Comment: India and Pakistan, a tale of two destinies

On the stroke of midnight, 64 years ago, a bold, unprecedented and brash idea made a momentous tryst with destiny.

It was at this late hour that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru announced to a world that “India will awake to life and freedom”.

Just the previous day, on August 14, 1947 – an Urdu poet’s utopian vision also came to fruition with the creation of Pakistan, a Muslim state carved out of British India.

It marked the beginning of an epic, intense rivalry, one that lasts to this day.

This week, on the 64th anniversary of their births, the two rival nations of the subcontinent present a marvelous study in contrast.

Shaky Foundations

By 1949, both countries had lost their founding fathers– Jinnah succumbed to a long illness, while Gandhi fell to the bullets of a Hindu fanatic.

It is an understatement to say, looking back, that the idea of India had seemed impossible back then. Following a bloody, violent partition, the largest mass migrations in modern history had left eight million refugees to be resettled and provided for.

Hundreds of Independent Princely states that formed British India had to be coaxed or coerced into joining the new dominion, and become part of this impossible nation that defied all reason.

Once this was achieved, there remained the gargantuan task of taking a long colonised nation of hundreds of millions of illiterate, poor, hungry and dogmatic people, and lead them into a new, prosperous future.

The new state of Pakistan seemed to have it a bit easier – with a state that was established and identified by such homogeneity as one dominant religion and one official language, whereas India was a boiling pot of cultures, races, religions, terrain and geography, all tied together with an untested, unknown thread of nationhood.

Even before it could adopt a constitution, the Indian state was already under attack from extremists on both the left and the right – the former rejecting the perceived Western Imperialism backing the new nation, and the latter, Hindu fanatics railing against the secular state announced by Nehru.

Both these forces continue to be active in India today – the Maoists continue to wage war against the Indian state, and the Hindu fanatics continue to demand a Hindu state.

The tribal invasion of Kashmir in 1947 further threatened the stability of the situation, sparking the first war between the two infant republics, and creating the knotty Kashmir tangle that remains unresolved to this day.

Yet, despite the ever present tactics of violence – none of these forces have been successful at destroying the fabric of India’s unity, which has endured marvelously throughout the decades.

The two wings of Pakistan, however, could not survive the pressures of civil war – and culminated in the formation of independent Bangladesh in 1971, with Indian assistance.

Dance of Destiny

It was perhaps destiny that India achieved its freedom in an age that saw towering personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru.

The modernist Nehru left no doubts about his vision for India – an overwhelmingly religious country that would not be bound by any single defined religion or culture or language.

To quote from his landmark midnight speech, “All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.”

The equally modernist Mohamed Ali Jinah, also outlined his vision for Pakistan in his famous August 11 speech to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly, a day now marked in Pakistan as ‘Minority day’: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

The first constitution of Pakistan declaring it an Islamic republic in 1956 proved to be the first blow to this magnanimous vision of the much-revered Jinnah.

Within two years of its adoption, Pakistan saw its first coup d’etat, and this set the tone for Pakistan’s perpetual lost decades, which would be littered with failed democracies and military coups.

The fate of Pakistan was sealed with rise of the religious fundamentalist General Zia-ul-Haq, whose regime oversaw the tampering of the Pakistan Penal code, and introduction of Hudood ordinances to ‘Islamise’ Pakistan, the outlawing of Ahmadi minorities in direct contravention of the founder’s dreams, and the strengthening of the military’s ability to forever intervene in politics.

The destiny of Pakistan would remain forever mired in the three A’s – Allah, America and the Army.

Pakistan, it would turn out, would not see a single decade of political stability or a single successful democratic government in the years to come.

In stark contrast, India has seen 14 successful general elections, despite a burgeoning billion-plus population – a large portion of which started out largely illiterate, poor and malnourished.

Despite the large, creaky bureaucracy and widespread allegations of corruption, the Indian state continues to function and pull millions out of poverty, achieving self-sufficiency in food production, and making education a fundamental, legally enforceable right.

Where a disproportionately large proportion of Pakistan’s budget is drained annually on its all-powerful armed forces, the Indian military remains firmly under civilian control, and the various state powers remain separate and balanced.

Only recently, the Indian Supreme Court announced that the sky is the limit to its powers, when it comes to upholding the rule of law.

