By Yasmeen Ali
April 15, 2014
Peace is a state desired not only on a personal level but also on national level and in relationships between nations. Yet it continues to elude at all levels. On a very general level it may be defined as, 'freedom from disturbance; tranquility.' Yet, how many of us, at an individual level, have 'complete' peace? Not many, is my bet. Each one of us has those gray areas in our lives that perturb us. Relationships can be marred by various differences.
Then there is the national peace we hanker after, especially in today's Pakistan. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as, a) 'a state in which there is no war or fighting b) an agreement to end a war and c) a period of time when there is no war or fighting. In a country fraught with differences that have reached a boiling point, any difference to approach is dealt with extra-judiciously. A country with citizens and those residing within (they may not be citizens), armed with the latest state-of-the-art weapons with little or no accountability, taking law in their hands, settle scores. The culprits are either not nabbed or go unpunished. The writ of the state has been negatively affected as a result.
Root causes of lack of peace, leading to terrorism are many like injustice, increasing levels of social gap, economic disparity with the rich accumulating more and more wealth and the poor falling to sustenance level or below, lack of equal opportunities to better one's social standing, rampant corruption that has seeped into every level of the society, increasing radicalism resulting from politicizing religion, etc. Religious conflicts have increased over time, deepening rather than lessening. Unfortunately, since 2001, religious conflicts owing to armed factions has become a huge security threat to the nation; in particular its innocent citizens. A difficult-to-manage border situation with Afghanistan does not help.
Unfortunately, various governments that have come and gone have not really processed through the issues to move towards a logical solution. A short-term and long-term plan has been consistently missing, marrying a political and social approach towards addressing the issues at base level. If at all, there has been an effort to address an issue, at best it has been at a superficial level. A friend argued this is so because governments have been dismissed repeatedly, take-overs by the Army been a regular feature of Pakistan's checkered past. I respectfully disagree. Though the fact so stated, cannot be denied, it is also a fact that the civilian governments formed to rule have failed to develop a blueprint to the effect, what to speak of taking the first step towards any implementation that even came close to addressing the issues briefly touched upon.
The challenge that faces the Pakistan government is to reorient the people of Pakistan ideologically. This is a more uphill task than original orientation. It requires more focused, more determined approach towards clearing up of the fog enveloping the society. There is, in many pockets, a genuine confusion. This confusion is often channelized by vested interest groups into acts of hate having a negative cascading effect on the society. Arshi Saleem Hashmi, Senior Research Analyst, Institute of Regional Studies, Islamabad in his research paper published way back in 2009 states, 'The real clash is not between Islam and the west, as projected, but between the orthodox and the moderates. The key question is how far the new generation will be different from the one lost to orthodoxy and militancy. Pakistan's inability to control radicalization limits its capacity to engage in a sustained struggle to control extremism and terrorism and revive the pluralist and tolerant spirit of Pakistan'. He just about hit the nail on the head here. He suggests, 'Pakistan needs to emphasize the synthesis of culture and religion rather than be influenced by "Arabisation" to prove its true Islamic credentials'. I could not agree more. In my earlier articles I have always promoted support to all cultures, religions, sects within under the umbrella of Pakistan. Appreciation of the differences that enriches the society. Former President FW De Klerk to the Rotary Reunion Conference Cape Town, on 04 February 2011 rightly said, "The main threat to peace during the 21st century will come from the inability of states to manage relationships between ethnic, cultural and religious communities."
Then there is peace sought at international level. J. Kirk Boyd; a lawyer and professor at the University of California in his article on peace (excerpted from 2048: Humanity's Agreement to Live Together; on May 11, 2010), writes, "Religious diversity also lies at the root of some of the ongoing conflicts in the world. Ongoing tensions in India have their roots in the unresolved conflict between Moslems and Hindus in Kashmir and elsewhere in the sub-continent. Differences between Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs in India; and Moslems and Christians in Nigeria and Sudan all create volatile situations that can explode into violence and terrorism at almost any time." The age of the single-culture, single-language state is over. Two-thirds of the world's 200 countries have minorities comprising more than 10% of their populations. Cultural and ethnic minorities now comprise more than 900 million people throughout the world -- one in seven of the human population. Everywhere populations are becoming more multicultural. Throughout the world people are on the move, legally or illegally, across borders, across continents and across oceans."
The problem surfaces when one or more nations become more equal than equal. They take over the moral responsibility of making a determination as to who is right and who is wrong. Not stopping at that, they then launch upon a course of action to punish the 'wrong doer'. This responsibility is left best to the relevant world forums without being subjected to external influences. Sometimes, one or more religious, ethnic groups overshadow others marginalizing space for their freedom. This too leads to chaos.
In a world riddled with conflict, there must be an effort to move towards a harmonious one. Peace however, cannot be imposed by pressure, threats and bullying. This has to be achieved with patience, setting of specific time-related goals, addressing issues at grassroots level. Thor Halvorssen, President of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and founder and CEO of the Oslo Freedom Forum, in his article writes, "Meaningful peace is never based on coercion between nations. It is based on open international communication, and problem-solving through non-violent channels. Such a network can only exist when its individual pieces are free" (Forbes Magazine 12/09/2011). Nations must stop viewing issues through a narrow prism with self-interest first. One country cannot be allowed to get away with a wrong as the world criticizes another for the same. He further shares, "If we are to achieve meaningful peace, the foreign policy of free governments and the cultural export of free societies must: help build civil society, establish rule of law, secure individual freedoms, spark economic development, separate religion and government, secure freedom of thought and belief, and expose human-rights violations." Agreed with Thor!
Nations world over must decide; how long will peace elude them?
Yasmeen Al is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.