India, Pakistan should focus on children — not bullets

Pakistan has a million Malalas: My interview in Times of India, Oct 15, 2014 

20141015-TOI interview - Anahita Mukherjee

Beena Sarwar is a Pakistani journalist and documentary filmmaker. As an Indian and Pakistani together win 2014’s Nobel peace prize, Sarwar spoke with Anahita Mukherji about the joint award, tension at the LoC – and how Pakistan has a million Malalas:

Will Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel inspire more Pakistanis now — and enable her to return to Pakistan?
Malala on Daily ShowWell, even without the Nobel, Malala is inspiring enough. And she is not just an individual — as she herself has reminded people, she is not the first or last girl in Pakistan to fight for education. There are millions of Malalas in Pakistan — millions of Pakistani girls go to school against all odds.

Even where there’s no militant threat, they often face social disapproval. Many have parents who aren’t literate but determined to educate their daughters — something mothers often fight for the hardest.

I hope one day Malala can come home safely, that all the girls who fight social attitudes or militants can go about their work or their leisure safely. The process must continue.

As India and Pakistan clash at the border, an Indian and Pakistani share the Nobel peace prize — your thoughts?

It is ironic that while India and Pakistan trade bullets and kill innocents across the Line of Control in Kashmir, two of their activists are jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize for activism on child rights — an issue that affects both countries deeply. This is what they should be concentrating on.

Is the tension a surprise, given Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi interacting well?

Just as everything starts to go well, "something happens" to disrupt it.

Just as everything starts to go well, “something happens” to disrupt it.

But doesn’t this happen every single time we move towards peace? Clearly, there are vested interests who don’t want peace and who ensure all positive moves are sabotaged — those who suffer are poor, ordinary people who lose lives, peace and homes.

These vested interests comprise arms lobbies and right-wing extremist reactionary forces in both countries. In Pakistan, an additional lobby comes from decades of illegitimate military governments. Even when there was a civilian government, it had no control.

This started to change with 2008 and 2013 elections. The democratic political process will continue – but it’ll take time. Unfortunately, many in Pakistan and India are not willing to allow this time – but knee-jerk reactions and militant res-ponses will only strengthen those very forces out to sabotage peace between the two countries.

Short-sighted responses will only bring us back to square one – which is what the extremists and arms lobbies want.

What role do you think the Pakistan army played in recent challenges to Nawaz Sharif?

The security establishment is clearly a behind-the-scenes player in this attempt by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul Qadri to overthrow the elected government.

Even if rigging took place on a few seats, as Khan alleged, it wasn’t enough to change the election results. As for Qadri, he isn’t even a parliamentarian.

Both have been able to cash in on people’s frustrations, government’s ineptitude – and create a tamasha the media are all too willing to showcase.

How do these protests impact democracy in Pakistan?

They are not strengthening democracy. They are creating vigilante forces who want short cuts. They don’t realise there is no magic wand, no overnight solutions.

Democracy is not an event, it is a process. They should make changes by strengthening the system — not weakening it by creating chaos.

This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.

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