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It has been 70 years since India and Pakistan won their independence. Those seven decades have been marked by conflict, however, and a mutual enmity that appears to define each country’s image of itself. Today, they contest a border and fight for regional influence, a struggle that is rendered ever more dangerous by each country’s possession of a substantial nuclear arsenal. Having fought three wars, the situation today is a standoff: Neither side appears ready to compromise in a way that would allow a diplomatic solution to the problems that beset their relationship. That confrontation has also shaped the mindset of the leadership of the two countries, and allows them to avoid critical issues of development.

At midnight on the night of Aug. 14-15, 1947, British authority was withdrawn and the states of India and Pakistan were born. The two new nations had fundamentally different — in fact, oppositional — notions of national identity. Pakistan adopted the “two-nation theory,” a belief that religion should be the organizing social principle in South Asia and two distinct polities were thus required: a Muslim state (Pakistan) and a Hindu one (India). Most Indians adopted a different mindset, one that envisioned a diverse society that embraced all its citizens. By this logic, the exclusivist mentality embraced by Pakistani leaders was a threat to core Indian principles. It should be noted, however, that some Hindu leaders embraced the two-nation theory and used it to justify a Hindu nationalism that has visited atrocities against the Muslim minority (150 million people) in India.

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