A South Asian Century (1947-2047)

The end of World War II saw an unprecedented boom in the birth of sovereign states. This was no surprise ' after all, colonialism had officially ended, and nations were becoming free. Rejection of the overt kind of colonialism took effect over a long period; some countries had thrown off that yoke centuries ago (e.g. the USA and other countries in the Americas) whereas others could not get rid of their colonial masters (e.g., many countries of Africa) for another couple of decades, but still, in all practical sense, the end of the Second World War marked the end of the colonial era. Colonized nations should be thankful to Hitler for their emancipation; Hitler made the colonizing powers of Europe weak enough for them to decide to draw back and tend to their own problems, instead of sucking the color out of other countries.

In nearly all regions, the spheres of influence of the colonizing powers defined the shapes of the new countries that emerged on the face of the earth (many of them were cobbled together by the colonizers). Generally speaking, three types of independent countries came into being in those fortuitous times:

  1. Countries (kingdoms, chiefdoms, etc.) that existed before being colonized (though not necessarily with the same borders) and were now relinquished by the colonizers,

  2. Countries born under the adoption of a new philosophy of governance (communism), and

  3. Other newly independent countries that did not fit either of the above two categories (only two countries, Pakistan and Israel, belong to this class).

One can learn an important lesson studying the rise and fall of states and nations: a history of existence gives a state stability. The longer a country exists as a free state, the more it becomes destined to remain free. Using this argument we can say that only the countries of the first kind were inherently stable; they existed before they were being colonized and so there was no doubt that they would exist after their colonial masters left. On the other hand the "artificial" countries of the second kind had gone through an interesting transformation: a transfiguration based on embracing a socio-political ideology. Four decades later, when the hollowness of the implemented version of communism became evident, the countries using that ideology as the binding force underwent another transformation.

The disappearance of that shroud of ideology did the following:

  1. It left some countries clueless; having abandoned their communist direction overnight, they were left groping their way along the path of capitalism,

  2. It freed up countries from the erstwhile Soviet Union e.g., the countries of Central Asia and Baltic,

  3. It divided them where the socialist ideology had previously (and artificially) united them (Czechoslovakia disintegrated into the Czech Republic and Slovakia; Yugoslavia again "balkanized" into many states).

  4. In cases where the adoption of the "propitious" social structure had resulted in artificial division, the disappearance of that canopy unified the divided region ' East and West Germany united and so did North and South Yemen. One unification of this genre that still has to take place is that of North and South Korea, and I very much hope that it will happen soon.

Thus, the conclusion of the cold war at the end of the eighth decade of the last century gave way to a general optimism. Concurrently, some people in their naivet' thought that all ongoing conflicts in the world could be readily solved and that India and Pakistan too could forget their differences and form a union. Obviously, the naive did not understand that the India-Pakistan tensions stem from a different source. The nature and history of South Asia need to be studied carefully to understand the present state of conflict between India and Pakistan.

When the British conquered South Asia (then loosely referred to "Hindustan" and which then became the "British Indian Empire" and eventually "India") it was not one big kingdom or empire they overcame (in fact, if a unified kingdom existed in South Asia it would have been very tough to conquer). What the British found were fiefdoms ruled by individual rajas, maharajas, Nizams and Nawabs; the biggest of these being the Mughal Empire (which had chronologically expanded and contracted depending on the strength and ambitions of the incumbent ruler). The British landed in one corner of South Asia and slowly worked their way inward and upward. Almost like the fly that is said to eat six times its weight, the small kingdon of Great Britain devoured many states much bigger than itself.

After facing the "mutiny" of 1857, and crushing it, the British had made their rule over South Asia formal, complete, and comprehensive. Besides directly controlling a big portion of South Asia, the British ruled that part of the world through the nawabs, princes and rajas they manipulated. The area of South Asia over which the British exercised control was a lot bigger than the area ruled by any indigenous king ever--not even the mighty Mughal Empire at its peak spanned that big a region. Under British rule, South Asians--who had previously lived in relative isolation ' easily moved from one part of British India to another. This luxury of traveling far from your place of birth was a new thing. Before the British Raj, leaving your region often meant entering the region of your enemy. The ease in movement of people from one area to another paved the way for homogeneity and planted the idea of an Indian nationalism.

