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Shiv Visvanathan
Friday , May 20, 2011 at 18 : 31

Waging War, Cooking Peace


His Holiness the Dalai Lama once commented on George Bush by saying, "He brings out the Muslim in me." Put with all the delicacy and humor of the Tibetan monk, it was still a devastating observation. Beyond empathy for Islam, what the Dalai Lama was claiming was that Bush's behaviour, his treatment of Islam and the Muslim was unfair, untrue and almost barbaric.

Watching the recent plight of Pakistan, a country corroded by the Americans and devastated by its own military, I am tempted to say, the trouble in Pakistan brings out the Pakistani in me. For an Indian to say it, sounds at first sight, discordant and disloyal. But on reflection, I think only an Indian can, should, will and must say it.

Our media has been shrill and silly about Pakistan. I can understand its angst against a rogue state, a military regime which was always in cohorts with militarism and fundamentalism. The Pakistani regime has always encouraged crime and terror in India, often making us feel that the Pakistani army and the ISI are merely a continuation of war and terror by other means. Yet think of this: Pakistan as a society has suffered more from terror than India. Pakistan suffers from continuous attacks of terror as India suffers from prolonged drought. In both, the casualties run to thousands. Yet if we go beyond anger and hurt, we will realize we can be one of the trustees of democracy as a future prospect in Pakistan. Let us be clear, the Americans and the Chinese will strip mine the country till it has almost no possibilities left.

The irritated reader can ask: Why India? Our hawks might treat it as unpatriotic, our pragmatists as ethically silly. So let me state my position and invite a conversation.

The Partition of India was a trauma and memory we have never quite faced. The murder, the holocaust of 2.3 million people dead and 26 million people displaced, is an event we have not faced. Partition was also not one event. It created a flow of people swinging desperately back and forth between 1947 and 1955. Our historians and, in fact, we as a people have never confronted it as an event that needs exorcism, therapy, a mutuality of story telling, a partition Katha for instance.

Second, despite partition, their are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. Islam is a part of our syncretic identity and Islamic theology has always been fertile in India. It is time to reclaim our role in Islamic thought, show the diversity of Islam and challenge the mullahs of Saudi Arabia to a theological battle. The time is ripe as Arab people themselves are fighting for democracy, tired of fundamentalism but proud of Islam.

Thirdly, there has always been the powerful possibility of a South Asian Imagination. One thinks of Sadaat Hassan Manto while invoking this. Let us not forget that Manto was not just a great storyteller of the region, that his work was and is part of our legacy. Manto belongs to us, just as we would be proud to claim more contemporary intellectuals like Asma Jehangir, Ziauddin Sardar, on the late Iqbal Ahmed or more recently Daniel Mueenuddin.

We have a SAARC university but an object created by administrative fiat is half dead. We need to re-dream it as South Asian University to create alternative metaphors, new attitudes to peace, ecology and civilization. To abandon such an idea is to accept the mediocrity of our current foreign policy, both Indian and Pakistani.

Let us face it. India has been strong in defense but poor on peace. When Americans devastated this entire area from Pakistan to Afghanistan, we were timid about it. We needed a civilizational policy which stands up to China or USA on these issues. We have to make the Pakistani people see that we can share our common dreams without being patronising or pompous.

Democracy cannot stop at the borders. Our democracy has to be open ended, open enough to meet the Pakistani dreams and their dialects of democracy. We need to create new structures of law for South Asia. To nibble or be parasitic on Chinese ambitions or American hegemony is to be timid. We have to create a new vision of South Asian cities, an alternative idea of knowledge, of the creative role of religions in our society.

Finally, we have to think of peace as more than the absence of war. Peace begins with the everyday, with work, family, livelihoods, with our common trusteeship of rivers, our shared commons of the Himalayas, our religions and our medicines dialoguing with each other, even when our politicians are talking past each other, in fact, past everyone.

To play big brother to Pakistan is to only invite bigger protectors and more formidable bullies into our region. India needs a theory of lived peace if this is to be a South Asian century. An Indian century without a sense of South Asia in an abortion. We have reached a stupidity where combating areas in a riot dub themselves "India" and "Pakistan". That is genocidal. To wage a war is silly but to wage peace demands wisdom, a confidence and a humility beyond our current categories and our current leadership. We have to begin with what we have, a democracy which needs a different vision of the region, which refuses to accept terror as a way of life, and which refuses to be terrorized into any other way of life which fears peace.

I think, our civil society has leaders who can make the first move. I think it is time that we as a polity need to create a different sense of the future. We need Indian ideas, Pakistani ideas, Nepali and Bangladeshi ideas, projects to make sure that we can escape the future as mediocrity which the great powers of today are nudging us towards.

Think of dual citizenship, common academic platforms, open trade collaborative projects, porous boundaries for our people to float across. They are distinct open possibilities beyond the dullness of security and the black box of sovereignty.

The democratization of democracy begins with India-Pakistan. That much I can feel as true. That much Bollywood, our sportsmen, our civilizations, our folklore, our cultures will accept and understand. That much we must promise our children and our ancestors. As a great Jesuit poet said, "A piecemeal peace is a poor peace."

Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad.


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Shiv Visvanathan is one of India's leading sociologists. He currently teaches at Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology.