Foreign Affairs

Seventy years since independence: Has India-Pakistan partition really worked?

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Segregation, as recently shown through Brexit, and Trump’s nonsensical proposal to ‘build a great wall’ along the US-Mexico border, admittedly comes as a surprise in a world that is supposedly becoming increasingly globalised.  In fact, the very term, ‘globalisation,’ tends to conjure up images of a borderless global order, built upon the liberal notion of the free movement of peoples.

Yet borders, division, and partition remain a constant part of our political, socio-cultural and economic lives. This is all the more prevalent in 2017 as Pakistan and India celebrate their 70 years of independence; an independence that is enshrined through partition.

Riven by religious disputes, it was agreed in August 1947 that the solution to future peace lay in the creation of two separate states: a Hindu majority India, and a Muslim majority Pakistan.

‘At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.’ These were the inspirational words spoken by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of an independent India, on the eve of Indian independence. Likewise, the leader of the Muslim League, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, saw prosperity and comfort in the fact that Muslims would not have to face living under a Hindu majority government. Their agreement to partition symbolised a new start for a region of the world that had spent its developing years under the shadow of the exploitative British Empire. Although both Nehru and Jinnah were apprehensive of instigating such a great geopolitical change on the continent, their desires were supported by the public.

However, 70 years on, did their vision become a reality? Was partition the best policy to have pursued?

Nehru’s and Jinnah’s decision, paired with the official declaration of independence, not only immediately led to the creation of two individual states within South Asia, but also instigated one of history’s greatest (and most catastrophic) migrations, which resulted in the separation of families, the death of over one million, and the displacement of 15 million civilians.

Muslims started the lengthy journey to the West, whilst Hindu’s travelled in the opposite direction; each with the same goal in mind. Whole communities had hope that they were travelling to create a better life in a country in which they could practice their religion freely. Yet, the reality of this prospect was far from what either side desired.

Partition, which had had the goal of creating peace, seemed to initiate brutal violence and sectarian conflict. Communities which had peacefully coexisted suddenly turned upon each other. Minorities were not welcome in either new state, railway lines were bombed, pregnant women were mutilated and left dying on the side of the road, kidnappings were common, and gangs set fire to entire villages. Nearly every person in the region today can tell the story of at least one family member who was uprooted or killed in the conflict. In the same way that Jews share the painful memory of the Holocaust, and many African-Americans can relate to their shared slave history, the people of India and Pakistan have the roots of their national identity embroiled in this bloody partition.

However, just because the history of partition was brutal, doesn’t necessarily mean its legacy is too. Great peace has been known to come from great war. It is important to analyse the stance of the two nations today in order to decide whether partition was beneficial in the long term.

Although it would be wrong to adhere to stereotypes, it is safe to say that, politically, both India and Pakistan are still degraded to the role of the villain in each other’s eyes. To put it simply, they still do not get along.

With only one border crossing (which is heavy guarded), continuous tension over disputed territory such as Kashmir, and three major wars, the past has clearly not been put behind them. Their hostility is even more obvious when observing their attitudes towards nuclear weapons. Both countries’ weapons face one another, and although India swears that it does not have a first use policy, Pakistan fails to adhere to that promise. India’s weapons are named after key powerful figures in Hindu mythology, whilst Pakistan’s are ironically named after Muslim conquerors of Hindu leaders, highlighting how old religious tensions remain present in the 21st century.

The polarisation of both nations is all the more apparent when understanding the superpower overlay upon the region. Whilst the US publicly alienates Pakistan, China has taken a particular interest in the geopolitical assets that the nation possesses. They have invested a great deal of money into the country, particularly in the realm of energy, which further exacerbates regional hostility. 

So, do these aforementioned points reaffirm the belief that ‘united we stand, divided we fall’? Superficially, yes. Partition had the aspiration of creating peace, but in reality turned coexisting communities against each other, and instigated a period of brutal hostility and violence that still have negative repercussions to the present day.

Yet, the nationalist pride that is evident in most young Indians and Pakistanis today would reveal that whilst partition had terrible consequences, it achieved one major victory that could never have been accomplished otherwise. Each side received a country that they could call their own.

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