Seventy-three years ago on 15 August, the nation of India awoke, in the immortal words of its first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘to life and freedom’ after 190 years of British rule. It was a truncated triumph. Before its departure from the subcontinent, Britain conceded to demands for a separate homeland for Muslims and carved out significant swathes of India into Pakistan. Vocal and influential land-owning Muslim elites were convinced they would be unbearably subjugated in an independent India where Hindus were hegemonic.
If the partition of India was intended to usher in reconciliation, this is yet to materialise. The two South Asian neighbours have since bloodily engaged in three major and two minor wars. Indeed, exchanges of heavy artillery fire across the United Nations-mandated line of control (LOC) in Kashmir remains a frequent phenomenon. Any escalation is unnerving, for both Pakistan and India have stockpiled nuclear warheads, and the former is dismissive of the no-first-use doctrine. Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, a respected Pakistani nuclear physicist has warned:
“‘It is difficult to find another example where the defence apparatus of a modern state (Pakistan) has been rendered so vulnerable by the threat posed by military insiders.’
The Pakistani army has been a stumbling block to any rapprochement with India. It often harps on about the ‘unfinished business’ of partition, which is code for appropriating the whole of Kashmir. Its covert operations wing, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), foments Islamic fundamentalism and separatism in Indian-administered Kashmir. Western countries suspect it continues to control and collude with terrorist individuals and organisations to trigger violence in India.
In 2006 the two nations came close to resolving the Kashmir impasse. This was thwarted because India’s ruling circumspect Congress party – a mainstay of Indian politics since independence – simply could not trust a regime headed by Pakistani army chief, General Pervez Musharraf.
So, there was a degree of excitement in civilian circles in Islamabad when Narendra Modi of the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party ascended to power in India in 2014. Former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, in his book Neither a Hawk nor a Dove, felt the Indian politician was ‘a pragmatist in the ultimate analysis’.
But Modi, radicalised as a child by the Islamophobic volunteer organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has consistently demonstrated a visceral dislike of Muslims. Besides, Pakistan-bashing has proved to be electorally bountiful for him.
Two months before last year’s general election in India over 40 Indian paramilitary personnel were killed in Kashmir by a suicide bomber. The Indian Air Force retaliated by strafing an alleged anti-India terrorist training camp in Pakistan. The following day Pakistan despatched combat aircraft over Indian air-space. A dog-fight ensued, resulting in an Indian plane being blown out of the air and its pilot bailing out on the Pakistani side of the LOC. The sabre-rattling was sufficient for Modi to reverse his depleting prospects in the elections.
After his re-election Modi has attempted to disenfranchise Indian Muslims and pursued a jackboot suppression of Kashmiri Muslims. In disregard of India’s secular constitution, he has also become involved in the building of a Hindu temple, where a 16th century mosque stood before it was razed by Hindu zealots in 1992.
When there was an inclusive central government, India’s 200 million Muslims enjoyed substantial equality in the country, despite Hindus constituting 80 per cent of the population. As such, the justification for Pakistan was often questioned by liberals on both sides of the border. Ironically, Modi has vindicated Pakistan’s existence by creating a de facto Hindu India.
Modi promised an economic miracle when he was elected. Six years on, international agencies have downgraded India’s sovereign credit rating to just above junk. The country is clocking one of the highest Covid-19 cases and deaths a day in the world, because of its unscientific response to the pandemic. Its territorial integrity is challenged by China. Incapable of resolving any of these crises, Modi has predictably intensified playing the Hindu card – which includes maintaining tension with Pakistan.
There has been a consensus among Pakistan’s principal political parties in favour of a détente with India. Equally there has been doubt as to whether Pakistan’s army shares this enthusiasm. Protégé of the military, charismatic cricketer and now Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was well placed to move relations forward. But his previous sporting spirit has this month subsided into a confrontational attitude, with his publication of a new political map of Pakistan which includes the Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir state. India reacted by calling it ‘political absurdity’. Relations have truly reached rock-bottom.