Why Do India and Pakistan Hate Each Other?

Why Do India and Pakistan Hate Each Other?

Pakistan and India don’t like each other at all. With good reason. Pakistan’s intelligence agency has given support to Pakistani terrorists in India, who have killed hundreds over the past decade. On the Indian side of the border, where many would prefer to live under Pakistan’s authority, Indian troops have killed tens of thousands. Both countries have nuclear missiles pointed at the other. They have fought four wars in living memory. The relationship between India and Pakistan is one of the most hostile in the world today. Why?

The modern states of India and Pakistan were born in 1947. Before that, they were both part of the British colony of India. Britain had done a poor job of running India, and when the British decided to leave in the 1940’s they and local leaders made the hasty and crude decision to split the country into two: India and Pakistan.

Religion was the reason they did so. Most people in India are Hindu, but there has been a large Muslim minority for centuries. As India was about to win its independence from Britain and become democratic, Muslims worried that they would be oppressed by the Hindu majority.

The solution was to have one country made up mainly of Muslims—Pakistan—and another made up mainly of Hindus—India. When the divorce happened in 1947, millions decided to move. Muslims stuck in India wanted to be in Pakistan, and Hindus in Pakistan wanted to be in India. Sometimes, hostile neighbours made the minority’s lives so miserable that they fled. Millions moved that summer. Angry mobs killed exhausted and vulnerable refugees as they tried to cross the new border. A million people died when India and Pakistan started life as independent states. It was a terrible beginning.

There’s no reason why Hindus and Muslims can’t live together in peace. Over the centuries, they have often done so. There are, however, reasons why the two communities have come to blows.

The most important historical reason is easy to grasp. For centuries, Muslim invaders ruled over India’s Hindu population. To give rough figures: from 1200 to 1500 it was the Delhi Sultanate, and then from 1500 to 1800 the Mughal Empire.

Most of the time, these Muslim rulers respected the Hindu religion of the majority of the population. However, they were likely to destroy Hindu temples if the local people caused trouble. (Some Hindus claim that Muslim emperors demolished tens of thousands of temples or converted them into mosques, but there’s little historical evidence for that kind of number—the figure is closer to 100.)

After the Muslims, the British took control of India. Again, Hindus resented being controlled by foreigners. In addition, the British stirred up tension between Muslims and Hindus—it was easier to control a divided population.

Tensions sharpened under British rule. One example was the emergence of Hindu groups committed to defending cows. Hindus believed these animals were sacred, but Muslims were quite happy to slaughter and eat them. Cow protection movements became a way for Hindus to show their strength by attacking Muslims who had stolen, killed, or eaten cows.

The bloody partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 was enough to ensure animosity between the two countries but there has been plenty of fresh fuel since then.

Top of the list has been the fate of the stunning and strategic province of Kashmir. Kashmir lies on the border between the two countries and in 1947 it wasn’t clear which country it would belong to. Both India and Pakistan claimed the land, and they have fought three wars over it. Today, each controls approximately 50%. Pakistan has sponsored terrorist movements in India’s half. India, in turn, has ruled the Muslim population of its half with stinging harshness.

Both countries have their own depressing variants of religious nationalism. For many years, the largely secular Congress party ruled India. This was the party of Gandhi, who always believed that Hindus and Muslims could live together—he said that dividing India in 1947 was like dissecting a living person. More recently, however, the dominant party in India has been the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which stokes Hindu fears of Muslims. The party had a hand in the 1992 destruction of an important mosque in Ayodha—after which more than 2,000 died in Hindu-Muslim violence.

Pakistan has had a variety of fusions of politics and religion, none of which have been very successful at running the country or reducing poverty. More than 50,000 have died in terrorist violence in Pakistan in the past decade.

Politicians on both sides have made moves towards reconciliation, but they are usually followed by terrorist attacks that immediately ice the talks. It’s hard to see much hope in the near future. Perhaps over time people will tire of the politics of pride and hate.

The world could breathe more easily if the nuclear-armed countries of India and Pakistan found a way to build an amicable relationship. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, a Pakistani author, expressed his disappointment in a 1947 poem: the independence of Pakistan was more a nightmare than a dream come true. But in the final line he turned to hope, and made an invitation that still resonates today: “Come, we must search for the promised dawn.”

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