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India and Pakistan in the Shadow of Afghanistan
Amaury de Riencourt is a French historian, scholar and lecturer now resident in Geneva. Over the past 35 years, developments in South Asia have been one of his principal concerns, and he has visited the area repeatedly and for substantial periods, most recently in the early summer of 1982. He is the author of The Soul of India, The Eye of Shiva, and many other works.See more by this author
Just over 35 years ago, on August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan became independent states. What should have been a joyful occasion was marred by the ghastly slaughter of half a million people and the uprooting of about 15 million men, women and children. Only a few months before, few people had ever heard of the word "Pakistan," a concept invented by a few Muslim intellectuals in 1933 who claimed that there were two distinct nations in India; this idea was then adopted by the Muslim League at its historic meeting in Lahore in 1940 as implying an independent sovereign "homeland" for those Indian Muslims who would choose to opt out of a Hindu-dominated India. This concept, so reminiscent of the idea of a Jewish "homeland" in Palestine (Gunnar Myrdal called it a form of Muslim Zionism), resulted from the primacy of the twentieth century's dominant political "form"-the nation-state within definite geographical boundaries-into whose Procrustean bed the world's diverse populations had to be fitted willy-nilly.
The two-nation theory of the Muslim League was never accepted by the Hindu-dominated Congress Party, whose leaders were all for the creation of a united and strictly secular India with full protection for all religious minorities and impoverished outcastes. Born in fire and blood, Pakistan became a reality in the summer of 1947 and tested its mettle almost immediately in the first Indo-Pakistani war over Kashmir. Thus, in a very short while, the main benefit of British colonialism in the subcontinent-its political unity-was destroyed.
The Western world paid scant attention, at the time, to the long-range geopolitical implications of this development. Now, well over three decades later, it might have to pay a heavy price for this negligence, in the light of the recent events in Afghanistan.