Apart from the brief period of emergency rule imposed by Indira Gandhi in the mid-70s, the Indian media has remained largely unshackled, free and active critics of government policy. The intellectual scene in India remains vibrant, with Indian artists and writers increasingly commanding global attention.

In the meantime, the Pakistani government’s dangerous experiments with cultivating religious fundamentalists has come back to haunt it. Hardly a week goes by without the news of sectarian violence or an explosion in a mosque; a bomb attack during this week’s Independence Day celebrations killed dozens.

Pakistani links have been established to abhorrent acts like the Mumbai terror attacks, while ‘banned’ militant organizations like Lashkar-e-taiba continue to function openly, under adopted names. Today, the Taliban created by the Pakistani intelligence is killing hundreds of Pakistani soldiers every year.

Pakistani society has radicalised to the point where lawyers and citizens do not hesitate to congregate in public and shower flowers on a murderer, who assassinated a top politician earlier this year for daring to fight for minority rights. The power-crazed Mullah has been empowered to dictate public morality, leading to often violent clashes between traditional social norms, and rising fundamentalist views.

Most damagingly, the Pakistani civilian government and military both suffer from a massive trust deficit in the international arena, compounded further by the recent discovery of Bin Laden hiding in a house, barely a mile from the country’s top military academy.


As it stands today, Pakistan, despite its promising headstart – is being increasingly dismissed by the international community as a failed state. The only continued interest in Pakistan stems from a serious global concern about the country’s nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands – a concern that does not seem to arise for its stable, democratic nuclear-armed neighbor, India.

Over time, India’s tremendous diversity – that had once threatened its very existence – has ended up becoming its greatest strength. Despite its various criticisms, and defying terrible odds, India has become a model of a functioning, pluralistic and inclusive democracy – a nation where 150 million Muslims enjoy greater social freedoms and opportunity towards prosperity than the utopia of Pakistan, that appears to have failed Pakistani Muslims.

In a little over five decades, India has grown from a wild-eyed-dream to become the third largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power – with a booming middle class, and entrepreneurs and researchers and scientists making giant strides in crucial fields like IT and biotechnology.

The poverty and famine stricken India has been replaced by a confident, surefooted nation – one that seeks to assert itself as a global power, seeking a permanent position in the Security Council, while also being lauded globally on the success of its multicultural democracy.

Pakistan’s experiments with military regimes and religious fundamentalism have left it a broken, crushed dream that the staunchest of optimists have written off, while India’s commitment to a liberal democracy has made it a resilient, vibrant power with a success story that will be hailed for generations to come.

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Maldives High Commission to Pakistan hosts Independence Day reception

Maldives High Commissioner to Pakistan Aishath Shehenaz Adam has hosted a reception at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad to mark 46 years of independence and 45 years of diplomatic relations with Pakistan, reports Pakistani newspaper The News.

“The Marquee Hall had been nicely decorated and there was a special section in front of the stairs leading to the upper hall, where the cake was cut against a backdrop of a fishing boat and other decorative items like coconuts and the arts and crafts of the Maldives. A video screened images of the beautiful landscape of the country as well as the people going about their daily business, which includes harvesting of coconuts and fishing,” the paper reported.

“The Maldives — highlighted with the catch phrase, ‘the sunny side of life’ — are described as where sands are white as the smiles of the locals, where fish swim happily in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, where the weather is a dream, and the deep rays of the sun wait to engulf you in their arms. It has deep blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches and palm trees. It is also a place full of character, where its people have long spent their days languishing in the very essence of idyll living.”


Leaked cable shows Maldives’ behind-the-scenes politicking in Washington

The Maldives was offered US$85,000 to assist with the “resettlement expenses” of a Guantanamo Bay inmate, sought increased access to “liberal western education” in a bid to tackle growing fundamentalism and vowed that it would “not let relations with India impact relations with the United States.”

These and other diplomatic revelations emerged yesterday with the publication of a leaked diplomatic cable detailing consultations between Washington and the Maldives’ Ambassador to the US, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed.

Dated February 26 and stamped by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the cable document reports on Ghafoor’s first consultation with US officials on February 23, 2010 ahead of presenting his credentials to US President Barack Obama the following day.

Assistance with UN Human Rights Council seat

According to the cable, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake asked Ghafoor about the country’s progress towards gaining a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (which it later obtained).

