Article: Beyond Diplomatic Impasse – Ways of Peace-Building
by Sarral Sharma (India)
As I was reading a non-fiction narrative on Partition, a friend inquired nonchalantly, “what’s that you are reading?” I replied, “taqseem-e-hind ke tarane (India’s partition narratives).” I deliberately used Urdu to annoy the person who hardly understands the language. The translation, however, was quick keeping in mind the temper of the said person. His further probing rather annoyed me, “so, what is the current status of Indo-Pak peace process?” I quickly replied, “stalled.” The probing session got over immediately. However, it got me thinking of the ways to restart the stalled process which has been an ‘on and off’ affair for almost seven decades now. The two governments (past and present) have been in a state of limbo for long without any conclusive evidence of a possible future which is amenable for peace talks. Digressing from the ‘formal’ peace building efforts seems to be a way out of this complex scenario. Hence, I shall be looking at ways of manifesting peace between both nations in rather ‘informal’ ways.
First and foremost, though it may sound clichéd, the role of the civil society becomes extremely important in a situation where inter governmental peace efforts keep failing repeatedly. At the end of the day, it is the common people – on both sides – who face consequences of the derailed efforts. The negative impact can range from halting business relations to the imprisonment of fishermen who unknowingly cross into the waters of the ‘enemy’ country. In the absence of friendly ties between both nations, most of the times, the collateral damage(s) is invisible, which is outside the public domain. Hence, it becomes the prerogative of the civil society to raise awareness among the masses of even the most seemingly insignificant incident, which may be a direct consequence of the stalled efforts at restoring peace and friendship. Many civil society groups in both countries are doing fairly well in educating people about the long held misunderstandings between both nations by imparting confidence building measures (CBMs), not necessarily those implemented by the respective governments, and by regularly conducting peace-building sessions in schools, colleges, societies, villages etc. Only through dialogue can an issue be resolved and subsequent misunderstandings rectified. It is a long process, but an effective one, which needs to be further strengthened by looking at new ways of improving it.
Second is the ‘unavoidable’ role of social media. It works both ways – negative and positive. Since social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Whatsapp and others are easily accessible, it has become both difficult and easy to spread awareness in real time. For some hate-mongers, it is a readily available platform to spread hatred by creating false narratives around contentious issue(s) between both countries. Some examples include creating fake accounts, hurling abuses, sharing false information, instigating people through racist and casteist remarks etc to garner attention. On the positive side of it, the usefulness of the social media tools are many: sharing personal accounts/experiences of those who visited (or are visiting) the other side of the border; representing one’s country through photos, stories, videos; encouraging ‘dialogue’ culture; discussing important issues and clearing various misunderstandings related to history, culture, politics of India and Pakistan. The regular interaction between school and college students through Skype is an interesting exercise in spreading awareness among the youths. Writing blogs or articles on topics such as personal experiences, peace-building measures, literature and history of both countries and the like help furthering bilateral engagement and add to the collective knowledge base. The sharing of ‘peace’ tweets, which is a regular activity of Aaghaz-e-dosti (beginning of friendship) Peace Initiative – of which I am part – connects people from all across the world, and not just India and Pakistan, who are associated with, or want to participate in peace-building efforts. Not (always) ignoring the negative voices, rather taking them head on would help in fighting for the collective cause, especially on social media. Fortunately, we have got Zindagi TV channel in India which provides variety to our domestic ‘soapy’ audience. Similarly, Bollywood movies and Indian daily soaps are also famous in Pakistan. All this adds to a better understanding of each other’s cultures and customs.
Third includes trying to engage with government representatives, artistes, social commentators, among other like-minded people who are working on the same cause. Whatever informal ways are available to reach at a peaceful resolution; an engagement with the government is important and can be used in strengthening the efforts. Constantly reminding the government of various unresolved contentious issues, while at the same time coming up with meaningful suggestions, in a way, makes the whole exercise more productive. For example, issues such as visa issuance, trade balance, arrest of innocent fishermen on both sides, among others have been discussed in the past and shall be discussed in the future to enhance formal and informal bilateral ties. Here, the use of social media comes in handy in order to interact with the government representatives directly, or indirectly, with the help of Twitter or Facebook or other emailing websites.
Fourth, is creating more opportunities for community-level dialogues. Even in the age of technology, nothing can diminish the importance of meeting someone in person. It helps in shedding various inhibitions which one holds for the ‘other’ country/culture/person, especially in the case of India and Pakistan. Fortunately, I have had chances to interact with civil society members, scholars, political experts from Pakistan which ultimately helped me relinquish (few) preconceived notions that I had for our neighbouring country. More and more efforts should be made along similar lines to enhance this dialogue process by regularly organising people to people interaction, between those who are visiting India from Pakistan and vice-versa. Since Partition had displaced millions, members of some of those displaced families still reside on either side of the border. Hence, plausible efforts should be made to try and connect them with their family members on the other side of the border.
Lastly, it is the individual contribution(s) which can either dissuade or persuade Indo-Pak peace initiatives. Since the topic has always been touted as ‘controversial’ (since 1947) because of many controversial politico-historical reasons, it is the responsibility of the citizens of both countries to find out ways to counter the negative arguments around it. For that to work, the first priority should be to educate ourselves. Only then the second stage, which is to forge counter narratives, shall see the light of day. There is a lot of literature available on issues pertaining to India and Pakistan relations. Critically analysing that, and thus, building a balanced perception around that would help the cause. It is not important to be optimistic all the time, it would make more sense to be realistic about the subject: yes, we have differences and that we cannot solve all the problems in a time-bound approach. The aim should be to maintain the ‘status quo’ and simultaneously vying for the betterment of the bilateral relations. Even educating one’s own family members and friends about the subject is a big contribution in itself. Write, speak, share, read, argue, eat with your neighbouring countrymen. The task is difficult, however, with the collective efforts of the concerned people, from both India and Pakistan, we can expect to reach a comparatively peaceful future than what the present offers us. For that to happen, the ‘effective’ communication at the community and individual levels is critical to the success of the initiative.
In the recent years, there is an upsurge in the number of people getting associated with peace initiatives, which is indicative of the fact that the citizens of both countries are getting disenchanted from the dilly-dallying attitude of their respective governments. The peace seekers should use this as an opportunity to put forth their ‘peace’ agenda. The task ahead is to incorporate collective ideas and suggestions to further their peace efforts. There is enough democratic space available to manifest one’s ideas. More importantly, it is the ‘collective’ manifestation which is going to invigorate the peace initiative.
This article was edited by Madhulika Narasimhan (Delhi, India)
Sarral Sharma is an M.Phil student at the University of Delhi. His M.Phil dissertation thesis is titled, ‘Tracing India’s Second and Third Generations Partition Narratives’. He is also a Research Intern at the Centre for Internal and Regional Security (IReS), Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, a Delhi-based think tank.