Civil society is the starting point for peace and reconciliation between Pakistan and India. 

Many films in Pakistan Calling cover troubles in the South Asian country. The films also focus on extraordinary civil society groups doing incredible work to ease — if not eradicate — these troubles. The context of these groups' work is often conflict and highlights a need for reconciliation.

Yet there is little focus on reconciliation in Pakistan and the region

Pakistan and India: Meeting in the Middle

Civil society is the starting point for peace and reconciliation between Pakistan and India. 

Many films in Pakistan Calling cover troubles in the South Asian country. The films also focus on extraordinary civil society groups doing incredible work to ease — if not eradicate — these troubles. The context of these groups' work is often conflict and highlights a need for reconciliation.

Yet there is little focus on reconciliation in Pakistan and the region

We have examples of reconciliation elsewhere. Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, two giants of humanity, led a peaceful end to apartheid in South Africa despite many opposing them. In Northern Ireland, the Good Friday peace process saw Reverend Ian Paisley, the seemingly implacable unionist foe of Irish Nationalists, embrace Martin McGuiness, deputy leader of Sinn Fein and widely thought a senior leader in the Provisional IRA. Huge efforts are also being made in relation to Israel and Palestine for a peace process resulting in a two-state solution.

A Stumbling Block

So why not Pakistan and the region, by which I mean India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan?  

There have been attempts. Some have succeeded such as the Indus Waters Treaty, signed in September 1960, and effective in managing the vital water resources and rivers, including the Indus, Jhelum and Ravi, that link Pakistan and India. Tensions remain, with accusations of bad faith as more dams are built to secure water by both sides. But broadly speaking, the treaty has held — although under great pressure.

Since partition, India and Pakistan have been involved in four wars, including the most recent Kargil conflict in 1999. Kargil was essentially an undeclared war, widely seen as initiated by Pakistan sending forces to seize territory across the line of control in divided Kashmir. It was Nawaz Sharif, now-again prime minister of Pakistan, who in 1999 eventually helped bring the conflict to an end by de-escalating and withdrawing Pakistani forces, with huge international pressure and condemnation on the country.

While by no means exhaustive, this is an attempt to assess what is preventing a reconciliation process in the region from taking place.

Attempts to bring long-term peace and reconciliation to the region frequently fails to progress, in large part due to vested interests that benefit or think they benefit from the conflict. The hawks and sectarian elements in the political, military and religious establishments have great power in both countries, especially Pakistan. A reconciliation process will require these groups to answer for and have scrutiny on their actions.

The scale of geography and population is daunting. The region has a population of over 1.6 billion — almost one in four of the world’s people.

History Matters: Why Pakistan and India are Still in Conflict

Partition remains a huge issue for India, Pakistan, and their respective diaspora communities. My mother and grandparents were expelled from their burning village in Jalandhar, located in the Indian Punjab, to Bahawalpur, which is now in Pakistan.

Pakistan and India share soil, ancestry, heritage and family. India is named after the great River Indus, which now flows mainly in Pakistan. Standing in the magnificent city of Lahore in Pakistan, you sense the vacuum left by the violent expulsion of Sikhs and Hindus from the city they had helped build.

Partition can never be undone. What can be done is honest, open, mutual accounting of the huge wrongs, mass killings, and forces of communal hatred, unleashed by all sides, which still leave a legacy of cold war conflict between the two nuclear powers. Without a process of reconciliation, both India and Pakistan can never fully achieve their potential as countries.

Are the leaders of both India and Pakistan ready to agree to such a process? Can Pakistan also account or acknowledge what was done in Bangladesh in 1971? Is there a Mandela, Tutu, and De Klerk that can lead a peace process between the two nations?

Even if some politicians are able, the military and religious establishments in both countries are not. This makes politicians powerless to act — apart from an occasional ceremonial gesture, at a summit or cricket match.

What if Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi had known in 1947 what we now know? How would they have responded to the combination of climate change, melting glaciers, environmental catastrophes, food shortages, sectarian violence and rapidly growing urbanizing populations?

Perhaps we would have had a more federal arrangement between India and Pakistan with open borders, freedom of movement, resource sharing and trade. Imagine what Pakistan would look like if even half the resources put into the military could be put into development, health, and education. Currently, it is estimated that the Pakistan defense budget is three times the national education budget in terms of gross national product.

Afghanistan, Clinton and the House of Saud

Afghanistan is part of the unfinished business of partition. The conflict there is increasingly driven by the cold war between India and Pakistan. From Pakistan’s fear of invasion by India and desire for strategic depth, to hawks in India thinking of an India-aligned Afghanistan to squeeze Pakistan due to its support for independence movements in Kashmir.

A "Dr Strangelove" zero-sum game with no winners and endless conflict appears. This prevents Pakistan from focusing on economic development. It leaves India in a conflict that it does not need and could, in fact, help end. It also feeds poisonous sectarian networks in Pakistan and the military establishment to continue their failed modus operandi.

We should remember the consequences of Charlie Wilson’s war, and how the West financed and armed the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union, while supporting the Pakistani military dictator, General Zia, in 1979 to enforce martial law — a relentless onslaught on civil rights, minorities and democratic institutions in Pakistan.

This process also led to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Thankfully, Hilary Clinton at least has had the decency to acknowledge this. This film of her on the issue has had a huge audience in Pakistan. It should be on the curriculum at West Point, Sandhurst, UK FCO, and all those interested in South Asia and also the Arab Spring.  

So partly, reconciliation efforts must also come from the West.

Think about the following: religious plurality, democracy, women’s rights, accountability, civil rights, human equality, sectarian conflicts, persecution of minorities, respect for other cultures, escalating tensions between Sunni and Shi'a, respect for literature, heritage, the arts, sciences, and the human spirit.

There really is no case to be made for the House of Saud to continue its huge influence in the region, regardless of the value of oil and investments in the West. Policies and actions are an obstacle to peace and reconciliation in the region, and actively feed sectarian conflicts.

Author's Note

Back to the Pakistan Calling films. The civil society, welfare, education and human rights organizations of Pakistan, and their equivalents in India, are the starting point of a peace and reconciliation process. That is why we have put so much effort into making and compiling these films and focusing on the work of these organizations.

The work of the Human Rights Commission Pakistan in defense of minority communities is also incredible. Many charities are working on education and health in Pakistan and India, relying on young volunteers and diaspora groups, and providing economic development and welfare provision.

Despite wall to wall media coverage, the industry that has sprung up in international relations, think-tanks and experts on the region, these organizations are often overlooked. Yet it is these organizations’ work and people that are the best hope for a peace and reconciliation process in the region. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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