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The Indian-Pakistani Divide

March 8, 2011

Christophe Jeffrelot in Foreign Affairs:

Since 1995, when the historian Ayesha Jalal’s pathbreaking and controversial book Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia was published, there has been no serious study comparing the political trajectories of India and Pakistan. Those who have tried to fill this gap have succumbed to the temptation of attributing India’s democracy to Hinduism and Pakistan’s autocracy to Islam — a reductionist and not particularly productive approach, since religion is usually only secondary in explaining political trajectories, whether it is Indonesia’s democratization or Sri Lanka’s march to dictatorship. In the remarkableIndia, Pakistan, and Democracy, Philip Oldenburg, a research scholar at Columbia University, is wise enough not to resort to such sociocultural explanations. Instead, he examines historical, political, sociological, cultural, and external factors to explain the reasons why India and Pakistan diverged.

Oldenburg is quick to dispel some common misunderstandings about India and Pakistan, the first being that they had similar experiences during the colonial era. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the British began gradually devolving power to local authorities in several provinces across India. They did not pursue such reform very far in the North-West Frontier Province and Punjab, two provinces that would make up the bulk of Pakistan after the 1947 partition. Both territories were important military recruitment grounds for the Raj and were located along its restive western frontier, where devolution was considered a security threat. [More]

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