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September 9, 2013
A WAY FORWARD
By Arshad M. Khan
Source: Dawn Newspaper
IN 1906, the border between the US and British Canada was demilitarized when the
British withdrew. It has since remained so, and people travel back and forth freely.
How did this happen when the US and Britain had been intense rivals, fighting three
wars in the previous century? It all began with a dispute in the 1890s between British
Guyana and Venezuela. When the British admiralty informed their government they
could not spare the resources to take on the US, the British backed off and agreed to
In return, the US softened its stance on several issues: questions concerning fishing
rights, the Panama Canal (heretofore opposed by the British) and the disputed
Alaska/Canada border were resolved.
It was careful behind-the-scenes activity, kept secret from the British public, even
parliament, since the opposition would have skewered the government. Why?
Because public sentiment at the time was strongly anti-American, given the two
countries had been enemies for a century.
Change came quickly. By 1898, Britain was the only major power supporting the US in
the Spanish-American war. Within five years, Teddy Roosevelt was likening a war with
Britain to fratricide. The special relationship was born. So relates Charles A. Kupchan
in How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace.
Note that while the agreements with the US were being cemented, Britain also signed
a treaty with Japan. It was not successful because cultural dissimilarities prevented
the two sides from overcoming fear and mistrust.
On the other hand, cultural similarities between the US and Britain eased the
There is a glimmer of hope then for the subcontinent, for one can envision a future
where an almost identical culture leads to peace and stability.
This article began with the year 1906; 1906 was also the year when the Muslims in
India, out of fear, launched a party to defend their interests, and the Muslim League
A decade later in the middle of the Great War, a young Muslim lawyer by the name of
Mohammad Ali Jinnah prepared a proposal supported by both Congress and the
Muslim League under the Lucknow Pact.
It called for a post-war self-governing India as a dominion of the British Empire not
unlike Australia, New Zealand and others. Had the British cooperated, the frenzied
and needless communal slaughter of innocent millions during partition would have
Why is this important? Well, it is important because the problems the subcontinent will
soon face if the scientists are right will be far more complex and handled better as a
whole community than a fragmented one, bearing fear, suspicion and mistrust.
Pollution, climate change, emissions controls, cannot be handled individually in a
shared space. And the worst-case scenario of severe water depletion from increased
ablation of the Himalayan glaciers threatens the granaries of the Indus and Gangetic
There are also other reasons why coming together on a single platform is important.
Consider the Indian subcontinent and China. They both started at about the same
place in the late 1940s. But a comparison now is embarrassing as India lags far
behind, as do Pakistan and Bangladesh.
For 2012, China`s GDP per capita as reported by the IMF was $6076 as compared
with India ($1492), Pakistan ($1296) and Bangladesh ($850). Countries like
Singapore ($51,162) South Korea ($23,113), Taiwan ($20,328), Malaysia ($10,304)
are all substantially higher. It is sobering when we realize the subcontinent achieved
China is now the world`s second largest economy; the subcontinent not even close.
Transportation is the backbone of a modern economy, and China`s arterial roads are
modern, its railways comparable with Europe and better than the US. The fast growing
high-speed rail network is connected by 400 km/h trains. Television coverage of
disasters is a window into rural lives rarely encountered by the urban elite. It shows a
burgeoning rural middle class in China, well-fed villagers in Pakistan and destitute
farmers in many parts of India.
A cogent statistic confirming intuition is the percentage of low birth weight infants
across Asia and the Pacific as reported (2008) by UNICEF. China leads at about 2pc
of live births beating even New Zealand, Australia, and Japan; Pakistan is at 18pc, but
Bangladesh is at 22 and India dead last at 30pc. As policy folly and crippling defense
expenditures take their toll, economic deprivation is followed by insurgencies.
We started with the case of Britain and the US and how cultural similarity abetted the
relationship. A closer parallel for the subcontinent might be found in Senegal/Gambia
where one people speaking the same language have been divided by a border
through which Senegal almost envelops the Gambia.
Both countries are 90pc Muslim, have the same language, so what divides them?
Quite simply, colonialism. Anglophone Gambia, a thin strip of land wedged into the
heart of Francophone Senegal. Senegal`s solution was to offer more seats in its
legislature than Gambia`s size would merit. It is what Jinnah asked.
In any such discussion, one cannot omit the centuries-long, bitter and often bloody
Franco-German rivalry. But if one travels that border now, it is notable only for its
absence, an absence due to the European Community model. Not only is it
undefended but it is almost impossible to find a customs or passport control booth.
How that happened might well be a lesson for the subcontinent. The European
Community model embraces economic cooperation leading eventually to a customs
It maintains adequate safeguards for the weaker economies as well as political
independence. It could be an answer.
Imagine a prosperous subcontinent freed from the fear of nuclear apocalypse, on its
way to joining the First World. It is a vision worth fighting for and high time a worthy
people rid themselves of a painful legacy of colonialism. Sixty-six years is surely
enough time as enemies. •
The writer is a retired professor.