Half a world away, there is trouble in central Asia. Back home in the US, why should we care? Before answering, let’s examine what the trouble is. Let’s start with Pakistan.

In an article this week in Foreign Policy, Australian journalist and author Lynne O’Donnell writes ominously that Pakistan has been “dubbed one of the most dangerous countries in the world” and that it is in the midst of perpetual chaos. She writes, “It’s getting difficult to determine which one among Pakistan’s myriad crises will finally engulf the country. Inflation is hitting historic highs, unemployment is pushing young men into the ranks of extremists, the military is torn between its loyalty to the state and the terrorists it helped create.”

Despite the chaotic state of Pakistani elites, O’Donnell says that there is “one thing the fractious political class can agree on—the need for a radical change of policy for dealing with militant Islam, the latest threat to the Pakistani state. They just can’t agree on how.”

Mohsin Dawar, chair of the center-left National Democratic Movement and leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement proclaims, “As long as there is no change in the Afghan policy of Pakistan…peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the entire region is almost impossible.”

In India, Pakistan’s chief rival since the partition in 1947, a different dynamic is operative. According to Mujib Mashal and Alex Travelli in the New York Times, India “will soon pass China in population, knocking it from its perch for the first time in at least three centuries.

“With size — a population that now exceeds 1.4 billion people — comes geopolitical, economic and cultural power that India has long sought. And with growth comes the prospect of a “demographic dividend.” India has a work force that is young and expanding even as those in most industrialized countries, including China, are aging and in some cases shrinking.

“But India’s immense size and lasting growth also lay bare its enormous challenges, renewing in this latest spotlight moment a perennial, if still uncomfortable, question: When will it ever fulfill its vast promise and become a power on the order of China or the United States?”

“And then there is the combustible environment created by the Hindu-first nationalism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, as his support base has sped up a century-old campaign to reshape India’s pluralist democratic tradition and relegate Muslims and other minorities to second-class citizenship.

“The increasing militancy of his Hindu nationalist supporters, as arms of the state hang back and give perpetrators a free pass, exacerbates India’s religious fault lines and clashes that threaten to disrupt India’s rise.

“The perpetual potential for conflagration was on display in recent weeks in episodes of violence across half a dozen states, particularly in West Bengal in the country’s east, as celebrations of the birthday of the Hindu deity Ram coincided with Ramadan.”

So, who should care?

We should care. We should all care. While these events seem distant from immediate life-challenges that confront most Americans, we would do well to learn more about these two countries, heed the tensions in this region—two nuclear states that share a border rife with mistrust and sectarian hostilities—and examine how lessons learned from these two ancient lands can be instructive for us as well.

As we strengthen our commitment to the health of democracies around the world (and as India, the world’s largest democracy, increasingly slips towards autocracy under Modi) and to building relationships with the Muslim world (despite being seven times as large as Pakistan, India has as many Muslims as Pakistan), we must deepen our knowledge and understanding of these two distant lands. What can we learn from these two complex powers? How can we avoid some of the pitfalls that have rendered their societies impervious to the pleas of their citizens and imperiled in a world preoccupied with power and greed?

One thought on “India/Pakistan–Who Cares?

  1. The whole subject is, for me, a bit chilling.. In 1992, after my mom passed, alone in a small apartment as the single parent of an infant, my closest neighbors in the building were a Pakistani family. What began as a warm, loving friendship quickly disintegrated as Iffat and husband Tariq learned of my then-relationship with a man, out of wedlock. It became ugly. Where Iffat had, at first, been almost like a sister, tutoring me in her language (Urdu) and her religion (Islam), she quickly pivoted, making it clear that my prurient lifestyle choice was anathema to God/Allah and that she could have nothing more to do with me. It was frightening because, if this is the type of extremist, absolutist culture we could be dealing with, Pakistan is not a country we want to be in in a major conflict with. 😔

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