You can blame the mess that is Pakistan on an excess of liberal idealism in London after World War II. When the Labor Party under Clement Atlee trounced Churchill’s Conservatives, it came into power with an agenda of idealistic socialism that was to have consequences down through the decades.
At home this socialist administration planned for national insurance in health and pensions, which Churchill supported, and for an almost immediate British withdrawal from India, which he vehemently opposed.
India was already far along toward some kind of independence by the outbreak of World War II. The manner of Britain’s going was more the issue than that it would happen. The speed and the nature of the withdrawal are debated to this day, as is the rough partition of British India into India and West and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
In the end the withdrawal was swift, ill thought out, and led to enormous loss of life: an immediate slaughter of more than a million people in religious violence. If you add the deaths in the 1965 and 1971 wars, the toll rises by more millions, especially when you count in the endless violence over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
There were many weaknesses in the British withdrawal, including the absurd idea of two Pakistans separated by India. Pakistan was an idea supported by Muslim leaders going back to the 19th century, but the creation of a modern country based solely on religion had yet to be tested.
Where the socialist idealists in Britain failed was in realizing that the industrial and entrepreneurial heart of British India (The Raj) lay not in the poor Muslim areas but in the more sophisticated cities of India, with its diversity of languages and religions–even though Hinduism dominated.
What is now Pakistan was poor, feudal, corrupt and torn between the two sects of Islam, Sunni and Shia.
Pakistan might have been left to stew, if it had not been for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, coupled with the Indian championing of regimes hostile to the United States. Through this support of the unaligned movement (a bunch of troublemakers like Cuba and Tanzania), India thought it could play the United States against the Soviet Union. All it did was to accelerate the U.S. tilt to its unstable neighbor, Pakistan.
The Soviet incursion into Afghanistan lured the United States deeply into the region. Pakistan became our ally and we willfully overlooked its feudalism and corruption and, most importantly, the spread of a potent Islamic militancy, through its religious schools (madrassas). We heavily favored Pakistan, even though we knew the country was trying to build a bomb.
In the mid-1980s, I interviewed Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s strong man. He denied Pakistan was working on a weapon, but his own detailed knowledge of bomb construction gave the lie to his protestations. I left Pakistan convinced that a nuclear weapon was in the works. What one did not know was the willingness of the rogue scientist, A.Q. Khan, to sell the technology to all comers, like North Korea and Iran.
This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to the White House briefing room to announce that the United States was committing $100 million to refugee aid in Pakistan, on top of the $60 million already committed. She also asked people to use their cell phones to dial more dollars for refugees.
There is irony here. It was American food aid that supported Afghan refugees and their Pakistani supporters from the tribal areas during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. I stood outside Peshawar and watched convoys of trucks with sacks of American grain heading to the refugee camps where the Taliban was incubating. When I went to those camps, beneficiaries of our food complained that it was not accompanied by enough cooking oil. American policy and food have nurtured the Taliban.
While India’s economy strengthens and the country celebrates 60 years of democracy, Pakistan is in chaos, fed by the ancient evils of religion and corruption.
In a further irony, Britain’s ill-planned withdrawal from India, in a frenzy of liberal idealism, had no effect in Britain beyond opening the door to floods of poor immigrants from Pakistan: immigrants who have vastly complicated Britain’s response to terrorism. –For North Star Writers Group