The pros and cons of partitions

Published: August 13, 2011
The writer is Distinguished National Professor Emeritus of Linguistic History

The writer is Distinguished National Professor Emeritus of Linguistic History

The partition of countries is generally resented by those who are getting partitioned. Such movements go by the name of separatism, secession, irredentism, treason and so on. But the discourse of the nation-state which opposes any separation of its territory defines national interest as the holding of territory, not the welfare of the people. In my opinion, however, a partition should be judged by the criterion of human happiness, prosperity of the people and whether the cause of peace has been served or not.

The partition of British India did not begin with a war. When the Muslim League finally went to demand for the partition of India, the Congress, after opposing it as was expected, agreed with it. But, while there was no official war, there was actually a civil war between people which could have been avoided. There was also perpetual conflict especially on Kashmir and now both countries possess a nuclear arsenal and could annihilate each other’s cities. In short, unless the two countries solve their disputes and go for nuclear disarmament — which no country ever has — the peace and happiness which one expects from partition is still to be achieved. That is why Faiz said: ‘chale chalo ke vo manzil abhi nahin ayi’ (move on as that destination has not yet arrived). That ‘destination’ is peace and the happiness of the people of South Asia and it still eludes us.

As for the partition of Pakistan, the alternative could have been the acceptance of Sheikh Mujib’s demands (six points), the transfer of power to him, the acceptance of a confederal structure or some other peaceful solution. But Yahya Khan’s regime, almost all political parties, the army and the bureaucracy of West Pakistan chose brutal suppression leading to the creation of Bangladesh through a war. However, now that Bangladesh is an independent country and its people have prospered we can say that the separation had a happy outcome. The lessons for the issue of Balochistan are obvious but whether our leaders will repeat their mistakes or learn from history is to be seen.

Other demands in South Asia have been less lucky. In Kashmir partition was suggested by Owen Dixon along religious lines but it was rejected. India maintains control by the force of the army and draconian lows. Pakistan has tried to wrest Kashmir out of Indian hands by sending in armed fighters in 1965 (operation Gibralter), 1999 (Kargil) and jihad-oriented private groups from 1990 onwards. Both countries have shown themselves more interested in the land than the people. Hence the independence of the vale of Kashmir (or the so-called ‘Third option’) finds no support in the establishment of both states. But it is only by solving this issue in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris, to be determined by the UN or some other neutral body, that both countries can prosper and there can be peace.

In Sri Lanka, the Tamils were discriminated against and demanded justice. Then they demanded a state but this was refused. Then the movement became more militant and eventually the Tamil Tigers became so brutal that even their supporters were sickened. The state eventually prevailed by sheer force but if Sri Lanka wants enduring peace it will have to address the problem of discrimination against Tamils sooner than later.

Like Sri Lanka most countries do experience war. On July 9, 2011, South Sudan became an independent state and on July 14 it became a member of the United Nations. But the partition of the Republic of Sudan, formed in 1956, took two civil wars (2.5 million killed) and 55 years. Another African country, Eritrea, declared its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year war. Again, the human cost was tremendous.

In 1991-92 Yugoslavia broke up into Slovenia; Croatia; Macedonia and Bosnia. This divided the Serbs into four countries — Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia — a situation not acceptable to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The situation became desperate in Bosnia-Herzegovina where the Serbs declared their republic of ‘SRpska’ and formed Serbian autonomous regions and the Croats formed the Herzeg-Bosnia. The Bosnian war (1992-1995) followed when these were rejected by the government, costing 100,000-110,000 human lives. Most happened to be Bosnian Muslims. However, it must be noted that it was the Nato which bombed the Serbians in 1999 to force Milosevic to acknowledge the independence of Albanian (Muslims) Kosovars.

The Soviet Union broke up in 15 republics between 1990 and 1991. This happened only because there were armed uprisings and unarmed protests in these republics. The war-weary Soviet Union wisely refrained from wars against all these peoples. But in Chechnya, the Russian leaders chose to fight turning the Chechens into terrorists and causing mayhem within Russia itself.

The outstanding cases of areas which want autonomy or independence apart from those already mentioned are the Palestinians and the Kurds. Unless Gaza and the West Bank do not become an independent two-region state at par, at least as far as rights and human dignity are concerned, with Israel, there can be no peace either for Israel or for the Arabs. The Kurds are divided between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Only in Iraq the Kurds were given autonomy in 1970, which was reconfirmed in 2005, but even there they have been massacred. Elsewhere they are suppressed without mercy and in Turkey even the Kurdish language was banned.

Independence movements in Tibet, in the south of Thailand and in other parts of Asia linger on with various human rights violations. In Latin America, too, there are several separatist movements in Argentina (Mapuche), Bolivia (Santa Cruz), Brazil (south) etc but there is not enough space to go in details here. Indeed the total number of such movements are too many to record here.

