Page 1 of 2 Time to end the subcontinent's family feud
By Arshad M Khan
India is holding elections. A massive undertaking, the process is
expected to take five weeks to allow the 800 million eligible voters
an opportunity to vote. But the issue that can bring Armageddon to
the subcontinent is not open to debate. Relations with its
nuclear-armed neighbor have not improved, despite attempts by
Pakistan's newly elected President Mamnoon Hussain in the last year,
because no party would like to appear soft on Pakistan prior to the
election. However, the post-election period could present an
The next Independence Day will celebrate 67 years of self-rule for
India and Pakistan. Yet the two countries are unable to resolve their
differences, and extremism is on the rise in both. What a shame,
because the cultural roots are identical, and the peoples
relative harmony for a millennia until proactive colonial policies
sundered the fabric of a multi-religious, multi-ethnic society. But
there are ways to leave differences behind, which the two countries
can learn from the experience their own colonial power.
In 1906, the border between the US and British Canada was
demilitarized when the British withdrew the last of their troops. It
has remained so. Except for a nominal passport and customs check,
people travel back and forth freely. How did this happen when the US
and Britain had been intense rivals, fighting three wars in the
The road to peace began with a dispute (in the 1890's) between British
Guyana and Venezuela, when the British Admiralty informed their
government they could not spare the resources to take on the US
opposition to the British position. The British backed off and agreed
In return, the US softened its stance on several
issues. Fishing rights were agreed upon, then the Panama Canal, which
had been opposed by the British. Finally, the Alaska/Canada border was
settled. Much of this was behind the scenes, and kept secret from the
British public and even Parliament - the opposition would have
skewered the government because public sentiment was strongly
anti-American, given that the two countries had been at war off and on
for more than a hundred years.
Thereafter, in 1898, Britain was the one major power that supported
the US in the Spanish-American War. By 1903, US president Teddy
Roosevelt was likening a war with Britain to fratricide. The special
relationship was born.
How long standing rivals become friends is the subject of Charles A.
Kupchan's last book, How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of
Stable Peace. It is noteworthy that while the agreements with the
US were being cemented, Britain also signed a treaty with Japan.
It was not successful because cultural dissimilarities prevented the
two sides from overcoming fear and mistrust. Between the US and
Britain, cultural similarities eased the transition, and one can
envision a future where they will for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Returning to 1906, it was also the year when the Muslims in India, out
of fear, launched a party to defend their interests, and the Muslim
League was born. A decade later in the middle of the Great War, a
young Muslim lawyer by the name of Mohammad Ali Jinnah prepared a
proposal, supported by both the Hindu-dominated Congress Party and the
Muslim League under the Lucknow Pact, for a post-war self-governing
India as a dominion of the British Empire, not unlike Australia, New
Zealand and others. Had the British agreed and cooperated, the
fearful, frenzied and needless slaughter of millions of innocents
during partition in 1947 would have been avoided, and India would
still be whole.
Why is this so important? It is important because the problems
the subcontinent will soon face - if the scientists are right - are
extremely complex, and handled better as a federated whole than as
fragmented units acting out of fear, suspicion and mistrust. Climate
change cannot be handled individually by nations that share a space.
And the worst-case scenario of severe water depletion from the
increased ablation of the Himalayan glaciers threatens the granaries
of the Indus and Gangetic plains.
India's growth rate has been encouraging (although lagging lately),
and the exploits of some of its businessmen make Indians abroad proud.
That the Jaguar dealer a mile down the road from me sells cars made
by an Indian-owned company brings a smile to the lips of anyone of
Indian extraction. And Pakistan keeping up with India's per capita
gross domestic product, plus developing a hundred-bomb nuclear
arsenal, merits some admiration. The fact is, Pakistan, India and
Bangladesh share the same culture, and like the US and Britain, have
within them the seeds of a lasting peace.