Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Women's Dialogue: India-Pakistan, New Ideas for a New Way Forward

SAVE Global brought four leading experts in the field of conflict resolution and countering violent extremism from India and Pakistan to Vienna for a dialogue project presentation on 18.01.2011. Mossarat Qadeem, Executive Director of PAIMAN Trust, and Shabana Fayyaz, Professor at the Defense and Strategic Studies Department of Quaid-I-Azam University, travelled from Islamabad to meet Indian representatives Archana Kapoor, SAVE coordinator and founder of SMART NGO, and Anita Pratap, renowned journalist. Three of the women took part in SAVE Global's groundbreaking dialogue in Mumbai in November 2010, and presented their experiences, recommendations and strategic outlook for the future to a large audience in the Ringturm, Vienna. Anita Pratap and Mossarat Qadeem gave us their thoughts on why dialogue is so important to the relationship between India and Pakistan.

Anita Pratap

“Dialogue” often provokes yawns, rolling eyes of despair, even snorts of disdain. For too long, dialogue has not moved beyond endless rounds of blah-blah to tangible results. Yet, what is the alternative to dialogue? It’s either war or silence. War is not an option. Neither is silence, because it breeds and aggravates suspicion, hostility and misunderstandings.

The India-Pakistan dialogue has been going on for decades, in fits and starts. It’s a button that is switched on or off by the ruling establishments depending on the political climate. Given that war between two nuclear nations is an unthinkable prospect, the challenge lies in fostering a dialogue process that is not hostage to events and provocations. When the situation turns ugly, dialogue should not be suspended because the need to talk to each other is even greater. Acrimonious dialogue is better than silent, festering rancor, which only exacerbates existing tensions. At the very least, dialogue is therapeutic because it enables both sides to vent grievances and complaints. It is also an opportunity to hear the other, which is the first building block to better understanding.

A strategic move toward sustainable India-Pakistan Dialogue is to expand and deepen civil society linkages. Time has come for women in both countries to take a dynamic role in building peace through dialogue. Women traditionally are both, good talkers and listeners. The skills and efforts of women, visible today in every arena from business to politics, must be harnessed to dialogue and peace-building. One new way forward is to create a network of women in India and Pakistan as a pressure group to urge establishments on both sides to keep dialogue open, continuous and focused on trans-border collaborations that bring tangible cultural, economic and peace dividends to both peoples. Government-led dialogue should always be anchored in emphasizing the commonalities and shared interests (culture, sports, business, entertainment), while striving to narrow the differences (political and military).

Another significant new idea to take India-Pakistan dialogue forward is to use women power to bring about a paradigm shift. For too long, our economy has been measured solely by GDP growth, even though study after study has shown that GDP rates fail to capture social, human and environmental costs. We have to move to a system that measures the well-being of a nation – as seen in improved education, equality, health-care and jobs. Indian and Pakistani women power is needed to coax their governments that scoring higher on the UN’s Human Development Index should be a much bigger national priority than it is today. As a tonic for social well-being and as an antidote to extremism, SAVE chapters in India and Pakistan can launch a joint advocacy campaign to lobby their nations to pledge 1% of their budgets to income-generating projects for youth.

Studies have also shown that happiness – which each and every human being on this planet seeks – comes from enjoyable work, group activities and good relationships. Women as nurturers of relationships - as wives, sisters, daughters and mothers - can become engines of well-being and happiness in their families and communities. Extremism usually springs from grievances (real or perceived) and identity-related issues. Women networks can encourage women to reclaim their rightful role as repositories of national identity, culture and language to impart confidence and self-esteem to every family member.

All cultures place a high value on tolerance and mutual respect. Extreme ideologies and toxic arguments infect the mind, body and spirit of the young. Women need to use their traditional strengths and gentleness to bring back civility in public discourse. This civility starts at home.

Mossarat Qadeem 

India and Pakistan must move forward on a route to a greater dialogue to save the nations from plunging into poverty and a weakening of the civil system where the army has an edge due to the ongoing conflict of the last 63 years. A number of peace dialogues have taken place at different levels since 1947 but many a time, negative results have disappointed both nations because clear objectives and road map were not set as the parties lack the political will to implement the decisions in their true spirit and essence.

So far women have been missing from the peace dialogue between the two countries. Sometimes however, they were included but could not play any significant role. Civil society:  the third side is like an immune system against violence and women in particular can play a momentous role in bringing in thaw between Pakistan and India. It is high time that women from both sides should come forward and engage in a dialogue on a regular basis. This will give us the opportunity to Think and Talk Together that will allow Our Collective Common Sense, Wisdom, and Potential to Flourish. Through the dialogue, women will address the problems and come up with joint recommendations for their respective countries. This will be the first time that such a dialogue of women peace activists will be initiated where women addressing misconception, misperception and building on commonalties like culture, history and tradition, build bonds of peace which will not be shattered by extremist incidents. The group will act as a pressure group advocating for peaceful relations not only with their respective government but also with international organizations and third countries to help support peace initiatives between the two countries.

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