In response, Ghafoor said he was confident that the Maldives could obtain one of the four Asia Group seats, as he did not believe Iran had enough Arab support. But he expressed concern that a vote split between Thailand and Maldives left the possibility open for Iran to win by “working African capitals.”

“As such, Maldives is not only lobbying Asian missions, but also African missions,” the cable stated.

Blake offered “quiet” US assistance “if it would be helpful”, however Ghafoor said that while he appreciated the offer “the Maldives needed to be seen as earning the seat in its own right.”

“As a small country, [Ghafoor] said, Maldives can’t play other countries against each other; it needs to take principled positions.”

Guantanamo Bay

The cable discusses arrangements for the transfer of a Guantanamo detainee to the Maldives and refers to an individual named ‘Fried’, presumably the Special Envoy to facilitate the closing of Guanatanamo Bay, Daniel Fried.

Information on the matter would be “kept close until we transfer the detainee”, Fried said in the cable, and referred to an offer “of US$85,000 to assist with [the detainee’s] resettlement expenses.”

“Fried stressed the importance of working out more detailed security arrangements for the detainee, along the lines of those applied in other countries that have accepted Guantanamo detainees for resettlement; Embassy Colombo could work directly with the Maldivian government on those arrangements,” the cable stated.

Vulnerability to extremism

Seeking additional US support from the US towards tackling fundamentalism, Ghafoor pressed for increased access to “liberal western education”, which he suggested would also help to combat growing fundamentalist trends.

In the leaked cable, Ghafoor explained that rising fundamentalism stemmed partly from students travelling to places such as Pakistan and Egypt for a free education in Islamic studies, and returning with extremist views. This, he said, had altered the Maldives’ traditionally peaceful and tolerant culture: “‘It used to be simply a question of faith; now you must show that you are more Muslim than others,’ he said.”

The cable also articulated the Maldivian government’s concern about the impact of an attack on an island resort, such as by Somali pirates, which Ghafoor noted “would cripple the country’s economy.”

In response, the US expressed interest in “expanding bilateral defense and security engagement, continuing training, and helping build the Maldives’ maritime security capabilities to counteract the threat from terrorism, piracy, and trafficking.”

Defence probing

Robert Scher, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, asked Ghafoor how US military training compared with that of India “in terms of quantity and quality.”

Ghafoor avoided committing to an answer, instead stating that “both were substantive and substantial.”

“Scher indicated that the US did not want to get in the way of Maldivian relationships with its neighbors,” the cable read.

In addition, “Ghafoor assessed that [India’s] perception of the US has evolved and that Male’ would be able to address any concerns. He stated that [the Maldivian] government would not let relations with India impact relations with the United States, reflecting the Maldives’ attempt to ‘show balance’ in the past. Ghafoor replied that, if necessary, Maldives would explain that neither India nor Pakistan need suspect anything ‘untoward’.”

Climate dealing

In a meeting with Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing, Ghafoor said that the Maldives would like to see small countries at the forefront of the climate debate “receive tangible assistance from the larger economies. Other nations would then come to realize that there are advantages to be gained by compliance.”

Ghafoor then identified several projects including harbour deepening and the strengthening of sea walls that he said would cost “approximately US$50 million.”

“Pershing encouraged Ghafoor to provide concrete examples and specific costs in order to increase the likelihood of bilateral assistance and congressional appropriations,” the cables said.

The Maldivian Ambassador also suggested that President Obama use the “dramatic backdrop” of the Maldives “to deliver a speech on climate change when he next visits the region.”


Leaked diplomatic cables will include 3325 from US Embassy in Colombo

The US diplomatic cables leaked by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks includes 3325 as-yet unreleased missives from the US Embassy in Colombo, making the Embassy in Sri Lanka among those hardest-hit by the scandal.

Wikileaks, in conjunction with several newspapers in the UK and Europe such as the Guardian, will stagger the release of 250,000 cables over the next few days. Today’s leak has already sparked diplomatic crisises all over the globe.

Correspondence already released includes urging by Saudi Arabian leaders for the US to attack Iran to disrupt its nuclear programme, while leaders in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates described the country as “evil”, an “existential threat” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.

The Guardian’s newspaper’s report on the leaks noted that former president of the Jordianian senate, Zeid Rifai, had told “a senior US official” to “bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.”

The leaked cables included allegations that Russian intelligence agencies were using mafia bosses to conduct criminal operations, with one cable claiming that the country was “virtually a mafia state.”

