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    South Asia
     Apr 11, '14

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Time to end the subcontinent's family feud
By Arshad M Khan

There are, however, other reasons why coming together is important. Consider India and China: They both started at about the same place in the late 1940s. But a comparison now is embarrassing for the subcontinent: Pakistan is to an extent a client state; India lags far behind. Quite aside from Beijing's stellar Olympics, showcasing Chinese skills to the world, and the distressing Indian act to follow in the Asian games, the economic statistics confirm the obvious.

For 2013, China's nominal GDP per capita as reported by the International Money Fund (IMF) was US$6,569 as compared with

India's $1,414, Pakistan's $1,295 and Bangladesh's $899. Countries like Singapore ($52,918), South Korea ($23,838), Taiwan ($20,706) and Malaysia ($10,429) are all substantially higher, which is sobering when we consider that the subcontinent achieved independence first.

China is now the world's second-largest economy, but the subcontinent lags far behind. Transportation is the backbone of a modern economy, and China's arterial roads are modern, its railways comparable with and sometimes superior to those in the West. The fast growing high-speed rail network is connected by 250 mph trains with record speeds under favorable conditions above 300 mph.

Television coverage of disasters is a window into rural lives rarely encountered by the urban elite or economic statisticians. Lately, such coverage leaves the impression of a burgeoning rural middle class in China, well-fed villagers in Pakistan and destitute farmers in many parts of India. A cogent statistic confirming this intuition is the percentage of low-birth-weight infants across Asia and the Pacific, as reported by UNICEF for 2008. China at about 2% of live births had the least, beating even New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Pakistan was at 18%, and Bangladesh at 22%, while India was dead last at an off-the-chart 30%. Low birth weight increases the chances of infants succumbing to illnesses, and such suffering surely deserves to be alleviated.

Unfortunately, in the growing middle classes' headlong rush to consumerism, nobody seems willing to look over their shoulder at the ravaged detritus of policy folly left in their wake. As Mahatma Gandhi is reputed to have said: "There is always enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed."

The crippling expenditures of India and Pakistan's wars - proxy or otherwise - and preparations for possible war do little to enhance security in the face of a mutual nuclear threat. Endless war means endless suffering and endless waste. Pakistan is faced with insurgencies in Baluchistan and the Frontier Province; India has kettles building up steam in the north, northeast, east, south and center.

Then of course, there is Kashmir, that cauldron of discontent where democratic delusion came face to face with reality in the summer of 2010. And thousands of unmarked graves have been discovered. The latest farce is the penalty imposed on university students for cheering a Pakistani cricket team - not surprising in view of the heavy-handed military presence there.

We started with the case of Britain and the US, and how cultural similarity abetted the relationship. Let's also consider the long-standing, bitter and often bloody Franco-German rivalry. If one travels that border now, one only notes its absence. Not only is it undefended, but it no longer has customs or passport controls.

How that happened might well be a lesson for the subcontinent. It was a story of economic cooperation leading to a customs union, while maintaining political independence, as well as adequate safeguards for weaker economies. This European Community model could be one answer. An autonomous Kashmir within such a framework is a logical way of finessing that problem, and the money flowing to India and Pakistan from tourists on their way to the valley should quiet any cries of protest. We are past feudalism, and both countries have to realize that land belongs to the people who till it.

Imagine a prosperous subcontinent freed from the fear of war and nuclear apocalypse, on its way to joining the First World. It is a vision worth fighting for, in which a worthy people rid themselves of their painful legacy of colonialism.

Dr Arshad M Khan, a retired professor based in the US, is an occasional contributor to the print and electronic media.

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