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India’s leading contemporary politician-intellectual Shashi Tharoor’s declamation at Oxford (2015) about the past glory of India, its great commerce and economic well-being before the arrival of the Britishers in the 1600s won him applauses across the globe. In his book, Inglorious Empire, he has extensively written about this subject in an unapologetic diction. Previous generations of South Asian writers reflected an intellectual enslavement who eulogized the British sense of justice, economic expertise and their judicial and administrative system. They would totally forget brutalities committed by the Britishers during the whole period of colonization. The indictments of Warren Hastings and Clive for their inhuman conduct are a part of the history. The plunder and plight of South Asia by the Britishers before their departure and then leaving natives obliged for the ‘benevolent act’ of granting independence is a great feat of statesmanship on the part of Empire that is cherished by a dying generation who shower praises on the British rule. Smartness of the British mind can be judged from this fact that after all their plundering and loot from its colonies they left natives in a state of gratefulness towards them. Tharoor, however, essentially remains dogmatic and faithful to his creed when it comes to giving credit for the past golden past of India. He deliberately ignores Muslim contribution to the South Asian civilization.

Post-independence historians from India and Pakistan were hugely moved by passion and creed. They fundamentally opposed each other in their outlook, on facts and in conclusions. They bitterly disagreed over the causes of the partition. In the backdrop of painful and horrifying events of the partition the people of South Asia forgot the blessings of liberty. A natural outcome of their unprecedented sacrifices and long struggle against a foreign occupation was never celebrated and its benefits never realized by the people due to a shameful and inhuman conduct on both sides in the aftermath of partition where human life and blood was wasted in the flames of hatred resulting from a deliberate policy of the British. The heat of those flames can still be felt. It still affects, directs and determines relations between these two unfortune countries whose people are struggling in the daily life against pandemics and poverty. Ugly phantoms of poverty and hunger dance around and challenge the wit and wisdom of intellectuals, economists and politicians who are unable to solve the problems of this region. Relations between these two states are so fragile that a politician forced by his hate, whim and vendetta or personal gain can bring them at the verge of a nuclear holocaust overnight. In the recent past they almost went to a full-blown war that would have destroyed them. In the past, these two countries have fought futile wars. It appears that they are unwilling to give peace a chance. In fact, the importance and potential of peace for the region has never been appreciated on both sides. Peace can change the fate of this region and its people and can revive the past glory of this region.

Peace in South Asia cannot be realized without overcoming misgivings and hate of the past. The past need to be reviewed and course of history re-set. Biases and prejudices must be taken out of it. Relations between states are determined by men in power. It is thus necessary that the decision makers on both sides bury the past and realize the importance of a long range of prospects that peace can bring forth for the region. After all, it is not unprecedented that states enter into alliances and peace treaties after fighting wars. Americans declared independence against Britain and denounced the British King. But in the Second World War, Churchill begged America for help and handed over its pride and world leadership to America in the Mid-Atlantic Treaty. Japan was bombed by America but they work in peace now. Afghanistan denied immigration to Indian Muslims but Pakistan hosted three million Afghans. Europe went to war and then formed a union.

Pakistan and India are a reality. It is time to stop the blame game. The declared objective of Pakistan Movement was to obtain a homeland for the Indian Muslims who could live peaceably and practice their faith without the fear of forced conversions under a majority rule. The secular leadership of Indian Congress gave way to MK Gandhi who is alleged to have brought religion to politics and thus redirected Jinnah’s struggle for Pakistan. Although a view is held that League had a protectionist approach. There were many Muslims particularly from the upper landed classes and some socialists who opposed Jinnah and his Muslim League but only on a principle. They thought that Muslim interests could be well protected in a united India. History is the judge of that fateful decision. Gandhi’s argument against the partition of India was essentially based on a myth that came from the womb of religion. Nehru, Patel and other top leaders of Indian Congress believed in the unity of India which had its origin in religion too. Their conduct after the 1946 elections strengthened the case for a separate homeland for Muslims of South Asia. It can be argued that on the principles of democracy had the people North-West India, that is now Pakistan, voted for a separate country or confederation, could Indian Congress oppose it except on the ground of religion and upon the myth of Akhand Bahart?

Jinnah on the other hand had a totally different vision of Indo-Pak relations after the partition of India. It is said he wished to go back to Bombay after his retirement. He had imagined the Pakistan-India relations on the Canada-America pattern. But Providence did not grant him enough time to realize his dream. Tragic and inhuman killings of millions on both sides during the mass migration in the aftermath of Partition left deep, soar and unhealing wounds on the body and soul of South Asia. The Britishers succeed in implementing their policy of creating hate amongst these two unfortunate countries, divide et impera. It is a pity that these people have not been able to come out of this trauma and tragedy.

Distrust breeds distrust. Leadership on both sides has not been able to shun their past and come out of the fears of the past which stops them from making bold decisions. The core issue between these two countries is Kashmiris (not Kashmir). It is a case of human life. It is time to give peace a chance as said by the policymakers in Pakistan. India stands a great chance to benefit from this offer for peace in many ways. India’s access to the Central Asia, Russia and Europe and availability of cheap gas from Iran and Turkmenistan will tremendously help it meet its demand for energy. If its leadership comes out of the fear of disintegration in case it makes some equitable concessions on Kashmir to permanently settle this dispute there is no reason left why Pakistan would not help India in gaining access to a huge market. In critical times the strength and character of leadership is tested. History awaits to test of leadership of South Asia.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

Muhammad Waqar Rana

The writer is Advocate Supreme Court and a former Additional Attorney-General for Pakistan

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