Austin Bay: Is It Time for Indo-Pakistani Reunification?

Roundup: Historians' Take

Austin Bay is the author, most recently, of Ataturk: Lessons in Leadership from the Greatest General of the Ottoman Empire.

The post-World War Two partition of British India was a blood-drenched mess. Since partition, India has prospered. Bangladesh, the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war’s bastard child, remains wretched. For three decades a low-grade civil war has afflicted Pakistan, pitting urban-based modernizers against Islamist extremists reinforced by militant hill tribes. The Taliban attack on Pakistan’s Karachi naval base in May 2011 reprised the hill versus urban paradigm. Pakistan’s civil war divides its intelligence and security services, which is one reason the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff can argue (with confidence) that an element within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency supported the September 2011 Taliban assault on America’s embassy in Kabul.

In retrospect, splitting British India into East and West Pakistan and India may have been one of the 20th century’s greatest geostrategic errors....

Biographer Stanley Wolpert contends Mahatma Gandhi opposed partition. Wolpert wrote that Gandhi never accepted the partition plan and “realized too late that his closest comrades and disciples were more interested in power than principle.” A Hindu extremist assassinated Gandhi. Spilled blood.

But young Pakistanis are now reconsidering partition—because the bloodletting continues. Oh, those thinking the unthinkable are the well-educated, the next generation of Benazir Bhuttos pursuing college degrees in the United States and Canada, or manning ex-im offices in Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and London. Bhutto’s murder and the 2008 Mumbai massacre by Islamist terrorists in league with ISI officers spurred harsh moral reflection and intellectual reappraisal. 

Pakistan as India’s rival? Only in cricket. India has six times Pakistan’s population and about 10 times its GDP. Year by year Pakistan decays amid corruption, Islamic terrorism, and economic rot. India’s economic surge has made it a global power. Bollywood entertains Asia. India’s Hindus and Christians and Sikhs and, yes, despite Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s contrary claim, Muslims, too, have economic opportunities. Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League and Pakistan’s first post-partition governor general, contended Muslims would never prosper if yoked by a Hindu majority. Jinnah was intellectually and politically gifted, a sophisticate with cosmopolitan taste. Sixty years of history have shown he was dead wrong....

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