The people of India and Pakistan can help build peace by learning from each other and sharing solutions
in their fight against poverty
By Maha Hosain Aziz
The late Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan once stirred controversy by saying: “There is a little bit of Indian in every Pakistani and a little bit of Pakistani in every Indian.” Long-time adversaries India and Pakistan-who have fought three major wars in the 63 years since their independence-are still in conflict today as their governments butt heads over such varied issues as trade, water, Kashmir, Afghanistan, terrorism, and even cricket.
India and Pakistan’s foreign secretaries met for the first time since the 2008 Mumbai terrorism attacks on Feb. 25 in Delhi. It was an attempt to ease back into the peace process, although the talks were largely deemed a failure. India’s and Pakistan’s respective prime ministers, Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Gillani, will meet on Apr. 12 and 13 at the U.S.-hosted Nuclear Summit in Washington and again on Apr. 28 and 29 at the 16th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Thimpu, Bhutan. There is no doubt we will be watching every move to figure out what it means for future relations between India and Pakistan.
Regardless of how these and subsequent high-level diplomatic talks go, it is likely that relations between the two countries will continue to ebb and flow. While we wait for both governments to implement forward-thinking policies that allow long-term change, the more important question will be how individual Indians and Pakistanis can help bring about enduring peace now.
What might be most critical is changing the psychology of the individual so ordinary Indians and Pakistanis no longer see their neighbor as the enemy, or at least learn to view circumstances with less suspicion. How do we change the mindset of an Indian or Pakistani who grew up soon after the bloody partition in 1947 and lived during wartime conditions in 1965 and 1971? Biased viewpoints in education and media in both countries have only reinforced a negative view of those across the border. It is only logical that the offspring of such individuals have been socialized through family, media, and education to look at their neighbor with some level of distrust. (There are notable exceptions, such as the recent engagement of Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and Indian tennis player Sania Mirza.)
“Aman ki Asha: Destination Peace”
The first step to change the psychology of India-Pakistan relations is to increase people-to-people interaction on a mass scale. This is already in full swing, thanks to powerful civil society movements in each country. NGOs such as India’s Chandigarh-based Yuvsatta, for instance, have organized annual youth peace conferences, inviting 500 students from all over the world, including 50 from Pakistan. In October 2009, members of this group-with the support of Pakistani NGOs like Lahore’s Institute for Peace and Secular Studies-started lobbying for visa-free travel to enable Indians and Pakistanis to promote interaction between the countries’ younger generations and so help support the psychological aspect of the peace process.
The press has also taken on a major role in increasing people-to-people interaction. In January, the two leading media houses of India and Pakistan, the Times of India and Jang Group, began the noteworthy “Aman ki Asha: Destination Peace” initiative to promote cultural ties between the two countries. They have organized events that include music concerts, fashion shows, literary exchanges, and even business forums to increase people-to-people contact.
What is the next step? Beyond people-to-people contact and cultural exchanges, Indians and Pakistanis should collaborate on resolving common problems they face, such as a lack of opportunity for the poor. According to the 2009 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), respectively 60.3% and 75.6% of Pakistanis and Indians live on less than $2 a day. Pakistanis and Indians should be asking themselves: How can we learn from each other about lifting millions out of poverty on both sides of the border-and outside the context of government?
It is time for an India-Pakistan summit on poverty involving local students, academics, NGO workers, and entrepreneurs in both countries. Perhaps the many Indians and Pakistanis who have studied together in U.S. and British universities, and have formed strong intellectual and emotional bonds that last long after graduation, could take the lead on such a summit. Why not capitalize on personal connections?
sharing job-creation strategies
This India-Pakistan summit could concentrate on poverty-reduction strategies to create opportunity for the poor. One focus should be on how education can be optimally offered in both countries outside the context of government.
According to UNICEF, only a third of Pakistani children from age 5 to 9 are enrolled in primary education; in India, 20% of children from 6 to 14 are still not in school. What can members of Karachi-based Citizens Foundation and Mumbai-based Akanksha-well-established nonprofits that provide education to the poor-gain from each other by sharing knowledge and strategy?
The second focus of the summit should be on how India and Pakistan can learn from each other about job-creation strategies for the poor. Consider Pakistan’s Lahore-based KASHF Foundation, which last March successfully launched its first vocational program in financial and technical skills to further empower its clients within a microfinance structure. Is this a strategy that could work in India? In the same way, Pakistan might want to consider the new trend of rural outsourcing that has most notably been implemented by Indian BPO (business process outsourcing) company, Rural Shores. Led by a group of Indian entrepreneurs, the company has connected rural India to the knowledge economy by bringing call-center jobs typically offered in the cities to the villages. Could this model work in Pakistan?
The India-Pakistan Opportunity Summit would give the various Indian and Pakistani NGO workers, entrepreneurs, students, and academics a safe space to brainstorm and learn from each other about ways to tackle the poverty they share. Given the challenge of obtaining visas, perhaps the summit could take place in neutral territory such as Dubai If either government gets in the way. This joint strategy session on a shared problem-lack of jobs and education-is a key way to remind Indians and Pakistanis that in addition to their shared history and culture, they face a similar struggle against poverty, one with similar solutions. This realization, however obvious, is a necessary next step in the path toward enduring South Asian peace.
Maha Hosain Aziz is the senior teaching fellow in South Asian Politics at London’s School of Oriental & African Studies.