AT a time when India is gathering laurels for its fast-growing economy and vibrant democracy and Pakistan is getting attention for its suicide bombers and nuclear weapons, thoughts go back to the fateful events of 65 years ago, which led to the emergence of the two countries as separate nation-states.
It all happened in the weeks and months after the Muslim League and Congress gave up their stubborn stands to agree to a constitutional arrangement which could be easily described as a confederation, though it was not so termed. The central government was to administer only three subjects — foreign affairs, defence and communications. The rest were left to the three zonal governments.
The visiting Cabinet Mission, led by Sir Stafford Cripps, had proposed to place the provinces in three groups: Group A was to comprise Bengal and Assam; group B Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North West Frontier; and group C the rest of the provinces.
The mission had proposed that at the end of 10 years the legislative assembly of each group by a majority vote could opt out of the confederation and form its own sovereign government. About Assam a special provision was made that if the assembly of group A (in which Assam was placed) voted to quit the confederation, the legislators belonging to Assam, by a majority vote, would have the option to join the provinces in group C.
Having agreed to the plan and after the mission had departed, Pandit Nehru (he had succeeded Abul Kalam Azad as Congress president soon after the agreement) announced that “the Congress was completely unfettered by agreements and free to meet all situations as they arise”. He went on to assert that “he, as president of Congress, had every intention of modifying it” (the Cabinet Mission’s agreed plan). He was particularly insistent on Assam’s right to quit group A and join group C straightaway without waiting for 10 years as the plan had envisaged.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad described Nehru’s statement as “a costly mistake” and the Quaid-i-Azam “treachery”. Reacting to Nehru’s interpretations, the Quaid also withdrew acceptance of the plan. When even Prime Minister Attlee’s personal last-minute intervention failed to save the plan, the way was paved for the partition of India and the subsequent division of Punjab and Bengal.
The purpose of recalling the events of 1946 summer is to highlight the fact that, Pandit Nehru’s mistake or treachery apart, if the leadership of the Muslim League had considered it possible, just a year before Partition, to coexist with India in a confederation, why can’t we now, as an independent state, coexist with India in a looser union without compromising our sovereignty — as in the case of the countries joining the EU and Asean?
As a sovereign state, Pakistan would not be handicapped, as the Muslim League was in 1946. It could withdraw from the union or confederation (whatever way it may be described) if it hurt Pakistan’s national interests or tended to impair its sovereignty.
If the two countries were unable to get along they could part company and would be no worse off. Pakistan, very likely, would be much better off if the ‘union’ (call it just a treaty, if you will) were to work and endure.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the chief, if not the only, cause of our political instability, economic backwardness, recurring wars and endemic violence has been confrontation with India. Kashmir would no longer be a hurdle to normality as the Kashmiris now ask for azadi and not accession to Pakistan. They haven’t exactly defined azadi but, seemingly, it falls short of full independence and seeks an end to oppression.
Pakistan’s raison d’être for maintaining a half-a-million-strong army and nuclear arsenal is lost if we don’t have to wage a war to liberate Kashmir. If the expenditure on defence was to be cut by half, perhaps, we wouldn’t be borrowing (except for development) or begging for aid from the US and balance-of-payment support from the IMF and could still spend twice as much on education, health and social services than we do presently.
On a different plane, India would not be fomenting unrest in Pakistan’s vulnerable borderlands which, we suspect, it habitually does. Thus, both politically and economically Pakistan has little to lose but much to gain by making friends with India. The only losers on both sides would be the religious extremists and the ideologues who exploit them.
Indonesia, with a Muslim population larger than Pakistan’s, is an example to quote. Its economy has boomed ever since it has reshaped its policies toward liberalism and regional cooperation. Turkey is another example to follow. It is Islamic but desperate to join the European Union (which is dominated by the Christians) only to improve the economic lot of its people.
Pakistan’s alliances even with the Islamic countries have remained moribund except for occasional Saudi doles.
Half a million Indians working in California’s Silicon Valley have helped India’s software companies grow and break into the US and world markets. The Indians on Wall Street have helped put their home country’s venture capital industry on a sound footing. By contrast, Pakistani industrialists and researchers, alike, have to prove they are not terrorists before they can enter America. Access to technology remains a distant cry.
A pact of peace and friendship with India will give us access to Bangalore’s technology. Currently, it is restricted to Bollywood films.