Page 2 of 2 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
$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
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
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.