Just over a week ago, Pervez Musharraf decided to once more tear up Pakistan's consitution. Even before that I had been pondering why Pakistan is such an unsuccessful country, largely triggered by discussions of its progress since independence in articles commenting on it being 50 years since the British left it and India. India, on the other hand, seems to have done pretty well, at least when compared to Pakistan. OK, so India does have its problems (grinding poverty and communal tensions spring to mind), but Pakistan has these problems and a load of crazy other ones as well. I am thinking of things like Pakistan's inability to embed democratic rule, and its having an army that sees itself as having a divine right to intervene politically whenever it feels like it. Or the country's venal and shortsighted political elite. Or the country's secret service (the ISI), who seem to run their own separate foreign policy only tangentially related to the official policies of the state's notional leaders. Or the state's general inability to see its writ run through large tracts of the country.
And so on. Pakistan seems particularly unsuccessful in the world of high international politics, managing to get stuffed out of it in at least two wars with its larger neighbour. One might, of course, see these outcomes as being largely inevitable, given the balance of resources between the two countries, but the Pakistani military went into both of these struggles expecting to triumph. Failure in the second of these saw Pakistan lose more than half of its population to Bangladesh.
In contrast, India has actual achievements to point to since it became independent. It has managed to run itself constitutionally, with its army never intruding itself into politics in the manner of Pakistan's generals. In recent years it has even become a major force in the world economy, and I think it has managed to make progress in the area of poverty reduction. The state as an institution suffers from a lot of the problems that afflict states elsewhere, but it does not seem from this distance to be so completely chaotic as that of Pakistan.
So, why has India succeeded, albeit modestly, while Pakistan has failed? The two countries would have had similar starting conditions, being both large heavily populated multi-ethnic societies. Perhaps the organising principles of the two countries are significant, with India being set up as a secular country containing people of various religions and cultural backgrounds, while Pakistan was intended as a Muslim state (or a state for Muslims). One could argue that shared religion is actually a weak glue with which to hold a society together, contrary to what the likes of Samuel Huntington would say. Or maybe there are other material factors of which I am unaware.
On current events in particular… before Musharraf's latest autogolpe, there was an interesting article in the London Review of Books on Pakistan by Tariq Ali ("Pakistan at Sixty"). Ali is the kind of leftist writer whose work you have to be careful with, but I was very struck by some of the points he made. Over the last year, the Pakistani regime has had some face-offs with Jihadi Islamists, and also with members of the legal profession, following an earlier attempt to remove the Chief Justice from office. Contrary to what you might assume, however, it was the attempt to crack down on judicial freedom that excited the most public reaction in Pakistan, with the legal profession spearheading mass demonstrations in many Pakistani cities. The lawyers have been at the forefront of attempts to stop Musharraf's latest plot, with Pakistan's lazy politicians largely following in the rear but nevertheless finding themselves swept into the strugge by public outrage. This is perhaps a hopeful sign, in a country where lawyers have previously been only too happy to roll over whenever it suited their military rulers.