FOR TWO COUNTRIES so much at odds, India and Pakistan remain remarkably alike. When their national cricket teams clashed in June at the Oval, a hallowed ground in London, passions on both sides ran equally high. The star-studded Indian team was tipped to win, but when Pakistan bowled out India’s top players in short order, millions of Pakistani mobile phones gloated with snaps of a spectator at the match wearing a T-shirt inscribed “Winner takes Kashmir”. In Kashmir itself, revellers lit the night sky with firecrackers. Outsiders mistake the Kashmiris’ tradition of cheering Pakistan as a sign of love; in fact they are teasing the half-million Indian soldiers encamped in the Vale.
Even after 70 years as an independent country, India has still not quite gelled into a unified nation, and Kashmir is not the only chronic hotspot. Insurrections have simmered in India’s remote, neglected north-east for decades, and Maoist guerrillas who started fighting in the 1960s still rattle tribal regions in the eastern states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
Pakistan is no better. Its officials gleefully condemn India’s abuses in Kashmir. But on one day last winter when Pakistani newspapers ran big headlines about a single civilian death in the Indian-administered Vale, a curt army communiqué was relegated to smaller print: “Over 100 terrorists have been killed since last night.” The deaths were widely seen as revenge for the murder by suicide-bomb, a day earlier, of some 90 worshippers at a Sufi shrine, one of many attacks by Sunni extremists. In the past decade Pakistan has suffered about 55,000 casualties from terror-related violence, a third of them civilians. Whatever India’s troubles in Kashmir, they pale next to such murderous attacks on targets ranging from Pakistani schoolchildren to Shia Muslims.
Whereas India’s men in uniform face intense scrutiny in Kashmir, Pakistan enjoys a far freer hand. In trying to stamp out terrorism along its north-west frontier, its army has demolished whole villages. Balochistan, a province of rugged deserts that takes up 43% of Pakistan’s area, has been in sporadic revolt since independence; one local NGO estimates the number of suspected separatists kidnapped by security forces there from the high hundreds up to 18,000. In 2016 alone,728 people across Pakistan suffered “enforced disappearance”, as counted by the commission of inquiry that investigates them. Some reappear alive and well, others as roadside corpses. The state flatly denies any unpleasantness. In a meeting at the Pakistani senate in December, a former interior minister insisted that the culprits in Balochistan are Indian agents disguised in Pakistani uniform.
On other shortcomings the countries are more evenly matched. Both have greatly underinvested in education and health, for example, forcing even the poorest to resort to private schools and hospitals. The formal economy generates few jobs; in Pakistan 73% of the non-farm workforce is off the books, in India over 80%. Both countries have made great strides in reducing poverty but remain starkly unequal, and indeed are becoming more so. In 2016 just 1% of Indians owned more than 58% of the country’s wealth, up from a 37% share in 2000. Earnings are skewed geographically, too: India’s richest states enjoy four times the income per person of its poorest, Bihar. In the smaller towns of Pakistan’s Balochistan over 90% of the population lives in poverty, compared with only 10% in Lahore.
On the harder-to-measure index of intolerance, on which Pakistan used to be well ahead, India is beginning to catch up. Since the 1980s Pakistan has seen more than 60 extra-judicial killings of supposed blasphemers. The death in April of Mashal Khan, a Pakistani college student brutally lynched by his fellow students after being spuriously tagged as a blasphemer, made global headlines. Yet when Farook Hameed, a 31-year-old father of two in the Indian city of Coimbatore, was hacked to death by childhood friends for having repudiated Islam and declared himself an atheist, there was little reaction from abroad. Hameed’s death was a rare exception; Indian Islam remains relatively diverse and tolerant. Yet the government’s failure to curb murderous cow vigilantes or online trolls who brand dissent as treason, even as it uses state institutions to harass critics, means there is less space for free expression.
Communal aggression in India has left Muslims and other minorities feeling increasingly vulnerable, but it seems to help win votes. The shifting electoral tide suggests a gradual transformation of India’s underlying sense of national destiny, from being a pluralist country enriched by diversity to becoming a more narrowly defined Hindu rashtra, or state, in much the same way that secular Pakistan became an “Islamic” state. This is very much the vision of the Hindu nationalist groups whose zeal underpins the BJP’s success; not coincidentally, their intellectual evolution shows striking parallels with Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
In some ways, the two countries seem to be goading each other to become more aggressive. “We used to think partition was a terrible mistake,” admits a liberal-minded historian in Lahore. “But with Modi in power it looks more and more like Jinnah had it right all along.” In the same way, ever more Indians have begun to conflate their enemies: Pakistanis, Kashmiris and Muslims in general, they feel, do not belong in their country.
India and Pakistan are unlikely to resolve their differences in the foreseeable future. On the contrary, impending elections, in Pakistan next year and in India in 2019, will make things worse: there are votes in taking a tough approach to the enemy. This does not mean that reconciliation is impossible, but that it will need to come through building up trust in a slow, plodding way rather than through some sudden diplomatic breakthrough. And the most obvious way to foster mutual trust is for both sides to start solving their own problems at home.
Peace begins at home
That means, first of all, creating stronger, more confident democracies. Both countries urgently need to attend to their crumbling institutions, most importantly their underfunded, unreformed systems of justice and education. They also need bold electoral reforms. Political funding in both countries is opaque, and the first-past-the-post system can produce conspicuously unfair results.
In Pakistan, elected leaders need to gain fuller control of the levers of power, and ultimately to put the soldiers back in their barracks. It would help, too, if the generals were to end the impunity enjoyed by extremist groups that terrorise their own fellow citizens. And Pakistan’s politicians need a more solid base of popular consent. One way to achieve that would be to divide provinces into more efficient and representative units. Karachi, a huge, polyglot trading city built up from waves of refugees, is an uncomfortable appendage to the rural, backward Sindhi-speaking province of Sindh. Punjab is too dominant.
India, too, could do with splitting giant states such as Uttar Pradesh into more manageable units. That would mean more frequent but less distracting elections, allowing the ruling party at the centre to get on with running the country. Dividing Jammu and Kashmir would end the pretence that lowland Hindus and highland Muslims form a cohesive whole, and give the distinct people of the Vale a clearer voice in their future. In private, many of them say they would be happiest inside a democratic, secular India that acknowledges that they are different and treats them with dignity.
If India and Pakistan were more confident in themselves, they would be less worried by the normal human exchanges between countries that underpin peaceful relations. Instead, when tensions have heightened in recent months Pakistan has banned Indian films, while India has abruptly sent home Pakistani schoolchildren on a goodwill tour and denied visas to Pakistanis seeking medical care. Such pettiness is destructive.
Sadly, reconciliation may become even harder as time goes by. For young Indians in Kolkata or Bangalore, Pakistan is no longer viewed as a lost cousin but simply as a particularly bothersome distant neighbour. Younger Pakistanis follow the news from India more closely, but are increasingly alienated by their neighbour’s rightward, Muslim-bashing drift.
The ruling establishments in both countries find that mutual enmity serves their interests better than friendship would. Shifting geopolitics has not helped. India had hoped that its growing economy and stronger ties with America would make a more isolated Pakistan keener for reconciliation, but China has moved nimbly into the breach, and so far looks set to entrench the differences between India and Pakistan further.
Seventy years ago the Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz lamented the suffering and unfulfilled promise of partition thus: “This is not the dawn we longed for.” Alas, that dawn has yet to arrive.