EIBF 2017: Dilip Hiro - Bloody Birth of Two Nations

Dilip Hiro’s ‘The Longest August; The Unflinching Rivalry of India and Pakistan’ examines one of the most persistent and problematic issues facing what we think of as ‘the Indian sub-continent’.

Speaking on the actual 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence, Hiro spoke of both the roots of rivalry, its consequences and the possible future.

In an age in which memories are shorter than attention spans, the bloody and disorganised partition of India has been largely forgotten. This anniversary has allowed the questions that still surround it to be opened once more. In some respects, the reactions and results of partition bear comparison to the fate of what we once called ‘former Yugoslavia’ not so very long ago. Once-peaceful mixed communities may be stirred to violence once questions of religion, ethnicity and who dominates economically are brought to the fore by the unscrupulous.

Neither Ghandi nor Nehru could be described in this way, yet their divergent objectives set their supporters on an unavoidable collision course, and a British administration urged to speed by its ‘home’ government was given little incentive to think through the likely outcomes of its actions.

Tragic as partition was for many – some three quarters of a million died, fifteen millions took part in the largest known mass migration in history, a number of whom remain stateless to this day – it was when Hiro spoke of those aspects of partition that continue to colour relations between India and Pakistan that the discussion became more than simply historical.

In Pakistan, the Askari (army) continues to dominate foreign policy and the actions of government. This has, at least in part, led to conflict between the two nations and perpetuates friction. The nuclear capabilities of both remain a cause of concern, especially given their inability to co-exist in a genuinely neighbourly fashion. It is here, Hiro suggested, that partition has a particular responsibility for creating the present situation, although he was unable to offer any immediate solutions to the problem.

A personal observation; given the complexity of the topic, a more informed Chair might have elicited both more and more penetrating questions from a more stimulated audience.

Dilip Hiro 'The Longest August; The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan' Nation Books, £23.99 (hb), ISBN 9781568587349