Possibilities of redemption

There is a new moment in Pakistan. India must build on it

What do the recent elections in Pakistan mean for India? Should India approach the re-emergence of Nawaz Sharif with an abundance of caution, or with a bias for hope?

The answer depends on how one views politics. Is politics, especially among adversaries, always a prisoner of history? Or, can politics also create new opportunities?

The argument that a dark shadow of history inevitably colours the India-Pakistan relationship has a long and distinguished lineage. Scholars have often linked Indo-Pak relations to the deeper problems of Pakistan's national identity. It is worth recalling why.

Pakistan was born out of the two-nation theory. As Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, famously put it in the Lahore Resolution of 1940: "Islam and Hinduism... belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions... They have different epics, (and) their heroes are different... Very often, the hero of one is the foe of the other and likewise their victories and defeats overlap." Thus, Hindus and Muslims constituted two different nations, calling for two separate states.

The two-nation theory never witnessed a neat and happy denouement. Islam could not weave together the linguistic diversity of Pakistan. In 1971-72, the break-up of the nation, when East Pakistanis emphasised their Bengali, not Muslim, identity and became the new nation of Bangladesh, was a bloody reminder of this problem. Since the 1970s, the Baloch insurgency, emphasising ethnic distinctiveness, has also not quite gone away.

India has had its share of insurgencies, but even at the worst moment, 1989-91, not more than 5 per cent of the nation was directly affected. East Pakistan, in contrast, had more than half of Pakistan's population at the time of secession.

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