By Vikas Dutta
India and Pakistan have just celebrated their 69th Independence Days. But born in a climate of pervasive hostility, indiscriminate violence and unimaginable suffering and forced translocations for their peoples, the two countries have yet to overcome their toxic birthright to live as better neighbours than they have done so far.
What are the reasons for the continuing mutual suspicion? The bitter memories of Partition? The Kashmir issue/dispute? The lingering distrust of the ‘Other’? There are no easy answers but that hasn’t stopped various interested parties from trying to reason why.
Objectivity is very difficult to attain – especially if you belong to either of the nations. Are works on the twisted, tangled India-Pakistan relations prejudiced (subtle or blatant) rants or disingenuous/self-serving justifications with some hidden agendas, or sincere attempts to chart how and why Pakistan-India relations have evolved this way? The answer depends on what you choose to believe.
Among the problems in making an objective assessment is of fixing a point when ostensibly irreconcilable and hostile political differences arose – and did they owe to personality clashes, or wider historical/cultural factors? Does such a point lie at Partition or well before 1947 or was there any such decisive moment and it was rather the cumulative effect of decades of political estrangement. There is a host of such issues that can bewilder and perplex.
Only time can answer these questions but for those who choose to satisfy their curiosity now only, half a dozen accessible works can be illuminating.
An overview of India-Pakistan relations extending down to the present day (by a Pakistani/Indian) used to be as rare as travelogues of India/Pakistan by a Pakistani or Indian (one each – Yoginder Sikand’s “Beyond the Border: An Indian in Pakistan” and Raza Rumi’s “Delhi By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller” – leaving out India-born but American passport-holder Stephen Alter’s “Amritsar to Lahore: A Journey Across the India-Pakistan Border” but two have come out in this year only. These are Indian diplomat Rajiv Dogra’s “Where Borders Bleed: An Insider’s Account of Indo-Pak Relations” and journalist Dilip Hiro’s “The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan” (both 2015).
Dogra, a former Indian consul-general in Karachi, seeks to provide an anecdote-studded account of the region’s recent history, beginning with the run-up to the Partition, its aftermath, other issues that have impacted bilateral relations since and various arbiters of its destiny from the departing British to successors on either side. He also speculates on some “what if” scenarios – no division or a re-union. However, his own professional involvement does mean an element of subjectivity and it is up to the reader to judge the validity of the implied malignity/criminal squandering of advantage but there is no doubt about the less than salutary role of the great powers – but then great power diplomacy is about advantage and influence, not principles.
Hiro’s work, whose title seeks to stress how that terrible month seems to have never ended, follows mostly the same approach but seems a little more equitable and at places quite revealing (especially for Indians conditioned to a particular view of the freedom struggle and its (their) titans (the despair of Mohammad Ali Jinnah as well as many Congress leaders at the direction that the Mahatma was taking the freedom struggle – also corroborated by veteran journalist Durga Das in his memoirs “India from Curzon to Nehru and After” ). One problem is some small but egregious mistakes – Shahzada Yaqub Khan instead of Sahabzada and the like.
If we accept the Partition as a watershed moment, then academician Yasmin Khan’s “The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan” (2008) provides a crisp, balanced analysis of how the murderous madness ensued and played out but also what effect it had on mutual mindsets then (and up to now), while journalist-turned-writer Nisid Hajari’s “Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition” (2015) contends how the then unleashed paranoia and hatred, in conjunction with the Kashmir and Hyderabad issue, dug a virtually unbridgeable chasm – and laid the seeds for global terrorism and nuclear proliferation in Pakistan.
Taking the effect forward through oral testimonies is Anam Zakaria’s “Footprints of Partition: Narratives of four generations of Pakistanis and Indians” (2015) which has some touching and saddening examples of the illogicality and iniquity of the division (but also some quite counter-intuitive reactions), though is ultimately disheartening, going by responses of young, impressionable minds.
Marx held the objective was not merely to interpret the world but to change it. For this in the India-Pakistan context, an overwhelming shift in perceptions on both sides is needed. But miracles can happen!