"This is not a riot. It needs a word found in mediaeval history, a fury."
A few bloody months in South Asia during the summer of 1947 set loose the demons that haunt our world today.
It should have been a moment to celebrate. At midnight on August 15, 1947, some 400 million souls across the Indian subcontinent would gain their freedom from the British Empire. In India, a dashing young Jawaharlal Nehru hoped to lead his nation into the ranks of the postwar world’s great powers. His austere, forbidding archrival Mohammad Ali Jinnah exulted in having won Pakistan, a new homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims. Yet along the border that now divided them, horrific scenes were unfolding. Cities were aflame. Heavily armed death squads roamed the countryside.
All too quickly, massacres of Muslims on one side of the frontier, and Hindus and Sikhs on the other, would spiral into one of the most appalling slaughters of the 20th century. Whole villages were put to the sword. Women were raped and mutilated, their babies speared like game. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps a million people would die. Months of political wrangling between Nehru and Jinnah had allowed hatreds to fester. Now, as the two men struggled to tame the madness, their longstanding suspicions, jealousy and vindictiveness added fuel to the cataclysm. Rather than uniting Indians and Pakistanis, the two rivals helped open a gulf between them that yawns wide nearly 70 years later.
Today’s most menacing security threats—from global jihadism to nuclear terrorism—have roots in the decisions made in those few chaotic months. Drawing from declassified intelligence reports, personal diaries and Top Secret diplomatic cables, Midnight’s Furies lays out the searing truth about one of the modern world’s least-understood tragedies.