Building Bridges in Unknown Lands : War and Peace in South Asia

Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa

I am extremely grateful to the Prembhatia Trust for inviting me to address such a distinguished audience as is gathered here today. I feel both privileged and delighted for this opportunity to share some thoughts about the future of South Asia – what are we and where are we possibly headed? At this juncture when conflict, aggression, anger and intolerance almost seems to silence all other sounds, I am glad that this forum has the foresight to hear other voices – even those from other side of the border. As is scribbled on a poster I have in my room: keep talking! Improving communication and breaking the barricades of silence is perhaps the only way we can save each other and ourselves.

What I am about to say is not a government brief and I hope the audience here will have the sagacity to bear this in mind. We might not necessarily agree with each other on everything but as long as it can be appreciated that the majority of simple folk, which includes myself, basically want to live in peace and harmony and lead their simple lives, understanding each other would become easier. In any case, xenophobia, intolerance, anger and aggression will hardly help solve the numerous problems or vanquish the various monsters that we now find in our middle. If one thought that terrorism was bad, there are bigger Frankenstein in our middle such as poverty, poor governance, intolerance and ignorance. These problems inflict each one of us irrespective of the economic development or prestige of an individual state.

This is probably my ninth trip to India. My first one was in 2002 when India and Pakistan were no longer neighbors. It had taken me about twenty hours to reach Delhi from Islamabad, the time it takes me exactly to get from North America to Pakistan. I am sure adding a few hours I might have reached planet Mars. Walls had been stretched higher to keep out violence through seizing all direct communication. I remember meeting this ordinary Indian woman at Dubai airport almost expecting that she might jump up and run away on hearing that I was from Pakistan. Nothing of the sort happened. She casually explained to me places I must visit in Delhi and neighborhoods I should avoid. Later, I spent two painful days in Delhi struggling with my inner crisis of de-mystification of India. I had expected an extra-terrestrial experience – people with strange masks, horns sticking out or may be like Shrek. It was both shocking and amazing to see my enemy looked just like me, laughing crying even cursing the same way as I do and troubled by the same things which hassle me at home. My bewilderment was similar to the disappointment of many Indian friends on discovering a Pakistan which looked very different from what they had imagined all along.

In the following years I got several chances to travel to India. It got familiar to a point that it almost felt offensive to be treated like a foreigner. I remember my visit to the museum in Delhi where when I offered to pay the ticket amount paid by foreigners, the salesgirl at the ticket booth looked at me frustratingly and announced “just give me 20 rupees”. The walls had come down lower. For me and many others, who had access to each other, we had become neighbors. Some of us could even imagine meeting each other warmly in our countries without being hounded by the strange guy at the door.

This was also a period when people had become more hopeful of the peace initiative that many declared was an irreversible process. Indians visiting Pakistan on the pretext of watching cricket matches were thrilled to see the warm heartedness of the ordinary people. So personally, it didn’t matter when Pakistan’s former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, who is quite popular in certain powerful circles in India and is seen as a man who could bring peace to the region, accused me of being an Indian agent and having written my book sitting in India probably paid by RAW. I thought there would be a day when things will be more normal and all of this would be a story of the past. After all, peace was a real illusion for quite a few years. There were more people traveling across borders and more talk of settlement of outstanding disputes.

But on this ninth trip, I find that despite that we still are neighbors, walls have begun to go up as compared to what I was used to during my previous journeys. As violence seems to spread in the region and certainly across the border in India and Pakistan, the contact between ordinary people has begun to appear a stupendous task just like it was before the days of the peace initiative. I am afraid much that I want to continue dreaming about peace and tranquility between our two countries and in most of the region, we have begun to look like a lost continent. In our eagerness to maintain our independence, we have forgotten how we will always remain relevant for each other. So, a final settlement of disputes and a closure between the two states seems much harder a target to achieve than what it was before. The states are happy again with their shutter down operations that will ultimately increase violence because it stops the good people, more than anyone else, from knowing each other, understanding that neither of us is planet Mars, and that peace and friendship is the only way forward. Day before yesterday when I landed at Delhi the poor immigration officer was at a loss dealing with me because he did not have enough experience handling Pakistanis because now they are fewer coming through the legal channels. In a continent where the state machinery fails to learn that the perpetrators of violence never ask for legal permission and the legal visitors are the ones that will build bridges of greater understanding, which will lead to peace and stability, one cannot feel so great and hopeful. All I can say is that we are utterly hopeless.

