Neighbours in peace – or pieces?

My monthly column for Hardnews, India, August 2009 – Also published in The News on Sunday, August 9, 2009

Karachi, July 26 2009

Personal Political

Neighbours in peace — or pieces?

Beena Sarwar

The auditorium was full of women from far-flung, poor localities of Karachi. One of them plonked herself next to me in the second row along with her daughters, a toddler and a six-year old. A gigantic banner featuring a photo of the late activist Nirmala Deshpande formed the backdrop to an array of speakers from India and Pakistan seated behind a long table on the platform. ‘PROMOTING PEACE IN SOUTH ASIA AND REMEMBERING NIRMALA DIDI DESHPANDE’ it read.

Mumtaz, the young Pahstun mother next to me, had studied up till the eighth grade, unlike most of the other women present. The toddler nuzzled against her to breastfeed from time to time.

The speakers included prominent Urdu writer Zahida Hina, peace activist and educationist from Lahore Syed Diep, parliamentarians from  the PPP and MQM and Indian activist Sandeep Pandey from Lucknow, journalist Jatin Desai from Mumbai, and Kavita Srivastava of the Peoples Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) from Jaipur. Two other Indians weren’t given ‘clearance’ from Islamabad in time for the visit, meant to further the aims of a joint signature campaign for peace launched earlier this year.

Mumtaz and the other women, mostly wives of daily wage labourers, had been brought there by various ‘bajis’, women activists working in their areas. “I don’t understand everything they’re saying,” Mumtaz told me, “But I know they are talking about the need for peace between India and Pakistan. That is what we all want.”

Her immediate concern was to feed her family. “Maybe if these two countries stop fighting, our lot will improve,” she said optimistically.

“Let the people meet, all other matters will sort out,” a cyclist told Sandeep Pandey and other peace marchers who went from Delhi to Multan in 2005, demanding that the governments of India and Pakistan resolve all matters of dispute through dialogue.

Such basic wisdom is at odds with the justifications for continued animosity presented by ‘intellectuals’ on either side of the border. “India/Pakistan wants to destroy us”; “Stop appeasing India/Pakistan”; “There is no point in talking to them”.

If we listen to this babble of voices whose sole aim seems to be to present their own country’s case as better than the other’s, we’ll never get anywhere. There is an old saying in our part of the world, ‘Taali donoN haathoN se bajti hai’ – it takes two hands to clap.

Let’s stop these blame games and accept that there are problems on either side – of varying degrees and natures, and try and understand the complexities of the problems.

Those with access to the Internet have increased the potential for such understanding. But because we’re not used to talking to each other, the un-moderated exchanges posted on blogs are often crass and offensive. Direct interaction involving basic civility and an open mind is more meaningful.

Some time back, a Mumbaikar emailed saying, “Frankly, with Pakistan itself is in such a mess (Lal Masjid, Swat valley, Taliban, regular suicide attacks and of course the numerous Muslim organisations ranting about Jehad), do you really feel safe in your own country? And the most amusing thing is when Pakistan tells that India is its enemy number one. Wait for a few more years, am sure the Taliban will take over Pakistan. And what pains us, is what did we do to Pakistan. Kargil was Musharaf’s misadventure.”

I replied, yes, Pakistan is in a mess, due largely to the continual disruption of the political process, with no democratically elected government being allowed to complete its terms. “This is the biggest difference between India and us, and what I most envy about your country”.

Still, women do get around here too, carry on with their work and their lives. And at least elements within Pakistan’s establishment no longer consider India as enemy number one.

Kargil was indeed Musharraf’s misadventure. Many of us spoke out against it (were labelled as Indian agents). Pakistan’s military must be accountable and answerable to elected civilian governments. This will only happen if the political process is allowed to continue.

Rocky as politics in Pakistan currently are, with a floundering democratic process, it is only more democracy on a sustained and continuous level that will in the long run yield positive results.


See also:

‘HRCP urges Pakistan, India to resume prisoner swap, stop arrests for minor violations’, Aug 5, 2009 –

Why not hang Sarabjit Singh, March 2008

5 Responses

  1. Historically and culturally, to the muslims peace implies either total annihilation of the adversary, or extracting substantial concession.

    After years of hostility, three wars, and Kargil treachery, do the Pakistani peace advocates hope for peace through extracting concessions on Kashmir ?

    They need to realize that, peace through concessions is not acceptable to India. There is no easy face saving exit route for the Pakistani Army and the ISI.

    India is in no rush to buy peace with Pakistan.

    The only acceptable way to peace is through acceptance of the reality on ground, and respect for status quo.


  2. Hi Beena

    Read your piece “Neighbours in peace — or pieces?” in The News.
    Liked it .
    I flip through Pakistani News papers on a regular basis and find them more balanced and rational in comparison to Indian Newspapers (not to talk about the Indian TV News Channels)

    I must say that despite the snail paced democratic process in Pakistan, your media is adhering to liberal, rational and outward looking approach to Indo-Pak relationship.

    Where as Indian media is full of anti Pakistan jingoism with irrational, loud, infantile and intulectually bankrupt analysis (barring a few exceptions of course)

    This is the need of the time that both the countries change their age old approach towards each other . We are organically connected.. whether we like it or not.

    Dialogue should never be stopped and PEOPLE TO PEOPLE contact should be encouraged. There can not be any other solution to our bilateral problems.



  3. Dear Beena,

    Your articles are always thought provoking. This particular one on Neighbours in Peace – Or Pieces, is extremely timely. For South Asia we have to make a difference. These two neighbours must sit together and settle their disputes and also take the dialogue forward. There is no other option. This is the only sensible option.

    We must try our best to change the mind set of the archconservatives in both countries and you are trying to do that. All opinion makers have to work for this. The old mindset of one hating the other will never work in the modern world. We have to work for a common market and the neighbours moving forward together.


  4. Dear Beenaji
    Hope all well at your end…

    We are releasing film Gam Hava, made by MS Sathyu in 1973, which went to Oscar in 1974, and won National Award in the same year on the National Integration.

    This film is best example of Human rights and National Integration.

    We are re-releasing the film soon
    How can we associate?
    Subhash Chheda
    +91 98202 22776


    • Subhash ji
      Thank you for connecting and happy to learn of your project. Look forward to being in touch.


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