December 16, 2011 marks exactly 40 years since1971, when Pakistan became the first state to disintegrate after World War II. Vastly outnumbered, completely encircled, grossly disadvantaged, Pakistan’s armed forces numbering only 100,000 were ordered to surrender to the Indian troops that invaded East Pakistan three weeks earlier to ensure the secession of Bangladesh. Some beginnings also contain their endings. Pakistan’s birth in August 1947 alongside India as the only nation-state created with two wings with each wing containing significant parts of the population separated by 1,000 miles of hostile territory represented the vision of an awkwardly-constructed yet inspiringly ideal dream-state. The premise was that the faith of Islam shared predominantly in the two wings could transcend distance and bind enormous diversities of language, ethnicity and culture. Even though, in 24 years, the dream turned into a nightmare and ostensibly rejected the theory of separate Muslim nationalism in South Asia, 64 years after the original Pakistan was born and 40 years after Bangladesh was established, religion remains a fundamental determinant of identity for both nation-states. Their respective histories feature notable similarities as well as sharp divergences. First, the commonalities. Bangladesh was not left behind Pakistan’s preference for two military dictatorships in 24 years: Ayub Khan (1958-1969) and Yahya Khan (1969-1971). Despite itself being the result of a popular revolt against the military government of Yahya Khan, the breakaway state endured military rule twice in the four decades since independence: General Ziaur Rahman (1977-1981) and General Mohammad Irshad (1982-1991). In a third instance, as the 21st century commenced, the military played the decisive role in installing a prolonged caretaker government. Assassinations and unnatural deaths of major leaders occurred in both countries. Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, was shot in 1951. Two more former prime ministers, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, executed in 1979, and his daughter Benazir Bhutto, targeted in 2007, completed a tragic triumvirate. General Ziaul Haq, while still president and army chief, died in a mysterious plane crash in 1988. Almost in perverse parallel, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the founder of Bangladesh, was killed along with several family members in 1975. The country’s first military ruler, General Ziaur Rahman, was put to death in 1981 in a coup. Leaders of both countries left turbulent legacies. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, the present prime minister, is locked in relentless political combat stretching over 30 years with Khaleda Zia, widow of General Ziaur Rahman and herself a former prime minister. In Pakistan, after Benazir inherited her father’s mantle and passed away, her widower Asif Ali Zardari was elected president but is also fiercely challenged by the Opposition. Poverty, misgovernance and corruption plague both states. Violence and turmoil often disrupt daily life. In spite of achieving progress in social, commercial and physical infrastructure, the two countries rank disturbingly low in the Human Development Index. As of 2011, Pakistan is at 145 out of over 170 countries while Bangladesh is close behind at 146. Yet each country has produced its own Nobel Prize winner. Pakistan’s Professor Abdus Salam for Physics in 1979, Bangladesh’s Professor Muhammad Yunus for his work on micro-credit in 2006. Each society has a rich heritage of civilisational history, performing arts, literature, music, dance, poetry, architecture and culture largely unknown to the western world and currently evolving and being partly reflected in vigorously free media. Multi-party electoral democracy has re-asserted itself in both states. But acrimonious partisanship frequently distorts the development process. In ironic contrast to volatile internal conditions, the two states are the also the two top-most contributors of troops to the UN peace-keeping forces around the world. (To be continued) The writer is a former minister and senator. He is the author of Pakistan: Unique Origins; Unique Destiny?