Amidst the muck and the mire and human misery of the Pakistani floods, there’s something worth thinking about.
The histories of India and Pakistan are closely intertwined, given that they were all one not-quite-homogeneous country until the 1947 partition. In simple, maybe even simplistic terms, Pakistan is as old as India. But, 1947 is the defining date.
Pakistan came into being as an independent nation as a solution to centuries of conflict between Islam and India’s Sikhs and Hindus, dating back to AD 800. From then until the 1700s, various Muslim rulers of the Indian subcontinent ruthlessly enslaved and slaughtered millions of Hindus. It is Islam that is responsible for the creation and entrenchment of India’s caste system.
The end of Islamic rule in India was partly brought about by the arrival of European trade, itself brought about by the advent of trans-oceanic sail. It was coincidental with an ebb of Islamic expansionism and war with Christendom.
While there can be no doubt that the arrival of the Dutch and Portuguese in India heralded similar brutality in the name of Christianity, it was never the scope and scale of that perpetrated by such rulers as Tamerlane. The horrors of the Goa Inquisition in India lasted only a few decades.
To put it in perspective, in December 1398, some 100,000 Hindu prisoners were slaughtered by Tamerlane’s army. In contrast, the victims of the Inquisition in India number less than 20,000.
From the early 1800s until Indian independence in 1947, British rule of India planted and fertilized the seedlings of a civil society based upon free commerce and the rule of law.
Was England’s rule of India perfect? Not by a long shot. Was the lasting legacy profoundly positive? There can be no doubt that it was.
In spite of Indira Ghandi’s flirtations with Marxism, and despite the rough and tumble nature of her politics, India is without a doubt a modern nation. In many ways, India is now resembles Canada, Great Britain, Australia and the U.S. circa 1900, but with access to all the technologies and know-how of 2010.
Generous foreign aid, the right mix of culture and legal structure, and history have made the post-Second World War era India’s golden age.
There can be little doubt that India will be one of the giants of the 21st century, to the great benefit of the Indian people.
Contrast that with Pakistan. In spite of 60 years worth of similar aid and influence, and being blessed with vast quantities of human capital and substantial mineral and agricultural potential, Pakistan lags decades or more behind India in all areas of societal well-being.
In spite of being a nuclear power, less than two per cent of Pakistan’s population actually pays taxes. While this number is not much greater in India, it still means that India has found economic freedom for dozens of millions more of her citizens in the same time frame.
Pakistan has much in common with other misery-laden nations of the Indian Ocean region. In spite of great wealth or wealth potential, it has rarely been governed by people who seem as interested in elevating the Pakistani people as they do in elevating Pakistan’s status.
A succession of governments have engaged in pointless wars with India, and spent billions on war-making technology, while rarely attempting to build the kind of infrastructure that foments a civil society and cultivates the kind of middle-class that is growing by leaps and bounds in India.
In the time frame that India has built a system of civil law, dams and industries, and a burgeoning middle class, Pakistan has remained mired in the mid-20th century or earlier, bogged down by the strictures of Islam.
Bill Greenwood is a local freelance columnist.