Most states respond to independence movements with force. However, wise decision-makers use the ‘carrot’ at least to appease the alienated groups of people. In Canada, for instance, they offered all kinds of facilities to the Francophone of Quebec including French being made an official language. In Belgium, they did the same to Flemish speakers. In Spain, too, they conceded the Catalonians the right to use Catalan and gave special privileges to them. Whether our South Asian leaders will use the stick and plunge the region into violence or the carrot and prosper, is for them to decide. But do we, the ordinary people, want human happiness or blood? That is our preference.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (25)

  • let there be peace
    Aug 14, 2011 - 12:49AM

    Except Kashmir, all the examples you have given are genuine issues about national identity based on ethnicity/language/culture/geographic location etc.
    Kashmir can not be clubbed with them.

    Kashmir issue is not a separate issue, but part of India-Pakistan problem, which is not like any other nationalistic movements in world. A nation of Pakistan was created artificially by drawing lines on map and then populations were exchanged. Culture/language/ethnicity nothing matters here. It is purely based on religion and the Islamic apartheid system (darul harb and darul Islam / believers,dhimmis and kafirs — Jinnah just rephrased it in English as Two nation theory). That is why only a section among followers of certain ideology in Kashmir support separatism (especially those claiming ancestry from central Asia and Arabia) and not all genuine Kashmiris.
    Secondly, whether you accept it publicly or not, the so called freedom movement in Kashmir is largely sponsored, provoked, trained and coordinated by outside forces i.e. Pakistani state and Pakistani deep state.


  • Max
    Aug 14, 2011 - 12:57AM

    Our partition is very different from other nations of the world because we are chosen people who know nothing about our own history, culture, norms, or values. We never claimed ourselves to be “sons and daughters of the soil” but always owed our allegiance to a religious ideology emerging from Rub-al-Khalli of the Arabian peninsula. This has been our tragedy and will keep haunting us, our next generations, and who knows till when.


  • Sunman
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:01AM

    The critical difference between the examples you provided especially in the former Yugoslavia are that the minorities such as the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia had proximity to Serbia. What I mean by this is that there was another nation-state/hegemonistic power participating and planning on expanding it’s borders to create a Greater Serbia; using it’s populations in these areas as a ‘fith column’ or expansionary force to colonize lands outside of Serbia for the intent to expand its borders. Unlike in Canada or even Spain there was no real compteing power / nation-state with the proximity and power to actively aid and foment viloence to expand its borders.


  • Aug 14, 2011 - 1:15AM

    Apart from the more prevalent source, the usual sense of socioeconomic deprivation and the resulting distrust, the flow of prolonged violent agitations may also erupt with fair amount of spontaneity and gain momentum when the proposals of development and rehabilitation offered by the state or the so-called carrots fail to satisfy the quest for separate identity that acts, in some cases, both as a public brain-washer and a politically democratic cover-up implanting as well as concealing the underlying far-right expansionist ideology faithfully following the lines of race, ethnicity, religion etc.


  • Munsif Ali
    Aug 14, 2011 - 1:52AM

    The biggest cons the indigenous Sindhi people felt these days that due to partition,they lost control over their big cities.They welcomed millions of refuges and they settled in Sindh and got prosper but what an irony that today they have banned admission to Sindhis to Karachi.No one from Sukkur get admission in Karachi,No one cant get job in MNC in Karachi.During Mushraf era,this was made a part of Law to discourage Sindhis to settle in their big cities.Hyderabad is divided only to favor only one community,Karachi is made one district to favor only one community but what about indigenous people??Was it fault of forefathers who welcomed refugess.??Was it fault of our forefathers to pass first ever resolution for Pakistan and today our bog cities and resources are snatched??Wish Pakistan be fair and just to indigenous people of Sindh.


  • Cynical
    Aug 14, 2011 - 3:43AM

    @let there be peace

    Very well put. Jinnah’s rephrasing of ‘Darul harb and Darul islam’ into ‘Two nation theory’
    was the work of an astute lawyear.Nothing more,nothing less.


  • Domlurian
    Aug 14, 2011 - 4:03AM

    This is off-topic, but I do take issue with the author on the term South Asian.
    Why do pakistanis keep referring to themselves as South Asians? You are descendants of arabs, turks, persians, uzbeks, chechens, afghans, tajiks, kazakhs, mongols, etc, who invaded the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain lands over a 1000 years ago. You should call yourself as middle-easterners or central asians, not South Asians.


  • Sarcastic
    Aug 14, 2011 - 5:51AM

    How is Bangladesh a prospering country? One needs to look at the stats and realise how underdeveloped it is and how much poverty thrives there. I dont want know whats with commentators and Indians alike calling Bangladesh a prospering country whenever the topic of its seperation comes up.