Similarly, there is no positive trend to be observed within the societies as well, especially amongst embattled communities. We seem back to the starting point where our colonial masters had left us. Moreover, we continue to subscribe to the greater illusion that we could survive the current crisis that has struck us in the form of religious and political radicalization in our distinctive national and fiercely independent spaces.

Since the departure of our Colonial masters, we seem to have become more divided. The departure of the British from this region in 1947 made several nation-states out of a common lot. Over the years, we have all found our independent, though painful, national identities and most are quite settled in their separate abodes. However, the political separation did not necessarily have to separate us mentally and emotionally. We are essentially tied with a common culture, similar set of people, and same kind of socio-economic problems, and almost common socio-political environment. Of course, I am not underestimating the dissimilarities that exist between different countries of the region. South Asia is essentially interconnected through years of shared history, a fact which we must not forget while thinking about our independent future. This region is and will remain an emotional whole even though it is separated politically. This means that whatever direction independent nation-states might take, we need to be together to move forward. Where are we going in our independent and collective journeys as nations and a region? What hope should we have for our future? And is it possible at all in this day and age to think of our future in isolation? These are some of the questions that I want to address today.

So why did the walls have to come up again? Or why can’t we keep the walls down long enough to build sustainable peace in the region? I think the peace process was structured on temporary rather than permanent lines. Its biggest flaw was its selective and top-down nature. While corridors were opened between the formal civil society and the elite, little was done to make peace relevant for the common man, who still had to wait for days queuing painfully outside each other’s high commissions waiting for permission to go into each other’s countries.

I am reminded of a conversation I had in 2004 with a Pathan cab driver in Karachi regarding the peace initiative and the resultant peace dividend. I asked him what he thought of Indian Prime Minister Vajpai’s visit to Pakistan and the peace process. He was hopeful. Then I asked him what would happen to the Kashmir dispute. He looked at me strangely and said “madame plz let this happen. You know once we manage to find a way to talk to each other and not fight we in Pakistan will have greater resources for our health and education”. He expected a peace dividend. Let me tell you that this cab driver is not an exceptional or an imaginary character. He is one of the millions of people who want to have peace between the two countries. Right now, he can only think of the peace dividend that will accrue due to diversion of resources from defense to development. He hasn’t even begun to understand what will happen when trade routes open and he is able to really enjoy the dividends of peace. Only if we could make the historical trade routes of the region happen again that the common man could have some understanding of the peace dividend. Right now, we are almost complete strangers for each other. Baring those who get a chance to visit each other’s country, the general public has little knowledge of what the real world is on the other side. The common man’s understanding is what they hear on the radio or see on the television screens – very stereotypical images of the other.

