“We are planting a sapling of hope, sapling of peace. Let us pray that this sapling would grow into a strong tree that may spread its shade across the India-Pakistan border”, said Mr. Kuldip Nayar, peace activist, veteran journalist and former member of Indian Rajya Sabha while planting an Oak sapling in Art and Craft Village Islamabad last week.
Mr. Nayar, leading an Indian peace delegation, has been spreading the seeds of peace and mutual trust across the border for over last five decades now. His efforts are being reciprocated by quite a few (especially by members of civil society organisations) in Pakistan too.
People like Kuldip who dared talking of peaceful relations between India and Pakistan, are immediately declared as traitors by the establishment forces of their respective countries. However, these few “traitors” are growing in numbers. Today, there is a substantial number of us who are imagining a subcontinent where borders will be transformed into bridges and bonding; where all children will go to school, where no one will go to bed hungry; where the human rights of minorities will be respected; where there will be more prosperity and peace, rather than war and violence; and where people would rise above the narrow walls and interest to share a common destiny of the peoples of South Asia.
Indian Peace Delegation was not only felicitated by mainstream civil society organisations in Karachi, Hyderabad, Islamabad, and Lahore but also by the High Commissioner of India to Pakistan, Deputy Chairman Senate, the Head of PML Q Ch. Shujaat Hussain, Sherry Rehman, and Prime Minister of Pakistan among others. I, being one of the co-hosts of this delegation in Islamabad, had a chance to attend quite a few of these dinner and luncheon meetings.
In most of these meetings participants were talking about potential of peace between India and Pakistan so that both these countries could transform themselves and the world. They were imagining with passion and conviction about the immense possibilities of a South Asia driven by prosperity, peace, democracy and mutual trust.
They were talking of a Pakistan and India where the autonomy and sovereignty of each country will be respected and at the same time both the nations together seek to mould common futures based on shared commitment, interest, culture, and a passion to transform their challenges into opportunities, their poverty into prosperity and their deeply entrenched mistrusts into a sense of trust and mutual respect.
It was quite heartening to see the political will to resolve outstanding issues between India and Pakistan through negotiations not only among the top leadership of ruling PPP alliance but also among the top leadership of major opposition parties. So where is the bottleneck?
The bottleneck is the typical mindset — your gain is my loss and vice-versa — that was nurtured to support the vested interest of powerful establishment on both sides since 1947. The bottleneck is created by some internal and external forces who want both the nations to remain prisoners of the past. These forces are equally present in both the nations. I am not only referring to the handful of non-state actors who, due to their jingoistic agendas, attempt to sabotage all peace efforts, but also the state actors — invisible forces — who owe their existence to a continued mistrust between both nations.
I can quote two recent examples about how one can explain arrest of an official of Pakistan High Commission in India during Mohali match when the Prime Minister of Pakistan was visiting India? On the other hand, it was funny when intelligence agencies of Pakistan were chasing the members of Indian peace delegation not only to the residence of Indian High Commissioner, but also to the meeting of Deputy Chairman Senate and the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Apparently, this chase was a must to keep an eye on the “clandestine activities” of the guests as well as the hosts.
Both India and Pakistan are spending billions of dollars every year to improve their defense capabilities against each other. Indian federal budget is presented in the month of April, any increase in their defense budget forces Pakistan to increase its defense spending too. Can’t they have a competition in increasing Public Sector Development Budget? All they need is to start picking low-hanging fruits, facilitate people-to-people contact, facilitate more trade between each other and support the voices of sanity.
Skeptics may say that in the presence of above-mentioned bottlenecks, the idea of peace between Pakistan and India is a romantic dream devoid of any sense of reality. However, dreams can be the beginning of a new dawn. In a growing climate of cynicism, young people should get inspired by 88 years old Kuldip Nayar whose ability to dream about a new era of trust between Pakistan and India is still very energetic and dynamic. We need to dream like Kuldip and many others as dreams can dare to challenge the constraints of past and present. We need new dreams to heal the wounds that haunt us; we need a new dream that can transform our agonies and mistrust.
Our generation and its future should not be held hostage to the past. We can indeed be the shapers and makers of a future of Pakistan and India and, in turn, the whole of South Asia, with a new sense of political and poetic imagination.
My Keralitie friend John Samuel says, and I endorse, that the old South Asia is the balance sheet of the power equations that emerged out of a tough process of decolonising. Now it is time to outgrow from the past baggage of negativity and of the deep mistrust that was nurtured by the powerful forces and countries of the world. As long as countries in South Asia are more into a mode of undermining each other and into mindless arms race, we all will be dependent more on other powerful countries for aid, arms and arbitration.
Why our patriotism is defined in negative relation to the other country. Why cannot we appreciate a better playing side by not turning a game of cricket into a holy war between Muslims and Hindus? Why can’t we say no to the reactionary politics of “negativism’ and religious fundamentalism that often turns us against the immediate “other” or an imagined enemy within or across the border? These are the questions we need to answer in order to transform the attitude and approach of India and Pakistan towards each other as well as to other countries in the region.
The first step towards lasting peace in the region is to develop workable and realistic solutions to the entrenched conflicts in the region, without undermining the sovereignty and integrity of the countries. This also means evolving a broader framework for addressing issues of conflicts within countries.
It is time to rediscover the dream of Rabindranath Tagore:
WHERE the mind is without fear
and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been
broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the
depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches
its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of
Where the mind is led forward by
Into ever-widening thought and
Into that heaven of freedom, my
Father, let my country awake
Let us dream together to support many more silent Kuldips in our society.
The writer is executive director of Islamabad-based policy think-tank Sustainable Development Policy Institute and can be contacted at Suleri@sdpi.org
This article was originally published at: The News
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.