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How to explain conflict in the sub-continent

04 October, 2019

• SUNIL Kumar Pal’s September 26 letter about Jammu and Kashmir prompted me to add to his historical comments, (There’s more to the history of Kashmir and Jammu).

I was two when Britain hastily partitioned India. It is true religion in South Asia played a large part in the setting up of the two states but so did the future planning by the previous colonisers.

Russia was seen after1945 as an enemy of the West and China was having its internal wars with Mao and Chiang Kai Shek. Pakistan was seen as a possible buffer state by the British.

Winston Churchill and the British imperialists never forgave India for demanding and getting its independence in 1947.

The 1971 war between West Pakistan and East Pakistan was inevitable. The geographical division of a country with India between could never work.

I was living in West Bengal, India at the time, in a district called Midnapore only about 200km from the East Pakistani, soon to be, Bangladeshi border.

Eight million refugees flooded into Calcutta and its surrounds. I saw it first hand and heard about some of the atrocities the West Pakistani army was inflicting on its supposed Muslim brothers and sisters.

Two reasons for the war were:

• Pakistanis’ insistence that Urdu should replace Bengali as the national language. Bengali culture and literature were very old and rich with its own script; and

• the economy was dominated by West Pakistan and was at breaking point with the rich and fertile economy being drained to the western part of geographically divided Pakistan.

The complexity and diversity in the sub-continent and the legacy the British and other colonialists left was and is a challenge for governments in that region.

I remember an old Bengali friend, a retired vice-chancellor of a university in West Bengal, when we talked about his neighbours in now Bangladesh, saying: “You see we are same people, same language but we have different religions.” Speaks volumes.

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