I am sure many in India have heard about stories similar to the Pathan cabby’s and visa versa. The popular perception amongst the peaceniks is that the common man in India and Pakistan does not want war. Yet, conflict is no stranger to the Subcontinent. It is in a way paradoxical that despite our claims regarding the desire for peace we have managed to acquire greater military technology and grown from conventional militaries to nuclear military powers. It is at such times that the cabby and many like him would put their faith in the state they are a part of. Our biggest tragedy is that our leaderships have managed to sustain the Cold War throughout the over sixty years of our history. The effort to create separate identities has forced us to conjure up nationalisms that are sustained on military power and sloganeering. I am reminded of the first time I ever attended the Wagah border ‘lowering of flags’ ceremony from the Indian side. It was quite an experience to see the authorities on both sides exciting their people into a state of artificial frenzy punctuated by moments of eager hand wave of people to strangers on the other side. I remember the amazement in the eyes of ordinary Indians, who were looking at Pakistani territory on the other side for the first time remarking to each other ‘look that is Pakistan’ as if they were seeing planet Mars. The situation on the other side was similar. For sixty-one years, while our states have battled each other, policymakers did not care to remind the ordinary folk how relevant each one of us is for the other. So, it is not surprising that at the time of military conflict the ordinary people also transform dramatically from being the peace loving citizens to those that support military action and render their prayers and efforts to their respective national cause. We will certainly not ever become relevant for each other until we make a joint effort for a closure on the times that separated us. This means that we have to put our efforts together, if not at the level of the state then definitely at the level of the civil society, to trace back the times that separated us. What exactly happened sixty-one years ago is not just a silly question but the answer will probably give us greater mental balance. Otherwise, we will oscillate from the feeling of utter tenderness towards each other to absolute rage. Such insanity has to stop. Somehow, we cannot also become irrelevant for each other despite that some of us might want to do so as a sign of national maturity. Building up a sense of unnatural irrelevance is hardly maturity. Our conflicts, these may be internal or bilateral, effect all of us.

One of the reasons that we will always remain relevant for each other is due to problems of a common nature which require a joint solution. In fact, this applies to the entire South Asian region. I don’t see a single country in the region that is not confronted with poverty, underdevelopment and a skewed distribution of resources. Our post-colonial, highly centralized and bureaucratic-authoritarian states are not structured to justly distribute resources to the people or offer them good governance. The conflict that then emerges takes several shapes including ethnic, communal and sectarian violence. The newest form, of course, is religious conflict that has erupted in major segments of the region. This often spills into bilateral conflict and violence as well. The states throughout the region and the elites that dominate these are constrained by their own interests, predatory nature and lack of imagination in sharing resources or restructuring the states in a manner that violence doesn’t tempt ordinary people.

The fact is that in our sixty-one years of history, India and Pakistan have not managed to find peace. Come to think of it neither has the region at large. A glance at the region and we cannot miss conflict after conflict spread in all countries ranging from the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka, the Naxilite and Kashmir insurgencies in India, the Baluch insurgency in Pakistan, the Maoist struggle in Nepal, the latest rebellion in Bangladesh or the growing radicalization in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While it is easy to condemn all of these conflicts as the work of external actors or our neighbors, the fact of the matter is that these present a sad commentary on the state of the South Asian states. Despite the successes of some segments of our societies and individual states, there has been a gradual weakening of the nation-state and even the state-nation. The state today, and this applies to other regions as well, is weaker and less capable to engage the citizen. The gap between the ambitions of the rulers and aspirations of the ruled has widened enormously causing the state to loose its earlier robustness. The social, political problems or differences amongst the population based on ethnic, sectarian or other forms of identity are but a representation of the growing discontent. This is a problem that will not get resolved just through greater national wealth unless the distributive system is changed to the advantage of the dispossessed. In short the World Bank sponsored trickle down theory won’t work. It will certainly not help just to bring brand names in the country and allow a select segment of the population grow at the expense of the majority. Unfortunately, in most South Asian states the bulk of development money gets wasted due to corruption of the ruling elite which further adds to the problem. With some difference here or there the states of South Asia are similar in their socio-political condition and in terms of their socio-economic disparity. Poverty and a skewed development are issues that play into the hands of those that are causing death and destruction in the region.

