Pakistan and India’s 70 year old unresolved dispute

Pakistan and India's 70 year old unresolved disputeYOUNGER INDIANS AND Pakistanis tend to assume their countries were born enemies. Only the old recall that until their teenage years they were quite friendly. Ties of kinship were strong. India and Pakistan had inherited the same laws and institutions, and both were poor, multilingual and multi-ethnic. Their elites shared similar aspirations and spoke the same language, English, in addition to others that spanned the border, such as Urdu and Punjabi.

Pakistan’s gaunt, chain-smoking founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, insisted that Muslims constitute a separate nation, but envisioned a secular state. He was no Sunni majoritarian. The Jinnah family were Ismailis, a subsect of Islam’s smaller Shia branch. His foreign minister was an Ahmadi, another small sect that some Muslims regard as heretical. His law minister was a Hindu, and both his second wife and his personal doctor were Zoroastrians. Jinnah owned a luxurious mansion in Bombay, where he spent most of his youth and career.

In the 1950s India and Pakistan amicably settled the tricky problem of properties abandoned by millions of refugees. In 1960 they signed a complex deal to share the waters of the Indus river, Pakistan’s lifeline; it has stuck ever since. Pakistan’s national cricket team toured India in 1952 and 1960-61; the Indian one went to Pakistan in 1954-55. Until 1965 citizens of either country who wanted to visit the other could get visas on arrival.

There are many reasons why the ungainly twins drifted apart. In the initial division of spoils, India got more of the money. It also got land that Pakistan laid claim to. The big, rich princely state of Hyderabad and the tiny one of Junagadh had Muslim rulers but mostly Hindu subjects, and they were a long way from the rest of Pakistan, so India annexed them. Jammu and Kashmir presented the opposite problem: a Hindu ruler with mostly Muslim subjects. In late 1947 Pakistan sent guerrilla fighters to stir a Muslim uprising. The Maharaja invited Indian troops who ejected the intruders. The territory has been a bone of contention ever since (see article).

As the two countries matured, their political systems diverged. “They got the generals, we got the bureaucrats,” is how Indian wits put it. With a single brief interruption, India has sustained a noisy, wobbly and messy democracy. Its elected leaders, backed up by a powerful civil service and buffered by the sheer size and diversity of the country, have kept the army in check. Not so Pakistan.

The British Raj recruited hardest among the supposedly “martial races” of northern India, and deployed soldiers most heavily on the troubled Afghan frontier. So Pakistan, with a fifth of India’s population at partition, inherited 30% of the Indian army, 40% of the navy and 20% of the air force. Military spending ate up three-quarters of Pakistan’s first budget in 1948, notes Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani diplomat and author. The share has dropped, but Pakistan still has an oversized, pampered army.

Split in two, with the bulk of India in the middle, in the 1950s the country felt vulnerable. It was not surprising that Pakistan should fall into the cold-war embrace of America, which showered it with surplus weaponry from the Korean war. But the bonanza made the generals overconfident. In 1958 they toppled the civilian government. They began to dream of gaining full strategic parity with their much larger neighbour, but they lacked public backing for bigger spending and indefinite military rule. This they achieved by setting up India as a threat to the nation. In 1965 Pakistan again sent guerrillas into Kashmir. India struck back across the international border farther south. After some weeks of fighting both countries signed a truce. Pakistan gained nothing, but its army had proved that India was indeed an existential danger.

Five years later East Pakistan was growing restless. As a small guerrilla campaign grew in strength, with covert Indian help, Pakistan’s army launched a counter-insurgency so brutal and indiscriminate that it provoked a far bigger uprising. India formally entered the conflict in December 1971. In just 13 days its army, with the Bengali rebels, defeated Pakistan and took 90,000 prisoners. Bangladesh had won its independence.

The Bangladesh debacle carried the disgraced Pakistani army out of power, but only until the next military coup, in 1977. For his first two years in power General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq remained an international outcast. But when Russia invaded Afghanistan at the end of 1979, Pakistan gained an avalanche of aid from America and its allies, particularly Saudi Arabia.

General Zia tilted Pakistan sharply away from Jinnah’s dreamy secularism. Yet in many ways his embrace of conservative Sunni orthodoxy reflected tensions inherent in Pakistan’s “Islamic” identity. Even before he imposed a panoply of sharia punishments, Pakistan was renamed as an Islamic Republic in 1956, the Ahmadi minority was officially branded as non-Muslims in 1974, and alcohol was banned in 1977.

General Zia died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988, the year the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. But although Pakistan nominally returned to civilian rule, there was no real oversight over the sprawling military establishment. The army’s influence and the tentacles of the intelligence apparatus reached into the press, the courts, universities and private business. Bolstered by continued American support, the Pakistani army has been free to indulge its obsession with India ever since.

The Economist