Painful memories of Partition

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In the flood of Raj nostalgia engulfing the 50th anniversary of Indian independence, it is often forgotten that Pakistan was founded at the same time. Some might imagine that that is because there is little to celebrate.

Since the world's first state specifically created for Muslims was born in the blood and destruction of Partition, Pakistan has fought and lost three wars against India, surrendering its eastern half to independence as Bangladesh in 1971. Pakistan is rated as among the most corrupt countries in the world, with billions of aid dollars being squandered while illiteracy and child mortality get worse. And it remains politically unstable: not once in half a century has one elected government peacefully succeeded another.

This instability has muted the commemoration of Pakistan's golden jubilee. The interim government that took over last November, after Benazir Bhutto had been dismissed as prime minister by executive fiat for a second time, decided that it had neither the inclination nor the authority to decree lavish celebrations. Nawaz Sharif, who won the subsequent election, had other priorities. "Pakistan is not celebrating this event the way the UK is celebrating," says Samina Parvez of the Pakistani high commission in London. "We are doing so in a more humble manner."

A cabinet meeting in Islamabad this week will complete plans for an official reception next month, and memories of British rule will be stirred when the Queen visits Pakistan in October. Later this year a controversial film on the life of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who almost single-handedly brought the country into being, will be released and there have been private celebrations and sports tournaments; but, says Mrs Parvez, "It is not going to be very elaborate. A lot of people think it is better to spend money on schools and hospitals."|

As in India, many memories of Partition are painful, but Pakistan has an additional reason for mixed feelings about the anniversary. Every such occasion reminds the country of its unresolved identity as a Muslim state. From the beginning there has been tension between those who insist that the Koran should be the only statute book and those who believe that Islam should not be called upon by governments to justify themselves, particularly when they have been so numerous and so venal as they have been in Pakistan. It is not a conflict that ceremonial can cure.

Raymond Whitaker

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