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South Asian Rivals Mark Birthdays


Last week, India and its neighbor Pakistan celebrated 65 years of independence from British rule. From New Delhi, NPR's Julie McCarthy observes that while war and differences have marked the succeeding decades, there's still a common denominator binding the two countries.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: India passed Independence Day modestly: families picnicked on the broad lawns of their imposing national monuments.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)


MCCARTHY: Their mild-mannered prime minister sweetly cheered India's long life with chirping school children arrayed in a pattern of the tri-colored flag. But beneath the surface, the nation had jitters. Thousands were on the move. An ethnic conflict in the northeast state of Assam threatened to spill over to the rest of the country.

A tribal group, mostly Hindu, clashed with the minority Muslims, though the fight is believed to be more about land and dislocation than about religion. But panic-stricken citizens thronged railway stations in the southern cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad, fleeing for home in the northeast.

Rumors spread that if they didn't, they would be attacked in retaliation for the displacement of tens of thousands of Muslims in the tea-growing state of Assam. The exodus was an affront to India's bedrock belief in its sense of tolerance and diversity. No chain of violence erupted, but the specter of ethnic chaos in a nation of 1.2 billion alarmed India.

Pakistan routinely witnesses sectarian violence that has killed many Shiite Muslims. Pakistanis were jolted from their own independence day celebrations when heavily armed militants stormed the tightly guarded Air Base at Kamra 35 miles outside Islamabad.

Pakistan's Islamist militancy is well known. Less publicized is India's Naxalite movement: Maoists who have infiltrated poor, rural areas in eastern and southern India bypassed in the country's recent rise. India and Pakistan have long blamed each other for so-called external forces bent on disrupting their national security. But 65 years on, perhaps the clearest danger for both countries is their homegrown insurgency in their own backyard. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, New Delhi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.