Dr. Zakaullah Khan was shot dead on September 11 in Pakistan. He was a leading figure in the push for polio vaccination. A huge global effort has nearly eradicated polio. Pakistan is one of only three countries where the disease still ravages children. In all three, this is thanks to the efforts of Islamist militants who deem vaccination a Western plot. They’ve killed about 80 Pakistani polio workers.
I’ve written of Pakistan as “the f**ked-up country.” Many nations (even America) do some things wrong. But if we’re giving awards for that, you could hardly beat a country that tries to exterminate not disease but disease fighters.
Some fatalists see such human follies as inescapable facts of life. But I’m a believer in free will, not fate, I see humanity as having choices, and responsibility for the choices made. America is a product of choices, and so is Pakistan. In fact, its very existence resulted from a choice.
Until 1947, Pakistan (and Bangladesh) were simply part of India. Nobody thought of them as separate. But as India’s independence was being negotiated, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, leader of its Muslims, insisted on a separate Muslim state. There was no mass Muslim groundswell for this; maybe it was just that Jinnah fancied himself president of a country. The Brits didn’t much care; and Jinnah made himself such a pain-in-the-rear that India’s Hindu leaders gave in rather than have his stroppiness derail independence.
Fatalists also invest big historical events with inevitability. I again lean more to the view that individuals, and their actions, matter. Pakistan’s creation was a perfect example; there was nothing inevitable about it.
It was catastrophic from the start. Violence erupted among Muslims and Hindus sorting themselves between the two new countries. Estimates range up to two million killed. Another three million died in the ghastly 1971 war when Bangladesh broke free from the disaster that was Pakistan. Not that Bangladesh has done much better.
Meantime, a couple hundred million Muslims chose to remain in India. A smart choice because, for all its poverty and other troubles, India is a far more decent country than Pakistan. Far more democratic and peaceable, making progress. There have been some conflicts, even violence, between Indian Muslims and the Hindu majority – but nothing like the vicious animosity (several wars fought) between India and Pakistan.
But imagine a world in which Jinnah – and hence Pakistan – never existed. All those millions would not have been killed, none of those wars fought. India would long have been the world’s most populous country. There’s no reason to think it would be any less democratic – indeed, absent the conflict with Pakistan, Indians would have felt far more secure and confident. Without refuge in Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban would have been beaten long ago. There might not even have been an Afghan Taliban – and hence no 9/11. A very different and probably better world.
We also hear much babble about arbitrary international borders, implying ethnically homogeneous nations are best, to avoid internal conflict. What rubbish. America is the most ethnically mixed country ever, and works pretty well – its polyglot diversity a strength, not a weakness. India likewise exemplifies this, with its large Muslim minority. That minority would have been much larger had Pakistan not been hived off – probably a good thing. I’d bet India’s Hindus and Muslims, more numerically equal, with the necessity of sharing a nation being even more acute, would have done even better at learning to live together.
And I’m pretty sure no polio doctors would be getting shot.