Evening Standard

In the 1930s, as the British were trying to hold on to India, a violent uprising erupted in Bengal.

Such was the panic that English women stopped travelling on Calcutta’s trams following reports that handkerchiefs contaminated with secretions of venereal diseases had been left on the seats. It led to George V asking the Bengal Governor: “What is wrong with Bengal?”

We now need to ask the same question about Pakistan.

It is inconceivable that Osama bin Laden lived in a specially fortified villa, possibly for many years, in the Pakistani equivalent of Sandhurst without the authorities knowing about it. If the Pakistani military, which is almost a state within a state, did not know, then they did not want to know.

The more depressing thought is that large parts of the Pakistani state, and its people, have never signed up for the war on terror.

True, Pakistan has also suffered from terrorism: President Zardari’s own wife Benazir was a victim. But the reaction to Bin Laden’s death shows that many Pakistanis deeply resent being dragged into this war since 9/11.

Then, General Pervez Musharraf, given a choice by the US of joining them or being bombed back to the Stone Age, chose the Americans. He thought the American billions would soothe ruffled feelings. But the money has not made his people love America: if anything it has bred distrust or even hatred.

One reason is that his rationale for backing America has been turned on its head. The general argued that if Pakistan did not join the US, India would benefit. In reality, the war on terror had made India closer to the US than never before. In contrast, Pakistan, an ally since the 1950s, finds itself an outcast, as the American operation against Bin Laden showed.

For Pakistanis, who until the 1980s outshone India both economically and socially, this turnaround is shattering. For decades, shackled by socialist thinking, India had a so-called “Hindu rate of growth”, around two per cent. And, influenced by India’s Harrow and Cambridge-educated prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian political classes were deeply anti-American. Now, with a booming economy, Indians see themselves as America did in the 19th century. Many a Bollywood movie is set in New York.

How ironic that back in 1947, when both countries got their freedom, India was expected to collapse. Pakistan was seen as a vibrant Muslim country that would keep Russian communism at bay. But Pakistan failed to develop a political class, or even a strong civic society. More important, unlike India, it did not keep its military in the barracks.

Nobody in the West should wish that Pakistan disintegrates. But to prevent that, the West must stop doing what it has since the 1950s – talk of democracy but choose expediency, always providing lavish funds to whichever Pakistani military strongman emerges.

Instead, we must help Pakistan build a strong civic and political class that is less obsessed with India. One that realises that while it is Muslim, it shares a common subcontinental heritage and culture that has little in common with the Arabs.

Like the war on terror, this reformation of Pakistan will not be easy or quick. But without it, we now face the unthinkable prospect of a collapsed state armed with nuclear weapons.


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