The authoritarian state structure, socioeconomic underdevelopment and the wonky mindset of the ruling elite have created a far greater problem of the over all radicalization of both the state and the society. And this applies across the board. The Sinhalese dominated state in Colombo is happy winning a war against people that make unreasonable demands over the Sri Lankan state. In fact, the Sri Lankan military gained victory only after it built a consensus that it had to win the war. However, the policymakers are also closed to considering a new confederal state structure that would provide breathing space to all. The years of war has built hard walls within the society which will be difficult to tear down. For instance, in cosmopolitan stores in Colombo you can’t any more find tee shirts with Tamil alphabet. This is not just an ordinary thing. It is but a commentary on the level of communication between two communities fundamental to the Sri Lankan state. A similar situation could be found in India, Pakistan, and Nepal where there is conflict between two parties or more. It is true that the state has little option but to fight the insurgents or those that are responsible for violence. But this is also where the problem lies. It is a dicey situation in which the security forces often trample upon hundreds and thousands of innocent people that have learnt to hate the central state because of the lack of better options. States always have a justification to use force. However, force can probably create a window of opportunity for positive action and making friends within a community. Unfortunately, this is something not happening in our region irrespective of any state that we look at. Violence, once it begins, generates chasms between the state and society and even within a society that is difficult to bridge.

A glance at internal conflict in South Asia would remind you of Mancur Olson’s theoretical model of the roving bandits versus stationary bandits. According to Olson’s formulation, when the resources of a village, which is constantly attacked by roving bandits, begins to deplete, it means lesser dividends for the bandits as well as the villagers. This is a time that the two stakeholders negotiate for the bandits to become stationary in return for some mutually agreed upon gains. While the villagers get protection from outside, the bandits get a cut in the resources. However, considering long-term advantages over short-term gains requires the leadership to abandon the predatory approach that the political leadership in most of the regional states have at the moment. I define predation as a state of mind in which the focus remains temporary short-term gains rather than the long-term advantages. Prominent political scientist Edward C. Banfield terms this as ‘amoral familism’, a behavior indicating interest of the powerful groups in maximizing their immediate and personal gains through compromising institution building. Such predatory instinct is not just limited to the Sri Lankan leadership but also extends to the regional leaders that considered it appropriate to create the LTTE or all those that continue to use proxy war in other places as a tool to attain their political objectives.

One could even argue that such myopia that we see around us is inherent in the very nature of the nation state that depends on identities for division of resources. The states in South Asia, perhaps, could not afford to be constructed the way in which the European nation states were. Our identities had to be structured differently so that the independent states did not have to struggle so hard and in such a foolhardy manner to impose unnatural divisions upon people and then struggle even more unnaturally to keep the union through conflict. Now that our identities cannot be undone; and there is no point wishing for such a change also until we are matured to the degree that we can handle a transition or change, the independent states could learn to show greater tolerance towards the people even though they might be of different ethnic identities. In this context it is vital for the nation states to think generously towards the embattled communities and find a closure to the conflict. This is not about conceding too much space to perpetrators of violence but to be able to distinguish between what must be confronted genuinely and the imagined threat. So, every Kashmiri, Naxalite, Baluch, Muslim, Hindu or Christian is not beaten up and harassed just on the basis of his/her identity.

Stereotyping by the state or by powerful but independent stakeholders in the society, which includes the media, does not help attain anything but increase the level of threat and insecurity in the society. The developments in media, especially expansion of electronic media has increased challenges for the practitioners as well as the society. The role played by the media on both sides of the border during the recent Mumbai crisis itself bears witness to the fact that this particular industry has to question its own behavior in determining the course of violence in the region. The majority of television channels, journalists, anchors, were not neutral bystanders or commentators but had fueled the conflict. Only if the media could learn to do its job and not become the state, will it become neutral. Surely, it takes greater courage to admit that the powerful stakeholders and the policymakers were wrong. Often, nations fight for useless self-created myths. It is easier imagining that there is an external threat to the state that could only be fought through the military machine than sift through the grievances of ordinary folk and distinguish between the criminal and the inconvenient. I will re-iterate that the use of violence by the state does become necessary sometimes. For instance, those that are trying to blackmail the people and the state in the name of religion in Pakistan are not the kind of people with whom negotiation can be carried out. Surprisingly, the seemingly liberal ANP, known for its association with Bacha Khan, advocated a controversial agreement with a bunch of killers and murderers in the name of political pragmatism and traditions, though this was none of the above. These are the moments when a state must decide that it cannot tolerate violence which will endanger the character of the state. However, protection is very different from then aimlessly targeting people as then happened in many parts during the military operation. The state should at least protect its citizens rather than target them along with the real culprits. In any case, the people in the Frontier province and Swat, who are being killed in the name of rescuing the state voted for the ANP rather than Sufi Mohammad.

