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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Pakistan's debt to Indian Muslims 
By Usama Khalidi 

Muslims of India, rather than politicians speaking in their name, are widely credited for the creation of Pakistan. That may be a fine distinction, but there is no denying that Indian Muslims have suffered enormously from the India-Pakistan antagonism. If Pakistan settles its quarrels with India now, it would be as much for the benefit of its own people as, also, a way to make restitution to Indian Muslims. As an Indian Muslim, I have a moral right to demand of Pakistan that it resolve its disputes with India, keeping in mind the welfare of 150 million Indian Muslims. 

People of the sub-continent, of course, had no vote on the country's division in 1947 on the basis of religion. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, accepted the basis for partition: Pakistan in the Muslim majority areas, and those in the minority situation to remain where they were. In speeches he made at Aligarh Muslim University, he had the audacity to urge those Muslims staying behind in India to help their brethren in the Muslim majority areas achieve independence from the Hindus, even if they themselves would not be so fortunate. 

The hardship faced by majority-area residents pales into insignificance compared to hundreds of thousands of lives lost during the lethal riots that accompanied mass migrations in both directions as partition became a reality. The family of the present Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, was just one of those moving to the new Pakistan from India. 

Aside from the agony of divided families, Muslims of India have borne the stigma of responsibility for the division of the country in the eyes of their non-Muslim compatriots. 

Fortunately, Jawaharlal Nehru, a determined secularist and a product of India's Hindu-Muslim composite culture, was at the helm in India for 17 years after independence. He helped establish the foundations of a forward looking, secular democracy. Although their elite classes, as well as large numbers from among the middle classes, had migrated to Pakistan, the Muslims of India struggled to find their bearings and take their place in Indian society. 
The Nehruvian vision of a multicultural and egalitarian India survived the leader for almost two decades after his death in 1964, when identity politics took precedence over economic policy in the competitive electoral system. Security of life and property never was assured for the Muslims - recurrent and targeted anti-Muslim riots had killed many thousands of people in several north Indian urban areas. But after 1984, the avowedly anti-Muslim, Hindu nationalist political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, came into prominence, and the killings of Muslims increased. Discrimination in hiring practices, a problem for all kinds of ethnic minorities in India, was particularly vicious for Muslims. More and more of them started to slide into abject poverty. 

Compared with their population of 13 percent, their numbers in police forces, government and industry have never exceeded 3 or 4 percent. Their poor performance was usually explained in terms of the migration of their elite and middle classes to Pakistan. 

The Muslim situation in India has always been affected by the level of the long running hostility between India and Pakistan. During the past decade, Pakistan is widely believed in India to have used Indian Muslim underworld figures to plant bombs in Bombay (now Mumbai) and elsewhere as part of its policy to bleed India. That may or may not be true, but what is beyond doubt is that such terrorism provides justification for reckless Indian politicians to create and play on the fears of Indian voters. Such a ploy has usually worked in several populous states where Hindu nationalists have established their dominance. The 2002 carnage in Gujarat, where 2,000 Muslims were killed and their property looted, is the most glaring example of such fascist tactics. 

For most of the 20th century, Muslims of India never could articulate their own self-interest as a community, perhaps because they were not a community with any shared traits other than their religion. That left the field open to some leaders, such as Jinnah, representing regional forces, to foist on the entire population demands that could only benefit a few, and harm others. In any case, Muslims are spread out through most of India in concentrations of no more than 20 percent in any state, except Kashmir, where they constitute a majority. In most regions, they speak the same language as their neighbors and are culturally integrated, more or less, with the majority community. The problem areas are where economic competition has led to social divisions exacerbated by politicians who play identity politics to win votes. 

It was a function of their demographics that no Muslim leadership could emerge to speak for all of the Muslims of India. Nor do the Muslims have any national institutions of their own to represent their case. 

But things have changed. A convention of Muslim leaders from across the country, meeting in Delhi last September, declared that they regard Kashmir as an indivisible part of India. About 150 Muslims drawn from universities, mosques, government and industry signed a consensus statement affirming their support for Kashmir remaining with India. 

Pakistan cannot expect to gain from negotiations what it could not wrest from India in three of the four wars it has fought since 1947. Nor does acquisition of nuclear weapons help its case. The hopelessness of Pakistan's goals in the Kashmir dispute is increasingly clear to Pakistani elite, as evidenced by frequent articles in their newspapers calling for a drastic change in their country's India-centered foreign policy. The country's entire economic and political structure - indeed, all of its post-independence history - is underpinned by its fear and hatred of India. Unless Pakistan makes a clean break from its past - as hinted at during this week's South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Islamabad - the future will hold for it nothing but more of the same: poverty, illiteracy, religious fanaticism and dependence on foreign charity. 

A long delayed settlement of the Kashmir conflict would remove the most important cause of distortion in the normal political economy of the entire sub-continent that is home to a billion and a half souls. 

Usama Khalidi is an Indian Muslim freelance writer based in Washington, DC

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