By the time the British left, a crude Indian identity (embraced by many, but not all, South Asians) was in place.

The British left South Asia in a great hurry; they did not leave it the way they had conquered it (in the form of small states and kingdoms ruled by individual rajas). They wished to transfer the burden by giving control of the relinquished vast empire to the native people under the western system of democracy.

It was one thing for the plethora of South Asian states to be ruled by a foreign entity a lot powerful than themselves but completely another to be ruled by elected representatives. It was obvious that, among the many native groups often living in isolation from each other, democracy would favor the group having a demographic advantage. Pakistan was the first rebellion against that idea ' a new country comprising the Muslim majority areas was demanded by the Muslims of South Asia.

When the British were leaving, many of the "Princely States" of South Asia decided to be completely independent too (i.e., independent of the nascent India and Pakistan). All but one were quickly swallowed by India or Pakistan. One, Kashmir, which bordered both India and Pakistan, is still the bone of contention between them. One more country (Bangladesh) was born twenty-five years later. At least seven other countries (Khalistan, Tripura, Nagaland, Asaam in India and Pukhtoonistan, Azad Balochistan and Sindhu Desh in Pakistan) are trying hard to kick their way out of the forced union they have found themselves in on the morn of August 15, 1947.

I don't doubt Mr. Jinnah's sincerity in the creation of Pakistan. I understand that the leaders of the Muslim League didn't want to see the rights of the Muslims trampled in a unified South Asia under the guise of democracy. It is the same reason we don't have one big democracy encompassing the whole world--wherein a Chinese person will almost definitely always be the head of the state. Pakistan precipitated out of the broth of mistrust between the various South Asian communities that existed in 1947. The Muslims of South Asia managed to get their own country because they had strong leadership and because they did form a majority in some of the provinces of the British India. If a similar situation had existed for the Sikhs, Buddhists, and the Christians I am sure those communities would have done the same to ensure better treatment for their people. (Of these three big groups Sikhs have indeed seriously tried to get their own Khalistan).

So, whereas, ideally speaking the British should have left South Asia the way they had conquered it (a region of many independent countries), they tried to hand over the power of their huge empire to the local people, to be governed as a single country. Several states and communities opted out of this arrangement. The largest of these rebels, Pakistan, was able to remain independent while the others disappeared. And eventually this scenario of two countries emerging out of the British Raj gave rise to a dichotomy. Because Pakistan was demanded to protect the rights of the Muslims of South Asia, the creation of Pakistan polarized the region on the basis of religion [The creation of Pakistan is both an effect and a cause of religious intolerance in South Asia: Pakistan was created because the large Hindu and Muslim communities didn't trust each other, and the creation of Pakistan has in turn aggravated the communal friction in that region. The Hindus of Pakistan and Muslims of India are seen with suspicion in their respective countries]. Of course, the ensuing polarity would have had a minimal detrimental effect if instead of only two, 20 plus countries had been formed in 1947.

Interestingly, even while Pakistan was formed to safeguard the rights of South Asian Muslims, its founder wanted to see it function as a secular state. Unfortunately, the Pakistani rulers could not abide by this vision of the founding father. Three decades after its creation, Pakistan started drifting towards Muslim fundamentalism. And this drift had a harmful effect on India. As Pakistan became more "Muslim", India--even despite resistance by the saner elements of that country ' became more "Hindu."

It is hard to miss the greatest shortcoming of democracy. Like mirrors, democratic institutions invariably show a sharp image of society. With illiterate and ignorant voters, you are sure to see their image in the elected leadership of a democratic country. So today even being world's
largest democracy ' the system of governance of choice ' India, home to almost half a billion illiterate people, is far from being a bastion of secularism where all religious communities live in a peaceful nirvana. The recent sectarian violence in Gujrat is a testimony to that fact. [Is this what the people of other countries of South Asia should become united with: An environment of hatred in which one community is burning the houses of the other community, people slashing each others' throats?]

Still, all of us who consider ourselves to be its friend want to see South Asia a hate-free region. It is okay to have administrative divisions to protect the rights of the communities, but ghastly to have impenetrable boundaries based on hatred and mistrust ' boundaries that prohibit the movement of people.