The state certainly has no locus standi in killing people especially when the common man was driven towards violence because of lack of options or because he is caught in the middle of some odd state stratagem. He probably continues to imagine that he will get more justice or greater share of state resources by linking with one ideology or the other depending on what is being sold in the market at the time. Whether it is ethnic or religious ideology, it does not necessarily make any difference other than that the state considers one category of violence more controllable than the other. Lets not forget that ethnic identities are manipulated as much as God. Although we might challenge the tactics employed by the Kashmiri or the Tamil, they are both contesting the unfairness of the central state. Similarly, we may not agree with the logic of the suicide bomber, it is still necessary that we understand why he gives up life. Having spoken to many families whose members have killed themselves and many others in the name of religion, I find it nauseating that there are so many who give up precious life but only after they have given up on life. This fascination with the life hereafter is in itself a sign of vanishing promise. And these are people who can be salvaged only if the ruling elite would start genuine politics rather than real politicking. The receding liberal values, of course at a different scale in each society, are not accidental. It is a representation of the collateral damage of real politics of our mediocre and greedy political leadership. So, while it is convenient to say that politics makes strange bed fellows, there can’t be forgiveness for politicians that partner with different form of extremists in the name of political convenience. Hence, characters such as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, General Musharraf in Pakistan or Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi in India might be liberal in outlook but their brutal use of religious ideology or partnership with radical forces at different times is unforgivable. A covert partnership is as bad as overt support. Sadly whenever the seemingly liberal forces partner with the radicals and non-state actors they fail to calculate the opportunity cost of their venture. I am sure Benazir Bhutto never made any estimates when she did a deal with the Sipha-e-Sahaba in the 1990s to get two seats in return for releasing an SSP terrorist that she would pay for this through her life. Nor did Indira Gandhi calculate the cost of her dealings covertly with Gernail Singh Bhindranwala.

Additionally, the problem with our state actors is that they continue to remain oblivious to the high cost of proxy war and strengthening of non-state actors. The bureaucrats in the region don’t understand that self-propelled or internally caused violence is highly self-destructive. It is the confusion of state actors rather than the ordinary people who cause violence. We can get as cynical as possible but the fact is that people don’t like others getting killed unless they are actually convinced that they must remain unemotional to the misery of the other. I am quite confident of the good will of the ordinary Indians as much as I can assure you of the fact that the ordinary Pakistani was pained to see the mayhem in Mumbai. The concern about Indian security is double fold. First, it is concern purely at a human level. Second, given the nature of conflictual relations between the two countries, tension caused by non-state actors that is likely to increase the possibility of bilateral conflict is not a pleasant idea, and the majority of Pakistanis wouldn’t want that.

