When the Cold War ended, many people thought this would be the beginning of perpetual peace. There was talk of a Peace Dividend. But almost as soon as one war ended, another began. This was the War on Terror. Cynics said the US always had to have an enemy so it invented this new war. But the cynics had not read their history properly. The most recent decapitating of a British soldier on the streets of London has brought home the lessons of history. The War on Terror is not a new war. To understand it, we need to go back a hundred years.
One way to understand the history of the 20th century is to
see it as unwinding the problems created by the First World War, which ended 94 years ago. First, the German problem occupied Europe which took us to the Second World War. But also during the First World War, the Easter Uprising had taken place in Dublin which inaugurated the break-up of the British Empire. The next 30 years saw the end of the British Empire in India.
But it was the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after 1918 which we have still not resolved. During the War itself, the British and French Foreign Offices signed a secret treaty, the Sykes-Picot Pact, which partitioned the Ottoman Empire into ‘nations’ which then went under the tutelage of Britain or France. Jerusalem went for the first time under non-Muslim occupation. Syria and Lebanon were created under French supervision. Jordan and Iraq were British inventions. Palestine became a British responsibility.
India was affected by this as Gandhiji launched the Khilafat movement. For the first and only time, Hindus and Muslims got together to fight the British for a cause not at home but in Istanbul. Alas, the movement was suspended after Chauri Chaura and the Khilafat itself was abolishednot by the British as Gandhiji feared, but by Kemal Ataturk. The unity between Hindus and Muslims broke and was never restored. Partition was one consequence since the Muslims became conscious of their position as a ‘nation’ thanks to the Khilafat movement. They also saw themselves as part of the territory stretching back to Istanbul. Pakistan is in some ways not just a part of South Asia but also the eastern boundary of West Asia/Middle East.