Birth of two nations: India and Pakistan: a parting of the ways

Looking to the future after 60 years of independence
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The Independent Online

Any anniversary is as much about looking forwards as it is about remembering the past. For India and Pakistan, which this week both celebrated the 60th anniversary of their independence from Britain, their vantage points for such consideration appear very different.

India is a country whose middle classes and political elite are brimming with confidence as their wallets are brimming with money. With a growth rate of 9 per cent, India's image as a country on its way to super-power status has never been more positive.

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. Figures show that for all its new wealth, the vast majority of Indians still live in grinding poverty, something that was at least acknowledged last week by the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. Speaking onWednesday, the country's independence day, he said India had to work harder to free itself from the shackles of poverty, ignorance and disease. "India cannot become a nation with islands of high growth and vast areas untouched by development," he said. "We have moved forward in the many battles against poverty, ignorance and disease. But can we say we have won the war?"

In Pakistan, which celebrated its independence from Britain precisely 24 hours earlier, the picture is rather different. In terms of economic and other indicators, Pakistan is only a little behind India, but its international image is entirely different. While its economy also races along, and there is a growing middle class, the West sees the country as being in constant political turmoil and as a safe haven for terrorists.

Pakistan's most obvious problem has been a series of leaders who have done little to help ordinary people. Amid Independence Day flag-raising ceremonies and fireworks, the country's President, General Pervez Musharraf, said the government was trying to do more to satisfy their needs.

He also talked about the "menace of extremism and terrorism" – a theme of which his backers in Washington must surely have approved. But he claimed that the armed forces – which he, of course, heads – were the guarantors of the country's peace and stability.