Kashmiri pandits who were forced to flee their homes in the 1990s could return and assume their rightful citizenship and property. A comprehensive Kashmir settlement should include the withdrawal of Indian and Pakistani troops and instead create a Kashmiri border force that would function under the joint command of India and Pakistan.

With regard to the concerns of the Hindu Right over so-called Muslim “exceptionalism” in India, I fully agree with those who say that India should have a uniform civil code so that all its citizens enjoy equal rights and have identical obligations to state and society. The reason that Muslims were granted a separate set of personal rights was that the Jamiyat-Ulema-e-Hind, which supported the Congress against the Muslim League, had agreed to do so only if the Indian leadership pledged that the state would not interfere in Muslim personal law.

Perhaps Nehru should have ridden roughshod over such a pledge to the ulema, but he kept his word, although he expressed the view that, hopefully, the Muslims themselves would want to reform their personal laws so as not to fall behind other Indians in the sphere of citizenship rights. That did not happen: conservative Muslims and the ulema opposed reform, promoted ghettoism and thus insulated the Muslims. Now, it is time for the Indian government to do away with such isolationism and instead work towards a uniform civil code that is inclusive, secular and enlightened. There is a sizable body of Muslim intellectuals who support such reform and, therefore, the state is within its rights to bring to an end the isolation of Muslims.

In the longer run, both India (and especially the Hindu Right) and Pakistan have to realize that war is not an option and that persisting with a confrontational mind-set does not serve any great purpose. Peace and prosperity in South Asia depends not only on India and Pakistan, but also on all other states developing a strong South Asian identity. A liberal visa regime will enable people to meet and discuss and develop interests that require joint action across the region. SAARC may exist as a framework for realizing such a goal, but what is lacking is the will to take it forward.

The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at: