History as Political Weapon: The Challenge of India-Pakistan Relations

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“[I]t did not have to be this way,” Nisid Hajari, the author of Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition, stated regarding the contemporary stand-off between India and Pakistan. “There is this assumption that one is a Muslim nation and the other is a Hindu nation” and thus, all of this is “inevitable,” he stated, “but it is not.” At an event entitled “India and Pakistan: Challenges for Regional Stability” on January 11, jointly hosted by Asia Society Northern California and the World Affairs Council, Hajari iterated how ill-matched personalities, misguided decisions, political leaders’ inflammatory rhetoric, and vagaries of history, among other factors, led to the mayhem surrounding the 1947 Partition. Had a few things gone differently, Hajari stated, these two countries might have remained good allies and neighbors today.

Linking contemporary tensions between India and Pakistan to the historical 1947 tragedy, Hajari highlighted how Pakistan’s terror, bordering on “paranoia,” of India and its geopolitical encirclement, has led to extremist groups in the border regions and even in Afghanistan. Hajari touched on the strong, pragmatic pull towards smoothing relations between the two countries today, however, and the evolving dynamic between Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, the current civilian leaders of India and Pakistan. India recognizes how without better relations with its neighbor, it could never achieve global leadership that it desires. Pakistan also understands its own need for stability and economic development, which cannot happen without better relations with India.

Indicating that the path forward is “clear,” if difficult to achieve, Hajari put forward the critical importance of strengthening trade between India and Pakistan, multiplying civic, artistic and academic exchanges, reducing nationalistic rhetoric by the leaders, and strengthening channels of communication at all levels of the government.

Missed the program? You can view the complete footage here (1 hr., 9 min.)