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Pakistan to Celebrate 60 Years of Independence


Tomorrow, Pakistan celebrates 60 years of independence. The country was created when British India was split in two - one nation, India, dominated by Hindus, and Pakistan, dominated by Muslims. Today, we know Pakistan is a key ally in America's war against terror. And so we're going to spend this week talking about 60 years of this country. And we begin with the view from Pakistan itself.

NPR's South Asia correspondent Phillip Reeves takes us to today's Pakistan.


PHILLIP REEVES: It's a busy afternoon on one of the oldest highways in history. This is the Grand Trunk Road. For centuries, this was the path taken by invading armies, by traders, adventurers and empire builders propelled across the map by greed and curiosity. The road arcs through South Asia, from the Bay of Bengal to the Khyber Pass.

Here in northwest Pakistan, it's wide and straight like any other modern highway. But you don't have to travel far from here to enter a world that hasn't changed - a world much the same as it was when the traffic on the Grand Trunk Road was not cars but camels and horses. You find it a few miles off the road, here in the villages of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, the most religiously conservative part of the country.

Cooled by an ancient electric fan, these Pakistani men are taking a break from their work in the fields. They're clad in long white shirts and caps, and sitting in the backyard of a ramshackle farm. When a foreign guest arrives, they produce plates of chicken and cups of sweet, milky tea. There are no women to be seen. The men say they have no televisions. They don't listen to the radio. Most of them can't read. They only get their news by word of mouth in one of their village's four mosques.

Latif Rahman(ph), a fiery-eyed old man with a dense, white beard, has found out enough to form some strong views.

Mr. LATIF RAHMAN: (Foreign Language spoken)


ALLEN: It soon becomes clear Rahman despises President Bush and Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf in equal measure. He glares and points at my green short-sleeved shirt. That's not proper Islamic dress, he says. Then Rahman's mood lightens. The mullahs are doing a good job, he explains. This part of Pakistan is steadily getting more religious.

Mr. RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ALLEN: In fact, one day, says Rahman, he hopes all Pakistan will be governed entirely by Sharia law.

Mr. RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

ALLEN: Sixty years have elapsed since Pakistan was created. It was carved out of the far corners of Britain's Indian empire. The northwest corner became today's Pakistan. The northeast corner later turned into another nation - Bangladesh. It the process, hundreds of thousands died in communal bloodletting as Muslims fled from India to Pakistan, and Hindus and Sikhs fled in the opposite direction.

The country that Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had in mind was very different from the world of Rahman and his fellow villagers. Jinnah was not a religious Muslim. He wanted a pluralist democracy, a nation for Muslims but not an Islamic theocracy.

Over the years, however, Pakistan's rulers - military dictators and civilians alike - courted the hard-line Islamist parties for short-term political gain. The mullahs in this nuclear-armed nation have grown more powerful. Sixty years on, the image of Pakistan in the West tends to be dominated by people like the hardliner Rahman. Yet that's not the whole story.

(Soundbite of music)

ALLEN: The name of this song, translated from Urdu, means this is not us. It's recently been released by some of Pakistan's most popular musicians. They want the world to know that Islamist hardliners and violent militants don't represent them, and that their world is much more diverse and tolerant. It's a view you often hear from Pakistanis.

(Soundbite of crowd)

ALLEN: They point out that it was these people - Pakistan's lawyers and mainstream political-opposition parties - who led the successful campaign to stop Musharraf sacking Pakistan's chief justice. The Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the judge was the biggest political blow suffered so far by Musharraf and a victory for secular civil society. And then, they add, just look at the sheer diversity of the 160 million people who make up Pakistan. No one who studies the region disputes that. Pushpesh Pant, professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in neighboring India...

Professor PUSHPESH PANT (International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University): It was always so. Pakistan always had the Pakhtuns, the Balots(ph), the Sindhis, the (unintelligible), the Punjabis, the Muhajirs, and also, let's not forget they had the Bengalis at one state. But Pakistan has failed to evolve as a melting pot. These pluralistic societies have not gelled.

REEVES: We're back on the Grand Trunk Road. It's a short journey from Rahman's village to the bustling frontier city of Peshawar. This is the gateway to the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan and to Pakistan's mountainous tribal region, where the U.S. says al-Qaida has a haven and where Pakistan's army is locked in a low-level war with local militants. Peshawar is also home to Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist who's an authority on the Taliban and Pakistan's tribal peoples. Yusufzai agrees the power of the mullahs is on the rise in this part of Pakistan.

Mr. RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI (Journalist)): The system of government in Pakistan is very weak. The people - they think maybe the mullahs can provide them justice which will be quick and cheap.

REEVES: But Yusufzai says it's important not to read too much into this trend.

Mr. YUSUFZAI: In practice, if you ask the people here on the street, they will say okay, we want to pray. We don't want to have somebody to tell us not to pray. But they don't want some mullah or some young man to tell them what to do. They want to live their own independent lives.

REEVES: It's also important, says Yusufzai, not to stereotype all Pakistan's tribal people as entirely backward and militant, as this is no longer true.

Mr. YUSUFZAI: The whole mindset has changed. The traveled people have seen the world. They are working all over the world. They're working in the Gulf countries. They also have been to the West. And they're working in all the Pakistani cities.

REEVES: Sixty years have elapsed since Pakistan arrived on the map. Yet Pakistanis have still trying to work out exactly what kind of country they've created, and so are the rest of us.

Phillip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

INSKEEP: Soon after independence, Pakistan's military quickly expanded beyond its role of defending the country. It's involved in politics, of course - just look at the president. But he military also has its hand in business.

Unidentified Man: There are in (unintelligible) sector, they are - they manufacture sugar. They have a bank, they have insurance companies. Because the military is running the government, these institutions - these business institutions can have privileged conditions.

INSKEEP: And tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, we will report on the extent of the military's influence in Pakistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.