According to the Guardian’s report, the cables also identified “intense US suspicion” around the “extraordinarily close relationship” between Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in relation to “lavish gifts”, “lucrative energy contracts” and “shadowy” contacts.

The cables identify Saudi Arabian donors as allegedly “the biggest financiers of terror groups”, and disclose an “extraordinarily detailed account” of plans to disguise the bombing of al-Quaeda targets with the assistance of countries such as Yemen.

Hacking attacks directed at Google, which prompted the search giant to leave China, were reportedly ordered by a senior member of the Chinese politburo after he typed his name into the popular search engine and found disparaging articles written about him.

One of the most controversial leaks concerns a directive requesting the specification of communications equipment and IT systems used by top UN officials and details “of private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys.”

Maldives Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed noted that former US President Richard Nixon had tapes of his conversations leaked in the early ’70s.

“Nixon used a few choice phrases to describe some close allies. It didn’t damage [international] relationships, but he may have upset some of the people he referred to,” Dr Shaheed said.

The correspondence includes 3325 as-yet unreleased cables from the US Embassy in Colombo, some of which may concern the Maldives.

Dr Shaheed told Minivan News that while he doubted the dispatches would be as sensational “as some people think”, “it will make the US uncomfortable when some of its confidential reports go public.

“However I don’t think it will damage US ties in this region because, by and large, this not central region for US diplomacy and they US has not been brokering difficult negotiations – what the US has been saying here it has been saying very publicly,” he added.

Dr Shaheed confirmed that the US Embassy in Colombo had notified the Maldivian government that the release of the cables was likely, “however they don’t know what the contents are or the areas they will [concern].”

Cultural Affairs Officer and Spokesperson for the US Embassy in Colombo, Glen Davis, told Minivan News that the US would not be commenting specifically on the contents of the leaked cables.

“Cable traffic is very preliminary; pieces are incomplete and read out of context, they are easy to misconstrue,” he said.

“A disclosure like this is bad for contacts, harmful to global engagement and makes it difficult to tackle problems such as organised crime and nuclear proliferation. Washington has taken very aggressive action to ensure the privacy of future communication is secure.”

Davis added that the US Embassy was “determined to keep doing what we’re doing, and reassure the people we work with. It’s hard to see [how the leak] will lead to constructive results.”

The UK High Commission in Colombo said it was official policy “not to comment on the substance of leaked documents.”

However, it condemned the “unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK. They can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the US have said, may put lives at risk. We have a very strong relationship with the US Government. That will continue.”

The diplomatic cables were drawn from the US government’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPDIS), a separate US military-run internet that is accessible to approximately three million Americans. The US reportedly suspects that the leak originated from the same source as the Iraq and Afghan war logs, 22 year-old US soldier Private Bradley Manning, who was posted as a junior intelligence officer in Baghdad.


Bangladesh to offer Maldives help with diplomacy

The Maldives may soon be invited to use Bangladeshi diplomatic missions abroad to negotiate with the international community, it emerged this week.

Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary, Mijarul Quayes, is drafting a conceptual plan that will allow the Maldives to open ‘outlets’ within Bangladeshi diplomatic through which to conduct its international relations, according to a report by the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP).

The Maldives has only 13 missions abroad and opening ‘Maldivian outlets’ within Bangladeshi missions would help the island nation, the APP report said.

Bangladesh has 60 diplomatic missions worldwide. Offering the Maldives office space within their missions is part of Quayes’s plan envisaging a “new role for Bangladesh regarding the Maldives”.

The offer of diplomatic office space, however, has not yet been made formally to the Maldivian Foreign Ministry.

“Bangladesh may be thinking of making such a proposal but we are not aware of it yet”, State Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem told Minivan.

The Bangladeshi High Commission in the Maldives was unable to confirm or deny the report at time of press.

The government estimates there to be 35,000 Bangladeshi nationals working in the Maldives – over 11 percent of the total population – of which the authorities consider 17,000 to be employed legally.

Maldives-Bangladeshi relations have recently been in the news over allegations of Bangladeshi labourers being trafficked to the Maldives.

Exploitation of foreign workers rivals fishing as the second most profitable sector of the Maldivian economy after tourism, according to conservative estimates of the number of Bangladeshi workers showing up at their commission in Male’ after being abandoned at the airport by unscrupulous employment agents.