  • Hamid Rabwawala
    Aug 14, 2011 - 10:22AM

    80% or more of Pakistani belong to Indo aran and we chose to follow Islam. We are south asias just as much as anyone from India or Bangladesh @Domlurian:


  • Som
    Aug 14, 2011 - 10:27AM

    The Pro’s of partition is single digit – ‘PAKISTAN IS GOING DOWN THE DRAIN”.


  • rock
    Aug 14, 2011 - 10:50AM

    @Hamid Rabwawala: what is Indo aran? Is it typo? do you mean Indo aryan?


  • Sanjay Sharma
    Aug 14, 2011 - 11:49AM

    Nehru was mass leader whereas Jinnah confined to Muslim constituency. Nehru thought it proper to part ways with Jinnah in order to maintain harmony in country and stop blood letting any further. However painful, the country accepted Nehru’s idea of partition and this flexibililty gave birth to Pakistan. Pakistan initially managed well in terms of its economy but faltered subsequently – one, with the early tragic demise of towering Qaid – and second; due to transferring real power in Army’s hand. Democratic roots were demolished due to failure in passing legislations on land reforms, lingusitic aspirations and equi-distribution of nation’s wealth.
    But all has not been lost. In making Pakistan a vibrant country world-wise, the political class should learn to be humble, honest and democratic. India is facing the same problem of dishonesty that has crept into the political and bureaucratic class but has tried to march ahead of its problems owing to institutional independence. The South Asian countries must try to address the aspirations of their masses and give them power to seek better economic conditions. Secessionists succeed when well being of people is ignored.
    Pakistani citizenry has to prove that they too can. Time is running fast if not taken hard steps of nation building, the future may be more bleak. I wish all my Pakistani friends a very happly Independence Day. I wish you all the best for your future endeavours of makeing Pakistan one of the best places on earth.


  • Tony Singh
    Aug 14, 2011 - 11:59AM

    I had sought answer for one question before too but to no avail. Maybe this time someone will answer – Why do muslims, when they become a significant minority, ask for a seperate nation?


  • malik
    Aug 14, 2011 - 12:27PM

    @Tony Singh:

    “Why do muslims, when they become a significant minority, ask for a seperate nation?”
    1.) Because they are special.
    2.) Whatever you, the majority community does, it will hurt their religious feelings. For example, in India, people have sung ‘Vande Mataram’, a patriotic song, for decades. But, Muslims won’t have it. It hurts their sentiments.
    3.) Have you seen a piggy bank? Very common. But, it hurts the sentiments of Muslims.
    4.) Do you eat when I fast? Sorry, it hurts my feelings and I feel like killing you for your act of intolerance.
    5.) You say ‘Dogs are man’s best friend’? Sorry, it hurts my religious sentiments. Cos, my god said Angels avoid the houses where dogs are there.
    6.) Just because we have chosen to emigrate to your country does not mean that we love your country or the culture or arts or your people.
    7.) In fact, it is the opposite, We hate your music, your ladies, your society, your language, your government. We particularly hate the way you allow your girls to dress, always trying to put the thoughts of Satan into the minds of others.
    8.) Wherever we are, we hate the foreign policy of the government.

    Now, tell me, is it wrong to ask a separate nation?


  • Aug 14, 2011 - 12:29PM

    i think the author remains out of focus. his example of bangladesh regarding her prosperity is not true. he mentioned gibralter but did not mention crossing of international border in 1971 by indian army.


  • Arzoo
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:00PM

    @Tony Singh: There are not that many instances, among the nations of the world, of Muslims becoming what you call “a significant minority” and then asking for seperation, so it will be very difficult to generalize it and give a response to what you have asked. But in the context of pre-partition India, Muslims being “a significant minority” had asked for constitutional protection and guarantees for preserving the Muslim culture and the Hindu leadership had failed to accommodate their issues which resulted in the demand for a seperate state. Originally, the Muslims did not demand a separate country. If this is your genuine question and you are not raising it rhetorically, I would suggest you read Jaswant Singhs’ book on Partition and Abul Kalam Azad’s book “India Wins Freedom.” Please note that Azad was Gandhiji’s right hand man and was Congress’s President and a believer in United India, so his conclusions should have some meaning for you.
    And, I am assuming from your name Singh, which I really should not, that you are a Sikh please also consider the Khalistan Movement which was a pretty genuine movement until it was crushed by Indira Gandhi. Khalsa Movement is also asking for a serparate homeland as are the Nagas and people from Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, and these are not Muslims.

    And to go a step further to your question, our own brothers, the Bengalis asked for a separate homeland and they were not even a minority in Pakistan. It is the perception of discrimination and excesses and domination of the majority that makes the minority think of and demand secession and not merely the fact that they are a minority.


