Sunday, 31 May 2020

Aman Ki Asha

Updated: January 23, 2010 11:46 am

India and Pakistan, partitioned by the British in 1947, and Bangladesh born out of a split with Pakistan, are still struggling to maintain cordial and peaceful relations with each other. The partition resulted in the deaths of up to 1 million people in subsequent religious and ethnic clashes and displaced around 12 million people. Did it help anyone?

Areas that comprise Pakistan today did not want the partition. In 1947 Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, was ruled by a coalition led by the Unionist Party, which did not share the Muslim League’s vision of a new state of Pakistan. In fact, in the then undivided Punjab province, Hindus and Sikhs equaled Muslims. The Unionist Party, in coalition with Sikh leader Master Tara Singh and his Shiromani Akali Dal Party, had defeated the Muslim League in 1946 to form the government.

Lahore was essentially a city of Sikhs and Hindus. With its agricultural bounty, undivided Punjab was often termed the “breadbasket of India” and, as the principal exporter of grain and manufactured items, was extremely wealthy. Prior to the partition, Lahore was also India’s banking capital.

Khan Abdul Ghaffoor Khan, the veteran Pathan leader of the North West Frontier Province, was keen on allying with India. But on the other hand, Baluchistan was fighting for independence from British India and its lawyer was none other than Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Ironically, Baluchistan was forcibly annexed by Pakistan in 1948, after the death of Jinnah.

Sind, the other major province, was a mixed picture. Hindus dominated the port city of Karachi while Muslim peasantry constituted a majority in rural areas.

Ironically, Pakistan was the creation of upper-class Muslims who hailed from the present-day Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and Delhi. In collaboration with Bengali Muslims they succeeded in convincing the British that Muslims could not coexist with Hindus. But the theory is fundamentally flawed; otherwise Altaf Hussain, the leader of Pakistan’s Muttahida Quami Movement, which mainly represents Muslims that migrated from northern India to Pakistan, would not have said that the “division of the subcontinent was a blunder in the history of mankind.” Nor for that matter Bangladesh would not have come into existence

It is not that the British authorities of the time were unaware of the limitations of the plea, on the basis of which India was eventually partitioned. Many recent books on the subject have exposed that it was the geopolitical imperatives of ensuring that the Soviet Union did not stretch its reach to the Indian

Ocean and jeopardize Western influence on the oil-rich Persian Gulf that led the British to create a frontal state called Pakistan. London was not sure whether a united but independent India under the leadership of the Congress Party would play the game as per its strategy against Moscow.

            In his recently released book, “Partition Jihad and Peace,” senior journalist Subhash Chopra wonders why the last viceroy of British India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, moved forward the date of transfer of power from June 1948 to August 1947.

In February 1947 the Labor government in London had set a timetable for transferring power to India in June 1948, without any details of partition. But it was Mountbatten who surprised everybody on June 3, 1947, by declaring that the transfer of power and partition of the country would take place on Aug. 15, 1947.

Thus Mountbatten shortened the British pullout period from 18 months February 1947 to June 1948 to 10 weeks June 3 to Aug. 15, 1947. During this time the details of partition were worked out, creating sheer confusion and the subsequent mayhem.

            Scholars are now arguing that Mountbatten knew something that the Congress leadership of M.K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru did not know that Jinnah was suffering from tuberculosis and his chances of survival were not more than a year. If the Congress leadership had known that, they could easily have offered the prime minister’s post in undivided India to Jinnah. For that matter, if Jinnah unfortunately died before June 1948 with India still united, who knows what would have happened.

            In other words, to ensure that British and U.S. interests in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf remained intact, Mountbatten did not take any chance. He wanted the partition and transfer of power as early as possible, with Jinnah still alive.

Obviously, the flawed partition has not helped much. It has not resulted in any betterment of relations between the Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent. It has not even benefited the Muslims, the bulk of whom continue to live in India.

Neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh is a Muslim paradise in any sense. Rather, there is much antagonism between Muslims, who are killing each other. And worse, Indians and Pakistanis have been living either in a state of war or war-like peace situation since 1947.

Many leading bureaucrats, lawyers, academics and journalists who, like Chopra, migrated to India after the partition are very sentimental about Pakistan, which is their place of birth. They clamor for a European Union-like scenario in which the partition is not undone but there is free movement of people through open borders, with a common currency and common market. Some have even suggested a common defense structure for the entire subcontinent, stretching from Afghanistan to Bangladesh.

            Is this possible? People in India and Pakistan are quite familiar with so-called track 1, track 2 and track 3 diplomacies. Track 1 refers to diplomacy by policymakers at the political and bureaucratic levels. Track 2 refers to attempts to avoid or deal with conflict through nongovernmental intermediaries with close links to the government policymakers. They are usually recruited by track 1 diplomats to find a way out of a difficult situation without a loss of face on either side, without negative consequences if the diplomacy fails and without embarrassment if there is leakage to the media and the public. Track 3 is about conflict-avoidance or conflict-resolution efforts undertaken by prominent nongovernmental personalities, with or without links to the policymakers, at their own initiative.

But none of this diplomacy has worked. So now there is track 4 diplomacy, which is about creating a congenial atmosphere through people-to-people contact in order to facilitate conflict avoidance or resolution. The objective is not to find a solution, but to lessen or remove the poison and distrust in the atmosphere, in the hope of facilitating a search for an accord through any of the other three tracks.

The latest manifestation of track 4 was the arrangement last fortnight between India’s largest and most powerful media house, the Times of India group, and Pakistan’s highly influential Jang Group, to undertake peace project called “Aman ki Asha,” or Destination Peace.

            The project says that “starting with a series of cross-border cultural interactions, business seminars, music and literary festivals and citizens meets that will give the bonds of humanity a chance to survive outside the battlefields of politics, terrorism and fundamentalism,” it is to hoped that “one day, words like Pakistan, India and love will not seem impossible in the same sentence.”

Let us wish the endeavor all the best.

By Prakash Nanda

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