Asghar Ali Engineer
(Secular Perspective Sept.16-30, 2009)
The partition of India has been a great tragedy and it has caused more problems than it could solve. The decision to partition in India was taken by some Indian leaders at the time not only in the heat of the moment but without seriously examining the serious consequences of the partition. Also, the British rulers were determined to partition India before they leave as they wanted their military domination in the sub-continent. They cleverly used our leaders to agree to partition.
However, today we are in a much better position to judge the consequences of the partition. Even Jinnah had realized before his death that partition was not best of the solution and it should be re-thought and he had told his physician that if he happens to be alive he would like to meet Nehru and talk to him again about partition. Partition hardly solved any problem.
However, there is no question of undoing partition. Sovereignty of India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh has to be maintained and the slogan of Akhand Bharat is a dangerous slogan, which results in more animosities than otherwise. What seems to be desirable is confederation of three sovereign nations or, if possible, of entire South Asia which will also include Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Firstly religion by itself is not a strong enough bond to bind a nation together. We saw it in case of Pakistan that its Muslim population was not homogenous one as the leaders thought then. Bengali Muslims are quite proud of their language and culture and they refused to compromise on their cultural and linguistic autonomy. Even before partition the Pathan leader Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan had refused to accept partition on the ground that Pathans’ Pakhtun identity would be seriously compromised. In CWC meeting where partition resolution was passed, his was the lone vote against it.
Maulana Azad had very well understood this that Islamic Pakistan will not be a homogenous state but Muslims of different ethnic groups like Bengalis, Pashtuns, Balu- chis, Sindhis and Punjabis will fight among themselves Maulana had told many Muslim league leaders from U.P. that when common enemy ‘Hindu’ will not be there you will fight among themselves.
As in India upper caste Hindu nationalism tries to act as hegemonic, in Pakistan, Punjabi feudal class Muslims try to establish their hegemony and it leads to unrest. And Indian experience shows democratic secularism proves to be stronger cement than religion alone. Only in crisis situation like religious polarization in 1947 both sides felt religious divide is a reality but soon its fallacy became manifest.
Since Pakistan was created we have been facing acute problems. Since Pakistan was not a result of democratic movement but consequence of communal politics on both sides and certain demands, it could not develop political democratic culture like in India. Soon military and other vested interests captured power and feudal classes established strong grip. The Pakistani military conjured image of India as enemy number one and continued to rule over Pakistan in the name of ‘protecting Pakistan’.
Also, Kashmir became bone of contention and India also did not honor the Nehru-Abdullah pact of 1953 and Kashmir remained on the boil and it became cause of wars between India and Pakistan. India is also facing ethnic conflict of serious nature on its North East border but Kashmir problem has become much more complex on account of religion and secondly Pakistan.
Partition led to race for arms in both the countries. Pakistani military rulers want to even with India in military strength and want to acquire arms saying India has more arms and India does the same thing. Today our defense budget is one lakh forty thousand crore and Pakistan spends almost one third of its budget on its own defense budget. It is certainly not healthy and both countries acquired nuclear arms also saying the other has it. All this money can be spent on welfare of people.
And then Pakistan has become pawn in the hands of USA and other western powers. US armament industry is making hay at our cost. And now Pakistan has become a front state for USA to fight its Afghan war. It is very unhealthy situation. America has its own imperialist design in Afghanistan and West Asia and Pakistan unfortunately is helping USA in this regard. Also in the name of strategic depth Pakistan wants to retain its stranglehold on Afghanistan.
But if work in the direction of forming a confederation of India-Pakistan and Bangla Desh not only our resources which are being burnt on gun powder today can be saved and used for healthy economic development and elimination of poverty. All the three countries have huge problem of poverty and crores live below poverty line whereas we are busy fighting each other.
The problem of terrorism has also developed due to our mutual animosities and is resulting in killing of thousands of innocent people and also it means additional expenditure of valuable resources and both for Pakistan and India it is a massive challenge, which cannot be met without solving political problems confronting us. Confederation can be much better solution for this challenging problem also.
What steps are necessary to bring about the confederation? The very first step is to ensure mutual confidence and agree to certain measures like giving visa on arrival and facilitate more goodwill missions in different fields like sports, journalism, film and T.V. productions, better facilities for literary conferences, seminars etc. Some of it is being achieved through SAARC agreements but that is hardly enough.
Also we have to start discussions about confederation, its possible modalities holding seminars and conferences on the issue. Today even the very idea of confederation is not being touched by a barged pole as if it would mean doing away sovereignty of federating units. It has to be made absolutely clear that sovereignty of all federating national will be ensured in any case.
We have European model before us. The idea of European Union was also not realized in a day. It began in early fifties and could be realized only in nineties. It was not easy o create this union among nations which had fought like cats and dogs until second World War but today European Union is a reality with visaless regime and common currency. It is no mean achievement.
One can travel across Europe today with one currency Euro and no visa at all. When I was traveling from Austria to Germany by road and I enquired how far the German border is I was told we have already crossed it. But I enquired what about check post, I was told what for? There is no separate visa so no check post is needed. If it ever happens between India and Pakistan it would be a dream come true for millions of people who are either divided between two countries (thousands of families have been divided) or want to visit the other country for one reason or the other. Today even near relatives do not get visa to visit their family members without producing any proof of marriage or sickness.
In European Union each nation maintains its own sovereignty and yet they have European parliament to discuss their problems of common interest. Elections to EU Parliament are also held along with elections to national parliament and there is no tension whatsoever between the two. National parliament has its own sovereign role. Each member country maintains its own army and has its own priorities and foreign policy. European nations have united in most democratic way.
What is being suggested here does not mean we are going back to Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946. No it is out of question. According to the Cabinet Mission Plan federating units had to have a union government which would handle three subjects i.e. defence, foreign policy and communication. What we are advocating here is something entirely different. Cabinet Mission Plan is now a history.
All the federating nations in this confederation would have their own armies, their own foreign policies and their own communication system as is happening with EU nations. We also have ASEAN model. In ASEAN countries they have agreed to visaless regime though not to common currency. There are series of agreements between ASEAN countries and all the ASEAN countries are beneficiary of their union.
In South Asia we can achieve even better integration. ASEAN countries could not agree to have single currency but it would be easier for us to have common currency. We have had common currency and though degree of development differs in all three countries but due weightage could be given as it happened in European countries to achieve this goal. All this could not be achieved in one go.
We will have to work very hard indeed to achieve even elementary agreements between all three countries. But it is not something impossible to achieve. There is considerable public opinion in both the countries in its favour. But unfortunately no systematic efforts have ever been made to tape this opinion. Given sincerity and determination it is not something impossible to achieve though it may be very difficult. Let us make a beginning at least by initiating the discussion.
Centre for Study of Society and Secularism