Pakistan, the view from 1946

Now that Pakistan is going through one of its periodic descents into chaos, it is sobering to go back and read what intelligent and impartial observers had to say about the concept of that country.  In 1946, the Atlantic Monthly noted that the motivation for the folks pulling for the new country was power rather than any religious difference and that they didn't seem to care about the human costs of what would eventually turn into a 11-15 million population transfer:

Jinnah insists on acceptance of the present boundaries of those provinces for the hypothetical state of Pakistan. Exchange of populations and frontier adjustments, he says, could follow. No one with the least knowledge of India could suppose that these provincial boundaries correspond to any national, ethnic, or linguistic delineation.  The Pathan of the North-West Frontier Province and the Bengali Moslem are both, according to Jinnah, potential members of Pakistan. What have they in common? They have the same religion, but racially they are totally different; they cannot understand each other's language; they dress differently, eat differently, and by reason of great differences in climate and geography are engaged in different occupations and forms of agriculture.  ... Jinnah, who is far from being confused in his thinking, knows all this. It is plain, therefore, that the Hindu-Moslem conflict should be seen, not as a religious one, but as a straightforward political and economic struggle for power, with the spoils of office as prizes.

As I noted earlier, some nations (the United States, India) were fortunate in their founders and in their founding principles.  Other nations, not much so -- to this second list, you can add Pakistan.  The avarice at the heart of the country's founding has never been weeded out of Pakistan's politics.

American and Indian politics can be corrupt and cynical but because of the strong founding myths, politicians keep getting tugged back to the center.  The current Bush administration may be wedded to water boarding, but you can be sure that future generations will look on this -- as they look on the internment of Japanese in World War II -- as a repugnant practice.  The chance of a full-fledged descent to torture is quite low.  Similarly, the founding principles of fairness at the heart of India's founding will keep tugging Indian politicians away from promoting unshackled growth -- polluted air and stagnant rural economies will get addressed even if urban and industrial money leads to submerging of those principles for a while.

1 comment:

  1. While I agree with what you have mentioned about Pakistan I have some reluctance in your observations about India. While I agree that India's founding fathers had done an amazing job of creating a strong constitution, the latter generation of politicians seem to have little or no regard for this document. This will only be a document and nothing more unless it is enforced and therein lies the problem. But I do see your point as without such a strong foundation a country as complex as India would be a sea of chaos.