India-Pakistan partition 70 years on: Wrenched apart by history

India-Pakistan partition 70 years on: Wrenched apart by history

Deep mistrust between India and Pakistan continues 70 years after Partition

SAM Report,
Children gathering rubble in their house, which was damaged during clashes between Pakistan and India last month, in Tarkundi village in the Nakyal sector in Pakistanadministered Kashmir. The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars since 1947, and relations remain tense, particularly when it comes to the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full. PHOTO: REUTERS

From barbed grins in a carefully synchronised daily flag ceremony to murderous exchanges across barbed wire in Kashmir, the India-Pakistan border is a 70-year-old scar that will not heal.

Thousands will cheer at the Wagah border crossing this week as the two countries celebrate the anniversaries of their independence, when British India was carved into two nations.

The separation based on border lines created by the British at the end of their colonial rule came into effect at the stroke of midnight on the eve of Aug 14, 1947.

The upheaval that followed left at least one million dead in a brutal migration that took millions of Muslims to Pakistan and millions of Hindus to India.

A woman relative of 28-year-old Muhammad Haseeb was killed as she worked in a field in the Nakyal sector on the Pakistani side just days before the Partition anniversary.

“We don’t know when we will become the victim of a bullet,” he said.

Tens of thousands, mainly civilians, have died in Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir in the past 30 years. India says about 40 militants have been killed this year trying to sneak across the border. Nine Indian soldiers have been killed on the Line of Control.

Hostilities have intensified since a series of bombings and shootings in India’s financial capital of Mumbai in 2008, and an attack on its Parliament in 2001, both of which India blamed on militant groups based in Pakistan.

Pakistan has repeatedly accused India of aggressive lobbying in Washington and among the nations of South-east Asia, aimed at isolating it internationally.

India has grown concerned at China’s growing ties to its arch rival Pakistan, viewing China’s US$57 billion (S$78 billion) trade corridor that cuts across Kashmir as an infringement of India’s claim to the whole of the region.

India this year fast-tracked US$15 billion worth of dam projects on its side of Kashmir, despite fears from Islamabad that the power stations will disrupt vital Indus water flows into Pakistan.

Prospects for improvement in ties look slim.

Cricket is the national game for both countries, but they have not played a five-day Test match against each other in either country since 2007.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Pakistan in 2015. But ties are in deep freeze again since Pakistan detained and sentenced to death Kulbushan Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer it accuses of espionage.

For most politicians, observers and activists, India and Pakistan just cannot get over its split.

Pakistan has been in new political chaos with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ousted over corruption allegations. But some on both sides blame Mr Modi’s hardline stance.

“So long as there is a Hindu India that acts like a mirror to a Muslim Pakistan, I don’t see any chance of a reconciliation,” said Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, an outspoken former Indian minister who, as a diplomat, was his country’s first consul general in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

Mr Aiyar says India and Pakistan need an Anglo-French style “Entente Cordiale” and then to get down to serious talks.

Prominent Pakistani political analyst Hasan Askari said both countries have grievances and that relations can barely get any worse.

“The present tension between India and Pakistan is unnatural… As no dialogue is taking place, this relationship is really bad,” he added.

“India has truly reduced this relationship to a single issue – terrorism – whereas the Pakistani argument is that we can talk about all contentious issues. They can be put on the table and discussed.”

Mr Askari said there can be no talks while India obsesses about militant activity.

“This means there is hardly any possibility of a dialogue in the near future because the government of Pakistan can’t even commit to its own people that there will be no terrorist activity, not to speak of any commitment to India.”

Away from the politics and military posturing, Ms Guneeta Singh Ballah, founder of the 1947 Partition Archive that has interviewed thousands of survivors of the Partition, sees hope in the new generation on either side of the frontier.

“I think that the new generation is more engaged in wanting to get over the past,” she said.

Survivors’ accounts also offer objectivity from those who suffered most, says Ms Aleena Mashhood of the Oral History Project – an increasingly valuable perspective as time goes on.

“They say something like, that wasn’t us Muslims who suffered, it was also the Hindus who suffered,” she said. “Your bias breaks.”

In Amritsar’s Partition Museum, where the wounds that still define the region are preserved, the last room is perhaps aptly named “The Gallery of Hope”.