Next week is the 70th anniversary of the partition of India and Pakistan. At midnight on Aug. 14, 1947, the British ended their rule over the subcontinent and divided it into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The break led millions of people to flee their homes and as many as 1 million people died in the ensuing violence.
Here & Now‘s Meghna Chakrabarti speaks with Moeed Yusuf, associate vice president of the Asia Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and considers the partition’s legacy in Pakistan.
On how Pakistan will celebrate its independence day
“Pakistanis quite frankly, just like Indians, it’s a special day for them. It’s a very patriotic, very nationalistic, but a yet a very rowdy country, if you will, and a rowdy polity when it comes to marking their independence. So, you’ve got the state-level demonstrations of force, of grandeur, there’s a bit of British pomp still left over, I would say, from the British times, so it is very much a special day. There isn’t much that the society does as a collective on the day, but the state does put out a lot of pomp, right from the beginning of the day right through. You’ll see that streets are clogged, people are out, people are having fun. It’s more a joyous, celebratory occasion than anything else.”
On his family’s relocation and how Pakistan processes partition
“My grandfather, actually, and all of his family and some of my uncles, did move from what is Agra in [Uttar Pradesh] in India today, which is India’s largest state, so yes, absolutely, it’s very personal for us and myself as well. Look, you’re absolutely right, partition has a very dark side to it. The difference here, is that in India, partition I think still very much reminds them of an occasion on which the country was split. In Pakistan, you’ve almost blocked that part of it out, and the conversation really is about a new country, a new promise, a cherished homeland that was expected, that was fought for. So, there’s a very positive connotation attached to that event and independence, and sort of the dark and the unfortunate side of it does not really come up in the conversation as much as it does in India.
“Also, remember that 70 years down, the generation that actually went through partition, who saw the horrors of partition, a lot of them have passed away and you’ve just caught the last sort of remnants left, so it doesn’t really make it into the national narrative in Pakistan as it does in India.”
“In India, partition I think still very much reminds them of an occasion on which the country was split. In Pakistan, you’ve almost blocked that part of it out, and the conversation really is about a new country, a new promise, a cherished homeland that was expected, that was fought for.”
On Bangladesh, and Pakistani expectations after the split
“Look, when you get to the real meat of the debate on independence — and something that Pakistanis do remember every time on the 14th of August, and if you would turn on television channels, you would hear this — is a bit of a lament about unfulfilled potential. It’s a conversation about our forefathers having given up their homeland, traveled hundreds of miles to come to this new country, starting off with a major refugee crisis with no resources, and then building Pakistan into what in the ’60s Samuel Huntington called ‘the Asian tiger.’ So, there’s a bit of lament on how Pakistan has not continued on that trajectory, how the problems that Pakistan faces leave Pakistan as an impoverished, developing country, where it could have had much more. We also have this conversation about the 1971 debacle, as it’s known, where Bangladesh split from Pakistan, today’s Pakistan, and became an independent country. But again, that’s a conversation that’s largely blocked out of the national narrative, unfortunately. So, it’s a mixed bag, but when you really sit down to the real conversation, Pakistanis do deep down feel that they haven’t done nearly as much as this country promised.”
On how much of Pakistan’s development can be traced to the partition
“Pakistan had a very, very difficult start. As I mentioned, the refugee crisis, if you look at the resource base this country had, it was nonexistent. Remember, British India and even before that, sort of the Muslim rulers of the Indian subcontinent, always saw today’s Pakistan as a buffer zone. It was one of the least-developed parts of British India and pre-British India, very few industrial units, very little development. And so, they did have a very hard start, but that’s where the unfulfilled potential comes in, because within 20 years, they turned the country around into something of an Asian tiger. I mean, Pakistan was growing much faster than India, it was sort of spearheading the region in some ways.
“So yes, you can trace it back to that, but then you’ve also got to accept that Pakistan did show real potential to become, you know, a middle-income developed country, and then things started falling apart with various governments, problems, deep-seeded corruption, interrupted democracy with the military stepping in from time to time, and on and on. And so, today, you find Pakistan, yes, strategically crucial, a nuclear power, has a lot of feathers in its cap, and yet, it creates this tension in the world, it sort of worries the world more than it interests the world, given all the terrorism problems, all the law and order problems and the divergences of interest with the U.S. when it comes to Afghanistan.”
On the current state of relations between India and Pakistan
“This is one of the most unfortunate paths of this history: four wars and a number of bouts of serious tension, constant acrimony, and these two countries really take the blame for holding the entire South Asian region back. It’s the single least integrated region in the world because of this tension between India and Pakistan. Relations remain as bad as they’ve been. India has sort of explicitly taken a policy of trying to isolate Pakistan globally, Pakistan is standing up to the challenge. There are concerns about terrorism, there are concerns about a ‘tit-for-tat’ proxy war, quite frankly, even in Afghanistan. So, things are as bad as they get, in some ways, they’re always on the verge of a crisis, a crisis with nuclear weapons involved, and so they keep the world worried. I unfortunately see no easy way or no quick fix for this relationship. I think it’s destined to remain tense, at least for the foreseeable future.”