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The Express Tribune

Published Date: Dec 19, 2014

Seeking harmony: Inspired by peace activist Nirmala Deshpande, speakers call for peace

HYDERABAD: A day after the Peshawar tragedy, speakers at a book launch stressed that the menace of terrorism would not die unless peace was established in the region, particularly between Pakistan and India.

The person they took inspiration from was the late Didi Nirmala Deshpande – an activist who was honoured with the highest civilian awards of both the countries.

“The Peshawar incident can be linked to our India policy,” said poet Fehmida Riaz at the launching ceremony of Zulfiqar Halepoto’s compilation Remembering Didi Nirmala Deshpande. “We reared extremists to fight our war against India and liberate Kashmir. The very same people are now killing our children.”

She praised Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s gesture of announcing a two-minute silence in his country’s schools as a symbol of mourning. “This can help us pick up the thread of mending relations,” she said. “Didi has shown us how to resolutely strive for peace even when goodwill is at its lowest ebb.”

Deshpande dedicated her life to promoting peace and harmony among communities and to protecting the rights of vulnerable segments of society. She is also remembered for her relentless efforts for peace between Pakistan and India as she took part in numerous peace initiatives and conferences. She was further remembered for motivating retired soldiers from both the countries to establish the India-Pakistan
Soldiers Initiative for Peace.

For her contributions, Deshpande, who passed away on May 1, 2008, was
awarded the Sitara-e-Imtiaz by Pakistan as well as the Padma Vibhushan,
India’s highest civil award.

“She was the only member of the Indian parliament who dared to speak out against India’s nuclear tests,” recalled Karamat Ali, the executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research. He also
reminded those present of Deshpande’s love for Sindh and her dying wish
for her ashes to be immersed in the Indus River.

Former minister and MNA Syed Naveed Qamar described her as a ‘prophet
of peace’. “What irony that we are talking about peace on a day when vengeance [for the Peshawar tragedy] is everywhere,” he said. “But the philosophy of Didi still holds true: until we use peace as a weapon, this war will not end.”

Supporting the need for establishing a South Asian parliament, Qamar said that the politicians had the ability to resolve the dispute through
continuous dialogue. “The South Asian parliament will give us a forum,”
he believed. “If we talk and talk and talk [with each other] enough, we
will ultimately find a solution.”

The book’s compiler, Halepoto, narrated a conversation between former
prime minister Benazir Bhutto and Indian columnist Kuldip Nayar, who pointed to weak democracy in Pakistan as an impediment to better relations between the neighbouring countries. Halepoto said that Benazir’s reply was that India could help strengthen democracy in Pakistan and in return, Pakistan would offer secular culture to India.

“According to Nayar, she meant that Sindh’s secular fabric was far stronger than India’s and could provide a model for further harmony in India,” he explained. He added that Sindh’s narrative on Pakistan-India relations was different from Pakistan’s.

Meanwhile, Tariq Binori of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) also expressed his strong belief in the peaceful settlement of the disputes between Pakistan and India, which Deshpande too believed in. “Aggressors always lose,” he said, in a reference to the famous German war historian Carl von Clausewitz.

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