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Why Indians and Pakistanis don't trust each other

"Somewhat along the line we have to break this business of always having to react to what is happening in Pakistan," says one of India's leading intellectuals in New Delhi.

But it is here in the Punjab on the Pakistan border and at the foothills of the towering and majestic Himalayas that the intensity of Indo-Pakistan relations is felt strongest in India.

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Three times India and Pakistan have gone to war. Each time India has won. Anxiety that a fourth war might yet come -- especially now that the United States is offering Pakistan arms because of the Afghanistan crisis -- nags at Punjabis.

As a Punjabi strudent in the capital city of Chandigarh puts it: "Every time the United States has given Pakistan arms they have used them against us. Why should we think they will not use them against us again?"

Another student added with pointed sarcasm: "We get our Soviet arms directly from the Soviet Union. We get our American arms from Pakistan."

As if to prove his point, American Patton tanks captured by the Indians from the Pakistanis are mounted in prominent public places in several Punjabi towns that dot this rich alluvial Indo- Gangetic plain.

The Patton tanks were supposed to be invincible. But the Indian army developed a kind of firebomb that penetrated them and helped destroy them.

"Of course, the Patton is a good tank. It's just that the Pakistanis didn't know how to use them," says a state government official with the superior tone that Indians sometimes adopt when discussing Pakistan's military capability.

Pakistan's defense links with the United States have prompted India in the past to side with the Soviet Union, which has supplied it with substantial military hardware. This, in turn, has brought the charge that the Indians are pro-Moscow.

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But political and diplomatic experts here in India are sure that Indira Gandhi, whose initial tilt to the Soviets on the Afghanistan situation caused a flutter in Washington, will not put herself in Moscow's pocket. Mrs. Gandhi catergorically stated in New Delhi Jan. 16, during British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington's visit, that India did not support the Soviet actions in Afghanistan. She branded Moscow's intervention as "unjustified." And India abstained in the UN vote condemning Moscow's Afghan invasion, rather than lining up with the Soviet bloc.

In return for New Delhi's "more balanced" stance, the United States now is expected to allow the resumption of previously suspended nuclear-fuel shipments to India.

For the people of Punjab there are two persuasive reasons why they feel so strongly about their Pakistani neighbors.

First, Punjab is the home of the bearded and turbaned Sikhs. Sikhism is an offshoot of Hinduism, and in many ways a distinct religion. The Sikhs are noted for their military prowess.

At the time of World War II, when Indians fought with the British, the Sikhs constituted 48 percent of the Indian army, though they are just 1.5 percent of the population. They still retain a high visibility in the Indian army -- approximately 28 percent of enlisted men compared to 1.7 percent of today's population. Many sikhs here in the Punjab recall fighting in the wars against Pakistan.

One Sikh says of his people's proclivity for the military: "We say, I'm a soldier and my son will be a soldier, and his son will be a soldier.'"

A Sikh schoolteacher asserts, "We're very brave. We are stationed at a lot of border posts like [those next to] Pakistan and China."

The second and more compelling reason for Punjabi sensitivity to Pakistans is that the state of Punjab bore the brunt of the partition in 1947. On Aug. 15 that year, British India partitioned into independent India and the new Muslim state of Pakistan. The partition never sat well with India.

The division also signaled one of the world's largest refugee movements. The partition prompted the switching of sides both by Muslims from predominantly Hindu India and by Hindus out of Muslim Pakistan.

Some 4.3 million people, representing the entire Hindu and Sikh population of west Punjab (Pakistan), came in long columns on foot, in bullock carts, in trucks, and in trains to find new homes in India. They passed by the entire Muslim population of 4.2 million of east Punjab (India) moving into Pakistan from the opposite direction.

Much of the bitterness over Pakistan in this Indian state of Punjab is because of a conviction that the Indian Punjabis got the raw end of the deal in the trade-off with Pakistan Punjab

They cite these statistics as evidence: West Punjab (Pakistan) at the time of partition got 62 percent of the area and inherited about 69.9 percent of the income of the Joint province. It also got 70 percent of the canal-irrigated area.

By contrast, east Punjab (India) got only 38 percent of the area and 30.1 percent of the income of the former united province. In addition, it was an area highly deficient in food grains.

"When we came from Pakistan we had nothing; we had left everything behind, and what we left behind was much better land," says a Sikh who made that trek from Pakistan at the time of partition.

Yet the combination of land and social reforms, the advent of the green revolution, with its high-yield crops, plus the resourcefulness of the Sikhs -- considered among the world's best farmers -- have reversed that earlier bleak picture.


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