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Subcontinental Drift: Justifying Hate
Faux theories fail to explain the Kashmir dispute
By APARISIM GHOSH

August 24, 2000
Web posted at 12:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 12:30 a.m. EDT

A recent e-mail exchange with a friend brought up an old saw about Indo-Pakistani hostility over Kashmir. Islamabad NEEDS to keep the dispute alive, my friend argued, because a peaceful Muslim-majority state within the Indian union would undermine Pakistan's very reason for existence. If Kashmir can thrive as a part of India, why should there be a separate country for the subcontinent's Muslims?

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That argument is frequently heard in the corridors of power in New Delhi, and its corollary is just as popular in Islamabad: that India NEEDS to hold on to Kashmir just to prove its secular credentials. If a Muslim-majority state can't thrive as part of India, then what hope for the country's religious minorities?

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The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME
 
These are very convenient theories, and they carry just enough logic to make them appear credible. They help rationalize the 50-year-old enmity between the two countries: after all, if Indians and Pakistanis still hate each other after all these years, there must be some deep-rooted philosophical reason.

But the twin theories don't hold up to any serious scrutiny. Pakistan was created for those Muslims who didn't want to live in a Hindu-majority country. Nothing more, nothing less. Its existence needs no further justification. India, similarly, doesn't need the population of Kashmir to certify its secularism: even leaving out the Kashmiris, India has more Muslims than Pakistan.

There are other, equally dubious theories about the subcontinental schism. Two generations of Indians and Pakistanis have been reared on propaganda that ascribes all manner of ideological roots to the dispute. The Establishment in Pakistan portrays the Kashmir issue as an Islamic holy war: Our Muslim brothers are being oppressed by those Indian Hindus, and we are obliged to give them succor. Why other "brothers" -- those being brutally repressed in China's Xinjiang province, for instance -- don't deserve similar sympathy and support is never explained. In India, Hindu extremists claim Kashmir as their own because it was part of the empire of the mythological Hindu king, Bharata. Like their Pakistani counterparts, these folks conveniently forget that Bharata's fabled empire also included Nepal, Burma and much of Afghanistan.

But if there is no profound philosophical divide at the bottom of their hostility, why do India and Pakistan battle over Kashmir? As Freud said of cigars, sometimes hatred is just hatred. The two countries were born in an atmosphere of antipathy, amid the bloodletting of Partition. More blood was spilt and venom generated by their three wars. Unscrupulous politicians (and in Pakistan's case, military leaders) on both sides have consciously cultivated enmity to harvest votes (or build legitimacy).

The bottom line is that India and Pakistan don't NEED to battle over Kashmir. But as long as Delhi and Islamabad believe they do, there will never be peace in South Asia.

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