The Division of British India In 1947 And War Against Extremism


Significance of Historical Parallels and the Future of Anglo-American World Order


The historical parallels are important in developing perspectives on present-day conundrums. They provide an illustration of where matters were and how they were dealt with at the time. Not only that – they also provide historical continuity and help grasp the future course. Consider the following excerpt from Allam Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam:

“The past, no doubt, abides and operates in the present; but this operation of the past in the present is not the whole of consciousness. The element of purpose discloses a kind of forward look in consciousness. Purposes not only color our present states of consciousness, but also reveal its future direction. In fact, they constitute the forward push of our life, and thus in a way anticipate and influence the states that are yet to be.

To be determined by an end is to be determined by what ought to be. Thus past and future both operate in the present state of consciousness, and the future is not wholly undetermined as Bergson’s analysis of our conscious experience shows. A state of attentive consciousness involves both memory and imagination as operating factors. On the analogy of our conscious experience, therefore, Reality is not a blind vital impulse wholly un-illuminated by idea. Its nature is through and through teleological.”

How far to go in the past, what were the significant events, and how to relate them to the present, carries immense significance. Deciphering all of this helps to ascertain where matters stand and navigate the future.

British Departure from Subcontinent and Beyond

In the context of geopolitics, the departure of British from Subcontinent and the creation of India and Pakistan was one such significant event in recent history. It was the period when balance of power had shifted decisively, and the British were retreating from colonies they could no longer hold.

After being in the Subcontinent for about two hundred years, the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten was only given a year and half to complete his mission. He arrived in February 1947 and fulfilled his task in haste by August 1947. To draw the lines of divisions, Cyril Radcliffe was brought in, and was allotted just five weeks to figure out the complexities of such a momentous job.

However, the deliberation on the future of India had been continuing even before then, represented for example by the London based Round Table Conferences from 1930 to 1932 – and proved to be inconclusive. In any event, the baton after World War II was being handed over to the Americans – and soon transformed into a Cold War with the Soviets – giving rise to alliances such as Warsaw Pact, NATO, and affiliate alliances like SEATO and CENTO.

As the British withdrew from its colonies it must have thought deeply on securing its future interests as they related to other local and global players. Some of the strategic questions it would have had to grapple with is how to prevent the rise of revivalists in the Islamic world – against which the British, and other colonial powers, had fought hard in many theaters. Other consideration could have been, what kind of leadership to embed, land and sea accesses to secure, and resources to leave behind for their survival?

As victors of World War I, Britain had been ruling over more Muslims compared to any other European power, and in the Arab world under League of Nations Mandates. And, the holy places of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem had also been gradually taken out of the hands of the Ottomans with British support. During this time, many new Arab nations came in to being, and the foundations of other states, like Israel, laid.

Pre-Independence Loyalties

Ironically, the World Wars had provided a perfect opportunity for the Hindus and Muslims to revolt against the British colonialists and side with axis powers – and take this route to gain independence. For the most part, the mainstream Hindu and Muslim leadership decided to remain loyal.

From what one can gather, Jinnah supported Great Britain in both World Wars, while the Muslims in India, Middle East, and Northern Africa were being subjugated. This should not be interpreted as a reflection of his belief in colonial causes and interests. Rather, these positions indicated the meaning of these wars for him and for the future of the people he represented. Jinnah positioned himself to gain some reciprocity and sympathy when the opportunity presented itself.

When the Round Table Conference on Palestine was called in 1939 and to which Aga Khan was invited, Jinnah was critical and lobbied many British parliamentarians indirectly. He demanded to be present as well to represent the Indian Muslims, after all, he argued, so many of them were serving in the royal army.

In the end, did Jinnah get what he expected when the partition of Subcontinent occurred, is up for debate. Many would argue that he received the short end of the stick on many calculations related to strategic accesses and resources – not to mention the unfinished business of Kashmir.

Jinnah’s attitude was in stark contrast to that of Mowlana Azad, Mowdudi, Mohammad Ali and Showkat Ali, Ghaffar Khan, and other Pan-Islamists of the time. He was against the ‘Khilafat Movement’ (which was formed against the breakup of the Ottoman Empire) and considered it a religious exaggeration; Gandhi, ironically, had supported this movement. Some Pan-Islamists later resisted the formation of Pakistan, as it would divide the Muslims of the subcontinent, and inadvertently became Gandhi’s staunch supporters.

The critical point in Jinnah’s position was his differentiation between the importance of local and regional interests vis-a-vis global ones. The local and regional interests translated into nationalistic interests as opposed to larger Pan-Islamic ones, in the post-World War II nation-state environment. In Jinnah’s assessment, more importance was given to what was attainable; he complied with the nation-state trend in opposition to Pan-Islamism — the time for empires had passed. Not to forget, the transformation of Turkey to a State at the end of Ottoman Empire. And, it was not just Turkey. Virtually all the European empires had converted to nation-states toward the end of World War II.

Post-Independence Geopolitics

As the empires and the colonies evaporated, the balance of power struggles were being taken on by the nation-states that were either aligned with the Soviet block or NATO affiliated alliances. However, two dramatic events in 1979 would have a profound impact on regional and global dynamics: the Iranian revolution of February 1979 and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.

The Afghan War in the 80s represented a pivotal moment in the Cold War. The Sunni Muslim revivalists now had the backing of US and moderate Muslims in the jihad against the Soviets. The subsequent collapse of Soviet Union meant that US had emerged as the sole superpower, and with the inadvertent side effect of empowered Muslim revivalists. The revivalists can be defined as of two types, ones that operate with in the system to reform through political means, and those that are working outside – against the whole system using violence (terrorists); those that belong to Al Qaeda and Associates and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, it took almost eleven years before the Violent Revivalist struck US on September 11, 2001, and the War Against Extremism got initiated. US launched an invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq in short order. Taliban were accused of providing refuge and support to Al Qaeda while Saddam Hussein was suspected of possessing nuclear weapons. He had previously fought eight-year war with Iran, temporarily taken over Kuwait, launched scud missiles at Israel, and chemically poisoned Iraqi Kurds.

While the previous wars were amongst empires or nation-states – the War against Extremism is being primarily fought against non-state actors. While it is not known as a World War, it spans many nations. Moreover, the Arab Spring revolts which got underway in 2010 have added to the complexity and many regimes fell under accusations of corruption and economic stagnation. Moreover, the removal of Muhammad Morsi in 2013, after being in office hardly a year, indicated that Islamists are still unacceptable at the helm. On the other hand, Syrian turmoil, the situation of Libya and Yemen has demonstrated that balance of power tussles are fully intertwined with the Campaign against Extremism.

After two decades in Afghanistan, US withdrew in August 2021. And this represents another pivotal moment in the ongoing saga. Are the implications of US withdrawal from Afghanistan parallel to that of Great Britain’s from Subcontinent in 1947? War against Extremism has had tremendous impact on the political, economic, and security dynamics of the nations where this battle is being waged – and on those that wage it. Especially now that a New Cold War between the Anglo-American world order and China heats up – and circumstances related to Covid-19 and climate change add to the economic woes.

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