With troops massed at the India-Pakistan border, and communication and travel between the two nations frozen, we are reminded of the perpetual possibility of armed conflict between these nuclear-armed neighbors.
Rich in culture and resources, and the birthplace of several great civilizations and world religions, the region is marked by poverty and conflict. Despite its recent advances in cyberscience and its mature spiritual traditions, India evokes images of disease and social dysfunction. Pakistan suggests religious intolerance, and a culture of irrational violence. For both of us - one Pakistani, the other from India - this is a source of immense sadness.
Until modern times, the region was a model of financial and administrative accomplishment. Its traders were wealthy, its manufacturers highly productive, its craftsmen exquisitely talented. The Muslim Moghuls ruled a predominantly Hindu population and elaborated an Indian civilization that partook of both cultures.
The Moghuls developed a sophisticated and equitable tax system. This structure was so well designed, the British emulated it in setting up their local administration in India, itself the pride of the British Empire. In the 16-century empire of Akbar the Great, the poorest province had revenues larger than those of the United Kingdom.
Today, all must also acknowledge the contemporary accomplishments of Pakistanis and Indians: abroad and at home, in education, business, leadership of international financial institutions and UN agencies, academic life, and literature. And though justifiably known for women's oppression, both countries have had women political leaders, activists, journalists, diplomats, novelists, and filmmakers.
As British India moved toward independence in 1947, greatness was expected by all - Britons, secular Indian nationalists, Muslim partisans of a separate Pakistan, and Hindu revivalists. India would inherit British power and wealth, and revive its own ancient cultural greatness.
Greatness was also expected of the relatively small and impoverished new nation of Pakistan, so gifted was its leadership. The first generation of Pakistanis sought to revive the greatness of Indian Muslim civilization. They sought to represent the interests of all Muslims of the subcontinent.
Between Rabindranath Tagore, the poet and first Indian to win the Nobel prize in 1913, and the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam who shared the Nobel prize in 1979, came an extraordinary group. Nehru, India's first prime minister, was an accomplished historian. Radhakrishnan, its second president, was a renowned scholar and philosopher, as was Iqbal, the poet and intellectual hero of Pakistan's national movement. This firmament included women such as India's Sarojini Naidu, the poet of national awakening. Greatness will continue to elude both societies in the absence of prosperity and security. Neither is possible without peace.
There are as many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan. …