India and Pakistan, 60 years after the British Empire

Article published on Aug. 14, 2007
Article published on Aug. 14, 2007

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Whilst India is fast becoming an economic world power, Pakistan suffers terrorist attacks almost daily. How the roads diverge after 60 years of the end of British rule

Pakistan is experiencing one of the bloodiest eras in its history, with almost daily terrorist attacks. President-dictator Pervez Musharraf now finds himself backed into a corner, pressured on all possible fronts. Moderate Islamists, up to now firm supporters, have even gone so far as to call him 'murderer'. The Taliban have brought the war into the very centre of the capital and the exiled secular opposition will not accept a president in military uniform.

Furthermore, it is increasingly uncomfortable for international allies, particularly the United States, to maintain an alliance with a government that has not managed to put an end to the Talibanisation in the north of the country. As long as he does not give the expected change of direction: achieve a breakthrough national pact with the political parties to remove the country from its current predicament, nobody is on his side. But time is not his friend, since Pakistan hopes to hold elections by the end of 2007. August polls indicate that 64% of the population is against the re-election of Musharraf as president.

On 14 August Pakistan celebrates the 60th anniversary of independence from the United Kingdom. On the following day, so does India. Both states shared administration, territory and cultures for more than 100 years, under the governance of the British Empire. But with the advent of independence, they decided to divide the Indian subcontinent into two states: one Muslim and one Hindu. With de-colonisation the modern Commonwealth was born.

Sixty years later, economic indicators do not leave Musharraf’s government in too difficult a situation, since he has managed to reduce inflation substantially and reach high GDP growth rates. In this way, political instability and a lack of security are the main points that distinguish the two countries on this anniversary.

Without the British, neighbouring relations over these last few decades have been more than tense. The two countries have faced three wars, two of which over the disputed territory of Kashmir. This confrontation has provoked an escalation that has lead both nations to develop nuclear arms, something which has involved them in international sanctions for almost three decades. These sanctions have seriously damaged their economies, which have only been seen to be improving in the last few years, when they began to collaborate in the war on terror.

That said, both economies, but above all that of India, have understood the need to open up to the exterior and develop with the thrust of globalisation. A growing urban middle class and a specialised work force attract the multinationals. This, along with the economic reforms developed since the eighties, has placed India among the emergent countries that are growing fastest economically and that most contribute to the world economy, according to the latest report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Road to stability

The turning point in the bad relations between the two states took place with the 11 July 2006 attacks on Bombay trains, perpetrated by Islamists and in which 190 people died. Two months later at the XIV Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, the two agreed to initiate a peace process which seeks to diminish the Islamist threat and put an end to conflict over Kashmir.

India has taken advantage of this new situation to grow closer to the United States. If after independence India was shaped by Nehru as a Socialist state rather nearer in style to the Soviet Union, now the geopolitics have changed. In March 2006 the biggest parliamentary democracy in the world signed an historic agreement with the United States that permitted access to American civil nuclear technology and storage of nuclear fuel, establishing an exception to the rule in Bush’s policies on nuclear matters.

And whilst India becomes a new comrade of the United States, Pakistan continues to drown in instability. The alliances of the Cold War, during which Pakistan, with the help of US administration, supported the Mujahideen to halt Soviet influence in central Asia, are now a distant memory.

A great economic co-operation between India and Pakistan could perhaps help the latter region to take the definitive leap it needs. At the least, it has already taken the first step, since the two have just signed an agreement to drive commercial relations with which they hope to quintuple the turnover of bilateral trade by 2010. Their joint statement after the agreement showed a spirit of understanding. After 60 years of going their separate ways, only collaboration can bring the desired stability.