Published: Daily Times – August 1, 2012
In the aftermath of two gory incidents, organisations such as the IPSS have helped lessen the intensity of animosity prevalent between Pakistan and India
War can obliterate peace, but if given an opportunity peace can also wipe out the prospects of war is the message of the Institute for Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) based in Lahore. In today’s age, peace is considered not only an interlude between two wars but also an instrument to preclude a war. The countries of the European Union have used the interval of peace to develop a consensus among them to shun any inter-state war in the future. They have entered into mutual peace treaties to ensure economic prosperity and material development in Europe. The same point is yet to be consumed in South Asia where two archrivals, Pakistan and India, exist as neighbours — prisoners of the partition that took place in 1947.
In the past few months, the IPSS has gathered about 80,000 signatures of Pakistanis (out of its 100,000 target) to be presented along with a petition to the prime minister of Pakistan before August 14 this year to convey to him the aspirations of people to forge amicable neighbourly ties with India and relax the visa policy.
The idea behind the relaxed visa regime is not to make Pakistan cede to India as some critics idiotically think but to enhance people-to-people contact between their inhabitants. The contact will offer people opportunities to come closer, interact and understand each other in real life instead of appreciating each other through history books, movies and television dramas. Secondly, the contact will help divided families and their extended families who were victims of the partition to meet up again.
The range of people-to-people contact should be as broad as possible but given the level of antagonism between the two countries, the Chairperson of the IPSS, Ms Saeeda Diep, suggests that the system of ‘trusted visa’ should be introduced initially. That is, renowned people from politics, business, sports, education, health and media from both sides should be allowed to have tourist, study and business visas. Gradually, the list can be expanded and more people can be included to let them relish a renewed experience of Pakistan and India.
One of the reasons of conflict between the two countries is the closed-border policy practiced by both sides. Instead of helping the situation to simmer down, the policy has aggravated the situation. By reducing trust deficit and confidence building in each other, the strategy of people-to-people contact can help resolve the core issue of Kashmir, which is a bone of contention between the two countries.
In recent history, in the aftermath of two gory incidents, organisations such as the IPSS have helped lessen the intensity of animosity prevalent between Pakistan and India and let peace prevail across the border.
In the first incident, certain state actors launched the Kargil war — known as the ‘mistake of a few’– in 1999 that sabotaged peace prospects in the region. Afterwards, there was a need to convince the region (and the world) that Pakistanis were a peace-loving people and had no design to invade or occupy any neighbouring country.
In the second incident, certain non-state actors inflicted savage atrocities on the residents of Mumbai in 2008 and hence introduced a new type of regional insecurity: non-state actors of one country can play havoc with the life and property of people in another country. The Mumbai attacks also frustrated the efforts for peace taken to restore confidence between the two countries after the Kargil war. Again, there was an urgent need of convincing the region (and the world) that not all Pakistanis were hostile to their neighbours; instead, it was (allegedly) a few misguided youth who committed the heinous crime against peace.
The efforts of organisations such as the IPSS help the government introduce sustainable peace with the neighbours, including India. For instance, the signature campaign of the IPSS expresses the moderate and mainstream thought of Pakistan: Pakistanis are neither militants nor warmongers and Pakistanis want to foster amicable relations with India. In fact, the mistakes of state and non-state actors are counterbalanced by the pro-peace activities of such organisations.
The age of imposing internal unity by raising the monster of a common enemy (true or false) has gone. In the past, the pro-war attitude of some Pakistanis has cost this country in the fields of education, health and infrastructure, to say the least. Civil society sees a direct relationship between higher defence spending and a higher illiteracy rate. The consequences of the latter are immense as illiteracy spawns militancy and religious bigotry, which in turn ravages society. The consequences have forced Pakistan to swell the budget of the police to maintain law and order. That is how the vicious cycle of high spending in non-development areas has set in. Pakistan needs to break the cycle and spend more on education.
The idea of the partition in 1947 was to get a separate homeland but in no way to discard the Muslims left behind in India. The Muslims inhabiting India are far more in number than those residing in Pakistan. If only this point is taken into consideration, the rationale of forging friendly ties with India can be understood.
By promoting Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), organisations such as the IPSS hold the potential to prevent a full-fledged war in case the Kargil war is replicated or something like the Mumbai attacks recur. Secondly, such organisations also hold the potential to avert a nuclear war between the two countries by using the interlude of peace against the possibilities of a war. Civil society must promote such organisations if it wants to circumvent an accident that can be translated into a nuclear war.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at email@example.com