What if India and Pakistan were one country like Nigeria?
While watching last week’s three-day violent protests in Pakistan over the acquittal of a Christian lady, Aasiya Noreen (commonly known as Asia Bibi), by the Supreme Court over accusation of blasphemy against Islam, some things were going through my mind. I wondered if Pakistan and India had remained one country, what would have been the fate of that country, given the stark contrast in the worldviews of Pakistan and India, especially on the issue of religion and culture. Would it be peaceful or tempestuous, stable or instable, progressive or backward?
In June 2009, while harvesting berries, Asia Bibi – a peasant worker, mother and Christian – was accused of blasphemy after an argument with co-workers because she drank water from a well with the same cup used by Muslims. According to reports, a neighbour of hers who had an ongoing dispute with Bibi’s family about some property damage, excoriated her and reminded her that it was forbidden for a Christian to use the same drinking utensil with Muslims, given that she was considered unclean because of her Christian faith. An argument ensued between them. Bibi was accused of blasphemy.
Writing on blasphemy accusations in Pakistan, The Washington Post said: “Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws are often used maliciously, with false accusations made against Christians and Ahmadis, a tiny minority that reveres a modern-day prophet from India. In recent years, numerous minority neighbourhoods and places of worship have been attacked by frenzied mobs, enraged by rumours that someone had torn or defaced a Koran. Ahmadis are reviled by many Pakistani Muslims, who believe fervently that Muhammad was the ‘final’ prophet.”
Following the accusation against Bibi, a crowd came to her house and beat her up. The police arrived and took her away. In November 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging by a court in Sheikhupura, Punjab. An international campaign to free Bibi began.
For speaking against the way Bibi was being treated, Salman Taseer, who was then the provincial governor of Punjab, was assassinated by his own bodyguard, 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri was sentenced to death and killed. However, he was praised by many for dying in defence of Islam and was used as a rallying point by protesters against Bibi. Minorities’ minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated over his stand against the blasphemy charge against Bibi.
Following expectations that Bibi could be released, Muslim cleric, Maulana Yousaf Qureshi, announced a reward of 500,000 Pakistani rupees(₨) for anyone who would kill her. According to a survey, around 10 million Pakistanis had said that they would be willing to personally kill her because of religious conviction or the reward. Bibi’s family went into hiding after receiving death threats, but they refused to leave Pakistan while Bibi was still in prison.
However, after being in detention for nine years and on death row for eight years, Bibi was acquitted on October 31, 2018 by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, because of “material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses” which “cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution’s version of facts.” But rather than be the end of the case, that seemed to be the beginning of another tortuous journey for Bibi and Pakistan. Violent protests broke out, with calls for Bibi to be killed. The leader of the protesters, a cleric named Khadim Hussain Rizvi, urged the protesters to violently attack government officials, including the Supreme Court justices. He also appealed to soldiers to rise up in defence of Islam by going against the head of the Pakistani army.
The case of Asia Bibi brought Pakistan to international focus again. Regrettably, it was not over a breakthrough in science or technology, but over religious differences. Given the focus of India on economic advancement through manufacturing and commerce, if India and Pakistan had continued as one country after the exit of the United Kingdom in 1947, it would have been one of the most turbulent countries of the world. Any lover of peace knows that the best thing the UK did for British India and the world was partitioning it into India and Pakistan.
With that, Pakistan chose its path, while India chose its path. Even Bangladesh, which broke away from Pakistan in 1971, has also chosen its path. None of the countries hinders the other from achieving its dreams; none marginalises or dominates the other; none forces its ways on the other. The contest of superiority between India and Pakistan even helped to make both countries acquire the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.
The experience of the British India is similar to that of Nigeria. However, while the British believed that India and Pakistan should live as separate countries, they believed that Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria (which later became Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Northern Nigeria) should be one country. Curiously, in making Nigeria one, the enabling structure that would sustain that oneness and make it productive and peaceful was not well-established. To make matters worse, the coup of 1966 and subsequent military regimes truncated the manageable structure that was in place, making unity, stability and progress virtually impossible.
It is, therefore, sad that many Nigerian leaders and citizens harp on Nigeria’s unity being non-negotiable rather than go to the foundations of Nigeria’s problem. Nigeria’s strength is not in its size. On the contrary, Nigeria’s biggest weakness even stems from that big size: Nigeria’s biggest weakness is the lumping of peoples with extremely opposing values together without creating effective structures and systems that will make them live together peacefully and successfully.
Again, contrary to what is said regularly by many, our leaders are not the cause of our backwardness and lack of peace. Nobody can gainsay that our leaders are corrupt, selfish, dishonest, visionless, and unpatriotic, but all that is because of that unworkable structure that makes them have support from their ethnic groups and religions, no matter what evil they commit. That is why a Nigerian revolution is virtually impossible, because no matter how bad a Nigerian leader is, they will have some support from their ethnic group.
Progressive countries don’t harp on unity, because unity is not an end but a means to an end. The essence of unity is not just for the beauty in unity, but for that unity to be used to achieve other milestones. Progressive countries harp on things like justice, equity, welfare, protection, citizens’ rights, patriotism, etc. When these things exist, the people naturally unite as one nation to make their country great.
Since 1960 when Nigeria had its independence, it has not been getting better as a country; rather it has been steadily degenerating. It cannot be saved by mere hopes or wishes. If it is not pulled back by being completely and honestly restructured to become a true federation where its parts will have the freedom to pursue their dreams, Nigeria will simply continue to deteriorate.
The second alternative is to dissolve Nigeria and allow its component parts to take care of themselves like the USSR and Czechoslovakia did. The different parts will then realise that they have to innovate or perish. Nothing fires people up like that.
The greatest enemies of Nigeria are those who don’t want it to restructure but believe that the country can never dissolve. As it is said, you can’t have your cake and eat it! If Nigeria fails to genuinely restructure, there are fears that it will face two stages: (1) The continued degeneration and deterioration at a faster rate with poverty rising and violent clashes increasing; (2) A climax that will start with an uprising and spread like an avalanche across different parts of the country will overwhelm the security forces, leading to each part taking its fate in its own hand.
This is not a prophecy but a projection based on a clear trend since 1960. The solution to it is not to shout: “God forbid” or “It is not our portion.” The solution is to take an action that will stop the descent