Pakistan : at the junction of different worlds

Muslim man participating at a religious procession. Pakistan.

Many people think the Partition of India and Pakistan could have been avoided, they think Pakistan is an artificial construction. In 1947, Pakistan represented 23 % of the surface of British India and 18 % of the population of the Raj. Mostly rural, only 10 % of the industries were on its territory. Above all, many of its inhabitants were refugees. In 1947, millions of muslims have left India to Pakistan, fleeing the intercommunal violences ( from 200.000 to 1.000.000 deads). During the summer and autumn 1947, 6.000.000 muslims have crossed the new frontier to settle in Pakistan ( At the same time, many hindus have crossed the frontier too but in the opposite way.) Now, 1 Pakistani out of 10 is a “mohajir” (a migrant whose family hails from India). Yet, Pakistan is much more than the western part of the British Raj.

The country is situated at the confluence of 3 cultural areas : South Asia, the arab-persian world and Central Asia. Mughal emperors and British linked it to the indian sub-continent. The national language is urdu ( urdu is very similar with hindi, the most spoken language in northern India) and there is a hierarchical organization of the society, something that reminds the hindu caste system. The Indus civilization which flourished in the plains of central Pakistan some 5.000-3.500 years ago has always been presented as the first indian civilization. But affinities with the persian world and the Middle-East are very strong. They are due to the geography, both physical and human. Western Pakistan and its inhabitants look very much like Iran and its tribal population. Moreover, being an islamic republic, Pakistan looks naturally to the west, to Arabia where Islam comes from. At last, Pakistan is linked to Afghanistan, to Central Asia. Pathan, one of the main ethnic group, belong to the same community as the Afghan Pashtoun.

Pakistan is then a crossroads inhabited by 160 million people ( the 6° most populous country in the world ) belonging to different communities. Such a diversity creates ethnic and religious tensions : Islam doesn’t bind the Pakistani together as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the country, had dreamed. Sunni, shia, “mohajir”, kill each other regularly. The sole unifying factor is the army… and the hatred towards the Indian policies. Because Pakistan is since 1998 a nuclear power, the indifference of which the country is subject in the western world is then amazing.

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