  • Deb
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:41PM

    @aamir riaz
    India intervened when the then Pakistan govt. failed to stop the massive refugee influx (estimates vary from 1.5 to 3.0 million) from east-pakistan into Indian territory.It did cause tremendous economic,social and logistical problems for India.


  • BruteForce
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:47PM

    @aamir riaz:

    India crossed the border because Pakistan had committed aggression in 65. India was not the one who drew first blood. India certainly drew the last one, that is for sure.


  • BruteForce
    Aug 14, 2011 - 2:49PM

    “India maintains control by the force of the army and draconian lows.”

    Draconian laws(I know it was a typo)? Can you please state one such Draconian law?

    Can you show me one town in J&K which is not near the border but have heavy deployment of troops?


  • Poseidon
    Aug 14, 2011 - 3:01PM

    @Dom lurian you are absolutely correct the vast majority of Pakistani people are composed of the following races mentioned mostly Turk,Arab,Persian,Afghan,however years of integration have led them to believe they are the same as the indigeneous population. The indigeneous minorty which remains and did not leave for India is concentrated in provinces of sindh and punjab,They have also been converted to islam. Technically speaking Pakistan is geographically in south asia, but then so is afghanistan, however both of these countries are included in the greater middle east.

    @Hamid Rabwawala Indo-aryan You are referring to is an ethno-linguistic term which means nothing in terms of genetics or origin. Which is scientifically well Known India and Pakistan are not the same genetically except a small minorty of converts. 80% are indo-aryan? please cite references, However indo-aryan is a family of languages which stems from indo-iranian and then indo-european. Which would mean from europe to india you are all Indo something 100%?You can speak english are you an indo european?. Please do not make uneducated statements it only proves you are a subject to brainwash, instead pick up a good old geneaology book.

    @everyone Peace has nothing to do with History. Peace comes from within the mind, then you can all be at peace from Pakistan, India, North Korea, South Korea, East-West Germany,North-South Ireland

    Peace to all


  • Tony Singh
    Aug 14, 2011 - 4:51PM

    Thank you for your reply. However I have following observations to make :
    – You say – Muslims asked for their cultural tdentity to be protected. This is still protected in Independent India regardless of whether Congress agreed during prepartition era or not. At the time Congress could not be seen as granting favours to one relgious identity and not the others. The leaders in the Congress truly believed that other national issues at the time were more important than the “mundane religious” issue. Anyway muslims in India have their own personal law board to deal with the social/religious and pertaining to muslim law issues.
    – Khalistan movement was not a geniuine movement. I was a young man then living in the heart of Punjab and having witnessed the whole movement first hand, can authentically say so. It was a political move by Indira Gandhi (much like your Jihadi movement), terribly gone wrong. This movement, after it took the wrong turn was abetted by Zia -ul-Haq to avenge partition of Pakistan. (No movement which is based only on religion can suceed)
    – Now let us look at the contemporary conflicts –
    – Chechnya
    – Uljgurs
    – Partition of Bosnia
    – Conflict in southern Philipines
    – And of course Kashmir issue
    Theae come to mind right now. In all the above, one party is Muslim minority.
    I have not read the books mentioned by you. Will read them


  • vickram
    Aug 14, 2011 - 7:18PM

    Indians are now coming round to the view that Partition is one of the best things ever happened to them. Had partitions not happened in 1947, the whole of India, would have broken up into 15 or 16 countries. India should thank its lucky stars for this narrow escape.

    India would never have progressed the way it did, with the undivided India and with so many Muslims, forever trying to bring the country down, with every special demands. Partition was a sad chapter, but, a fortunate one for India and Indians.

    Look, Pakistanis are still talking about the pros and cons of Partitions while Indians are feeling how lucky they are !


  • Indiah
    Aug 14, 2011 - 11:58PM

    whatever the reason was…
    but partition was the BESTESTEST thing that ever happened to India.


  • Cynical
    Aug 15, 2011 - 4:40AM


    You are hilarious!!!
    Try writing satirical prose, seriously.
    Wish you all the best


  • A Rehman
    Aug 15, 2011 - 6:07AM


    You views are precisely what is wrong with Pakistan. We construct false histories and genealogies to improve our status and self-respect. We want to be pure Muslims – especially Arabs. I estimate more than 95% if not more of Pakistanis are of Hindu origin. Patans may think they are lost tribe of Israel but they language is Indo-aryan and their genes are also. This is verified by geneticists. Many of the Turks are Iranian peoples who adopted the Turkish language when they were conquered by them. The Iranians are VERY CLOSE LINGUISTICALLY AND RACIALLY TO SOUTH ASIANS. How many Pakistanis have Mongoloid features – slanty eyes and high cheek bones – like the Mongols ? Please tell me how many of us really have Arab ancestry. Ibn Battuta, even eight hundred years ago, ridiculed hindu converts who were constructing false histories.


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