Peace is hard work

Peace is hard work
By Dilip D'Souza and Beena Sarwar

A Pakistani and an Indian begin an email exchange, attempting to share their thoughts honestly, without fear and hostility, exploring what divides our countries, and seeking ways to bridge the divide

February 16 2010

Dear Beena,

I started writing this before Pune. When I heard about those 11 more senseless deaths, I decided to rewrite it. I want to start by saying how difficult horrors like this make it to remain committed to the idea of peace, of speaking the language of reason. Here’s the bottom line: most Indians believe that this latest attack, like previous attacks, was conceived in Pakistan.

Now I’m one of those who believe India has simply winked at a lot of its own home-grown violence: Delhi in 1984, Gujarat in 2002, Mumbai in 1992-93, these weeks of carnage and others left thousands of Indians slaughtered in the most ghastly ways imaginable. In no way are they less horrible than the blasts in Pune, or the massacre in Mumbai in November 2008.

Yet we have never found the will to bring justice to bear on all that Indian-conceived and Indian-executed barbarity. Far from it, we even elect to rule over us some of the apologists and cheerleaders of the barbarity. I cannot help wondering, why doesn’t this leave us Indians as angry as 26/11 did, or Pune does?

Yet that question, while necessary, carries an air of futility, especially at such times. The reality is that there is that anger towards Pakistan which clouds every other attempt at reason and perspective. I wonder where the climate for peace is at times like these. Where’s the constituency for those who say, “This is the time, above all, to keep talking”? Or “Anger and hatred is exactly the measure of the terrorists’ success”? Or “Hatred is easy, but peace is hard work”?

In other words, what I’m asking is this. Indeed this is the time to try to understand each other, rather than succumb to easy stereotypes. In the light of 26/11 and Pune, what can you tell us that will help ordinary Indians understand an ordinary Pakistani’s perspective on the violence that threatens to consume us all?

How can we together build that constituency I mentioned a few lines ago?

Do write back, and let’s keep this going. I have to see hope in dialogue, or I’ll lose my hope in humanity itself.


Feb 18, 2010

Dear Dilip,

Thanks for your characteristic honesty and introspection. It helped me realise how difficult indeed the situation is for you and for other Indians who are committed to peace.

You ask me to help Indians understand a Pakistani’s perspective on “the violence that threatens to consume us all”. Your phrase partly contains the answer: the violence does threaten “to consume us all” – which is why it is crucial to unite in combating it.
Secondly, consider how Pakistan itself has been caught up in a cycle of violence. With around 8000 civilians and 3000 security forces personnel killed in ‘terror’ attacks across the country since 2003, people here are stung by Indian accusations of Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border strife. Pakistan has been unable to protect its own territory from fanatical militants, how can it control what such militants do across the border?

Remember where this violence comes from – it is at least partly, if not largely, due to the short-sighted policies of successive Pakistani governments, especially the Zia regime, and their pro-jehadi, anti-India stance. This home-grown violence now threatens to consume us.
Remember also that ordinary Pakistanis were not responsible for these policies – we didn’t elect those who formulated them, and we paid the price for opposing them. Indian voters elected the government whose nuclear tests of 1998 pushed the region into a new and dangerous age (Pakistan’s elected government tested in retaliation – a move that I and many others opposed, as you know). But Indians can vote out a government whose policies they don’t like. Pakistanis have never had that luxury.

Consider India’s home-grown violence – you’ve flagged some of the landmarks (Delhi 1984, Mumbai 1992-93, Gujarat 2002).
I believe “our” extremists and “your” extremists are two sides of the same coin. They feed off each other. They share worldviews about ‘nationalism’, women, religious minorities and the superiority of “their” own religious beliefs, and aspire to establish control over the “other” (in their rants, just substitute ‘Pakistan’ for ‘India’ and ‘Hindu’ for ‘Muslim’ – no difference).

Just as many Indians believe that Pakistan is behind violence in India, many Pakistanis believe that Indians are instigating violence in Pakistan. Why can’t we recognise that ‘taali donon hath se bajti hai’ (it takes two hands to clap). Our countries leave no opportunity pass to hurt each other. In the process, they hurt millions of innocents.

It’s time to move beyond the blame game and exert pressure on our governments and our establishments to show maturity.

All the best

‘Conversations’, conceived by Dilip D’Souza, is based on the premise that, despite setbacks, it is critical to stay on the road to peace. This road, the process and the hard work of peace – rather than easy hatred and vilification – are part of this crucial journey.

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