Nor do the bulk of Pakistanis support Talibaanization which seems to be a concern of a lot of people in the country, the region and the world over. There is a general understanding that Pakistan is under threat of Talibaanization or that Islamabad will soon be taken over by Talibaan forces. Nothing could be far from the truth. Islamabad remains secure despite that it has seen violence and tension in the past. Surely, the army will see to it that such elements do not take over the capital. But then is the takeover of Islamabad really an issue? To contextualize things, there is an increase in the number of radical elements and there is actually war going on in a number of areas in the country. These radical forces and radicalization is actually a by-product of years of poor governance, lack of justice and political growth in the country. The young men, who get recruited to fight strange battles in the name of religion get co-opted due to the lack of an alternative. They believe that by imposing sharia they will be able to bring a system that will be more just and guarantee better development than the systems they have tried before. Unfortunately, the change in a legal and constitutional system is not likely to bring them a better life style. In fact, as is obvious from the rule of TSNM in Swat, the system proposed by the Talibaan and its militant partners in the rest of the country, will only bring greater injustice, intolerance and poverty. So, there is a threat of greater radicalization not because the people, who subscribe to it really understand the logic but they see it as something that will bring social mobility, if not in this life then certainly in the life hereafter.

But then faith and religion is a tool that the powerful have always used to manipulate the dispossessed to retain or gain power. The people that follow Sufi Mohammad or Baitullah Mehsud or Masood Azhar have no deeper an understanding of religion as the group of people that bought into the CIA and ISI’s jihad project in the 1980s to fight the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Personally, I wish I could turn back the clock and take us back to the 1970s. For those that believe that the current state of affairs is a natural ramification of Pakistan’s Muslim identity, the fact is that there is no natural co-relation. Pakistan might not have necessarily followed this path only if the leadership was mindful of service delivery to the people and the US jihad had not happened. The American CIA and Pakistan’s ISI jointly outsourced security but then never managed to turn back the clock. The 1980s essentially was a watershed in South Asian history because this was a time when the virus of radicalization was breaded in the incubator of national security to be unleashed on Pakistan and subsequently the entire region. While all sorts of weapons of civilian destruction were spread in the region, those responsible for such distribution never took time to demobilize and disarm the private non-state combatants. As the US left it did not even bother to evaluate the ramifications of the permanent change it had brought to the region. Its partners in Pakistan that is General Zia-ul-Haq, his team and the later generation of men on horseback never abandoned the tool of privatizing of security. But this caused a proliferation of weapons of civilian destruction, drugs and intolerance in the society. The conflict between the Shiite and Sunni population or between the other ethnic communities was a gift of the period when security was privatized for the seemingly higher goal of protecting the US and the free world.

At one level, the communication and relationship between the older partners continues and will sustain. Pakistan’s security establishment and Washington were not too unhappy to see the Talibaan establish control over Afghanistan. Had it not been for 9/11, the international community had begun to show interest in Talibaan that were demonstrating some capacity to run a state. It is also likely that now that Afghanistan has been bombarded sufficiently that the US might again consider talking to the Talibaan. After all, the categorization of the good Talibaan versus bad Talibaan doesn’t come from nowhere. If the international community does not muster courage and financial resources to fight the war in Afghanistan and build its economy and security infrastructure, it may well have to talk to the good Talibaan. The alternative of development is an expensive process. Even providing money to pay for an approximately 400,000 strong army and police force for the next thirty years is a challenge that the international community might not be able to meet. So, the US might go back to its old partnerships with the military and/or the militants. Giving a two-week deadline to Pakistani government only strengthens mistrust of the US and creates doubts about its intent. Ultimately, America’s relations with its old and new partners will determine the results of the war being fought right now.

The reason for these above details was basically to underscore a point that people are not naturally bad or violent but are often driven towards it for the fulfillment of some altruistic desires of the ruling elite or become victims of the insecurities of their leadership. Pakistan must be helped and supported and not merely run down as a problem child of the region that could only be dealt with through force. In fact, the use of force is bound to prove counter-productive. All those elements that are unfriendly to Pakistan and India will draw greater inspiration if India was to ever consider use of force. More war will be like creating an ET in our middle that we wouldn’t know how to control. The threat of radicalization is that it has a capacity to eventually silence people. This is what happened in Swat and could happen in other parts as well as long as a strategy is not activated more forcefully to curb these elements.