The world prefers categorization. People belonging to a particular region are identified with that region. It does not matter if you are from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, or Singapore, the world identifies you as Chinese. Similarly, a person is generally referred to as an Indian if that person is from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives or even Nepal and Bhutan. Moreover, if you look at the map of South Asia you will notice that from the wilderness of Balochistan to the once impenetrable forests of Asaam, from the mighty Himalyas to the Indian Ocean, there are no physical boundaries. Geography defines South Asia as one region. Underneath the superficial layers of religious and ethnic differences, all South Asians are the same people.

Peace in South Asia is a necessity for all the countries of that region. Warring Pakistan and India are harming their own interests. It is as if they are running with their feet tied to each other while other nations are running free.

It is in India's interest to peacefully settle issues with other countries, so that it can take care of the needs of its children that number over a billion. It cannot hope to become a respectable member of the world community while the world sees the image of a multitude of Indians living their lives on the sidewalks.

Pakistanis need to understand that their country being in a continuous fray with India negates its (Pakistan's) very reason for existence. Wasn't it the underlying thought behind the creation of Pakistan that, in the prevailing demographic scenario of South Asia in 1947, peace wasn't possible with one big country? Wasn't it the idea that the whole region would be peaceful if the Muslims of South Asia ruled themselves in a separate homeland? So if Pakistan jeopardizes the peace of that region, it casts doubts on its own raison d'etre.

Peace in South Asia cannot be achieved through a decisive war (It may sound very scary but fanatics in both India and Pakistan have been arguing for just such a war). India cannot just conquer Pakistan and hope its population will willingly assimilate into India. The reason for animosity between the two countries is the mistrust between religious groups. That distrust cannot be removed by war; a war will only deepen the mistrust. [An example of the prevalent religious-based antagonism in South Asia is the creation of Bangladesh: What used to be the eastern part of Pakistan separated from it and became Bangladesh; it did not unite with India].

On the other hand, if any Pakistani thinks ' and I have met people who believe this ' that with longtime conversion and coercion of Hindus, the Mughal Empire could be revived making Muslims the rulers of all of South Asia, then that person obviously needs a thorough psychological examination.

Not Akhand Bharat, not a revitalization of an old empire is what it will take to have peace in South Asia. No, you are not going to attain peace by conquering everyone and uniting them under your umbrella. You should instead first have peace, and then the time will come for unification.

For South Asia to be a hate-free zone ' even maybe united in some form, in the future ' some big hurdles need to be removed first. It is not going to be like the unification of East and West Germany where there was a strong bond of German nationhood that could be built upon. In Pakistan and India, it is almost a slur to call a person an Indian or Pakistani, respectively. This type of widespread animosity has to end first. And this enmity is only aggravated by the continuous state of conflict the two countries have descended into.

Nobody can fool anyone. Peace in South Asia and open borders between the countries cannot happen to one party's advantage and the other party's loss. It would have to be a win-win situation.

First, India would have to become a desirable country to have open borders with. India will have to go beyond what it is now. India's formidable population of over a billion is intimidating. Obviously, smaller countries fear they will be overwhelmed if they would open their borders to such a populous country. The countries of South Asia smell Akhand Bharat in this desire for reunification ' or even an economic union. This fear needs to be removed. India will have to either reduce its population, or will have to elevate its populace to a higher level of prosperity.

The countries of South Asia need to concentrate on their peoples. With peace and prosperity a time will come when South Asians would realize that the bonds between them, shaped through millennia of history, are much stronger than their superficial differences. Not with war, not with one country trying to bleed the other, not with somebody wishing to rule them all, but only with long-lasting peace can love and understanding be achieved--by being educated, being confident and feeling secure.

I have a dream for South Asia. I strongly believe that one day this dream will come true. I see a united South Asia as a peaceful confederation of small states. It will be a paradise for anthropologists, a place to travel freely and see the world's most fascinating people. The communities of South Asia would then have come together just like the countries of Europe came together after years of peace removed the mistrust between the European nations.


More by :  A. H. Cemendtaur

Top | Analysis

Views: 3310      Comments: 0

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.