Allow me to make another point that one has to be careful in distinguishing between the Talibaan and the Jihadi elements. These are two different elements but with similar ideology. The Talibaan have a different historical context than the jihadis. In my opinion, the jihadis are more dangerous than the Talibaan as these have greater links across the border and are much more meltable across the South Asian region. But fighting these is not just the responsibility of the state but also of the civil society as well. Today, the greater danger is that the civil society doesn’t strategize well to fight radicalism. The educated population does not have the intellectual capacity to begin a dialogue with the population and convince them that religion does not condemn anyone to death or propagate a polity which the militants want to bring to the country. In fact, the liberal forces tend to hide away from an open discussion on religious issues which is not anyone’s forte. There is no concept in Islam of a select group having the power and authority to interpret issues of religion and faith. The particular brand of Islam that Zia-ul-Haq had craftily introduced in the country was meant to enhance his personal power and that of his organization rather than bring peace and prosperity to the society. Since the application of Zia’s Nizam-e-Islam, violence and crime has increased in the country. Unfortunately, the weak civil society is not ready to challenge the Talibaan-type forces intellectually, forcing the rest of the population to silence and struggle for survival.

The civil society that has been crying murder must stand up and own its responsibility to fight these violent elements instead of slowly making way out of the country. It is essential to fight the battle because the educated people are also the most capable to fight the battle else the region could run into a major problem. This is also the moment that India must understand that it must adopt a more sympathetic attitude and cooperate in fighting this battle. Cooperation is necessary because the accidental weakening of any state is bad news for the entire region. Also, because radicalism in one state is bound to proliferate across the border and spread in a region that already has the germs of radicalism and xenophobia. We can’t afford to antagonize our own population and make enemy out of them through unthoughtful stereotyping. Dividing people into of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, which is getting fashionable in South Asia, is not likely to prove advantageous.

Today, war is certainly not the way out of this clear and present danger faced by this region and the world at large. Our societies are shifting gears from becoming post-colonial structures to acquiring more indigenous flavors. Since our elite have not put any effort to educate and train human resources or weed out biases, we are highly endangered. Our greatest strength lies in improving the quality of human resources than just concentrating on technological acquisition. Technology, and particularly military technology alone, does not make any nation big and great. It is also about the space that is created for people internally. The internal space, in turn, cannot happen until we make sure in our independent national territories that the societies remain liberal and secular.

Ladies and Gentlemen: we have had enough of our cynicism regarding peace, stability and cooperation, But let me assure you that we cannot win our battles or wars alone. Any nation that does not believe in coordinated effort will loose to greater violence. What is worse, we will all be effected by it. We need coordination amongst the countries of the region to fight the menace of terrorism, poverty and underdevelopment that we all suffer from. During the days of the peace initiative there were murmurs about a South Asian socioeconomic alliance. Given the discomfort of most with this proposal, the idea was set aside and not spoken about with the vehemence is should have been accorded. Of course, it is not one state’s responsibility to air such ideas, but this is something worth pondering over. The fact of the matter is that how high we build our walls and no matter how hard we try to swap identities, we remain united in our history, traditions and future. A sole journey to greatness is not a possibility if we don’t just look at development in military or financial terms. We can try wishing each other away, but we really can’t get away from each other. I am just an ordinary citizen of my country and so can’t speak for the state. But as many a Pakistani political leaders realized through our history that they must have peace with India to grow, the ordinary citizen has always been convinced of the idea of mutual dependence and peaceful coexistence. This idea also applies to India and to other nations of South Asia. We are not the North American region where any one country could build bigger walls to keep out discontent coming through its borders. South Asia has much more to share than most other regions of the world.

We are currently going through an extremely volatile period which can only be brought to an end once we understand that we will always remain neighbors and, hence, relevant for each other, and so it is better to plan for a joint future rather than conflict. Lets take this time to re-imagine ourselves.

I thank my hosts again for this wonderful opportunity to be able to speak to bright minds in India.