For Peace between India and Pakistan
Pakistani peace activist Karamat Ali describes himself as a South Asian and believes in a South Asian identity. Long-time Pakistani labour activist and founding-member of Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, Karamat Ali, was recently in Kolkata to address audiences on the necessity of peace between India and Pakistan.
In this interview with Aditi Bhaduri he shared some of his thoughts on Pakistani civil society, peace initiatives between the peoples of India and Pakistan and the tasks before the peace camps in both countries.
What brings you here?
I am a founding member of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD). I came here to discuss with my Indian counterparts how we go about organising a convention given the situation right now. But it’s important and we have not had a joint convention for two years.
We keep hearing that both Pakistan and India are victims of terror; the Indian and Pakistani media have both been jingoistic following the terror attacks on Mumbai in November. Do you think the situation in both countries is the same?
Well, obviously there are differences in situation. If you look at Pakistan now, there are the Taliban, who have taken over control of considerable areas of the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan, in places like FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Swat. As far as acts of terrorism go, almost every second day there is a suicide bombing. Obviously, India does not face that kind of situation. However, terror networks are operating all over South Asia. Last year there were bomb blasts in Bangladesh simultaneously in 64 different places.
There is a feeling here that peace between Pakistan and India is a very cosmetic peace.
Well, there are initiatives taken by the people and actions taken by the State, so obviously there are differences. People can only express their desires and aspirations. It is for the governments and State agencies to act. For instance, the PIPFPD wants to hold a convention and for the third time the Pakistani government has refused visas to our Indian friends. They always quote security. Now, we don’t determine the visa policy, but in a democracy, when the citizens of a country want to meet with each other, then it becomes the duty of the State to facilitate that. I won’t say peace is cosmetic, but certainly we are not able to convince the governments of the two countries to treat their citizens differently.
From the platform of PIPFPD we have demanded the removal of visa restrictions. Between India and Pakistan there are millions of divided families. Similarly, people from Bangladesh have family in Pakistan. So the general situation in South Asia should change.
When you speak on the forum, it seems that you are preaching to the converted. Have Pakistani peace activists attempted, within Pakistan, to create a constituency for peace?
When we first formed the forum in 1994, and we had the first joint convention in Delhi in 1995, there were some 120-odd Pakistanis who were coming to Delhi and one newspaper in Pakistan picked up the list and published it, calling us traitors. They managed to frighten away some of the delegates who then backed out of the trip. So, coming to India at that time was seen as an act of treason, betraying the national interest.
That situation has changed drastically in the past 16 years. People on both sides have welcomed the initiatives, more and more people have become members of the forum, and at conventions people who were not even members were coming in large numbers for open sessions. And that helped our two governments to start this composite dialogue. We should not underestimate the efforts of the citizens but it is not entirely in the hands of the citizens either. Just before the tragedy in Mumbai, there were two meetings that took place – the foreign minister of Pakistan was visiting India and the home secretaries of the two countries were meeting in Islamabad.
Obviously, there are people in both countries who do not want peace between our two countries and want to continue the enmity. And now you have these persons whose ideology is based on religious hatred and they don’t want peace either. They want to impose their politics of violence and hate upon the entire country. In the places where they have seized control, they want to impose their norms of what they think Islam is. So men cannot shave their beards, women cannot go out, girls cannot go to school. Almost 200 schools in Swat were demolished and from January 15 all girls’ schools have been closed down. And this is a trailer of what can follow. The point is whether we will allow these people to succeed in what they want to do – they want to push both countries to war.
What is civil society in Pakistan doing to tackle the hatred that is taught in Pakistani textbooks against Indians and Hindus in particular? After all, we know terrorism doesn’t happen overnight; it needs groundwork to be done.
Yes, I agree. Since the 1990s various studies have been done by Pakistani civil society to see what is being taught in our textbooks for children and they have been pushing the government to make changes. But as you know, for the last 10 years we have had a military government which was taking some initiative but in a very hesitant manner because it was also making alliances with the rightwing forces in Pakistan, forging mullah-military alliances, so they did not take it seriously. But under the new elected government in Islamabad we hope for early action on the revision of textbooks to which this government is committed.
The current civilian government in Islamabad is a rare combination—this government has the PPP, Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League, there is the Awami National Party, which is the successor to the National Awami Party of Ghafar Khan and Wali Khan and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is the party of the Mohajirs. Now, they may have differences between them, but they all stand for the diminishing role of the military in politics as they have all suffered at the hands of the military and, secondly, they all want peace and friendship with India, and they all want autonomy for the provinces they run and they all have a secular outlook.
So, if that government is able to survive the whole term, there will be some changes, which will include revision of the textbooks. Only yesterday I was reading that now there is a demand from the education minister of Sind province who has written to the federal government asking it to make education a provincial subject because they want to have autonomy of publishing their own textbooks. He made a reference both to excluding such statements from textbooks which incite hatred or distort history and secondly, to include the ethos of the local people.
What concrete steps is civil society in Pakistan taking to see that the perpetrators of Mumbai are brought to justice?
I will talk about groups working for peace. While this unfortunate incident was taking place in Mumbai, on November 27 we contacted our friends in India, and we drafted a joint statement and within a day we got signatures from 30 prominent peace activists from India and a similar number from Pakistan and we demanded serious action and joint investigation and cooperation between the two governments and whoever is behind it should be brought to justice. All those organisations that were likely to be involved must immediately be taken hold of. Then from public platforms we also spoke emphatically about the need to bring the perpetrators to justice. Organisations like the Lashkar-e- Tayyiba and others have been proclaiming publicly that they want to impose their brand of Islam upon the entire globe through violent means and they should not be allowed to function from any country. So, we have been writing and asking the government of Pakistan to take serious action and also asking to activate the joint mechanism, which had been spoken of, so that if necessary we can cooperate with each other, like have a joint investigation.
Now a group of people came from Pakistan to India and we have launched a signature campaign and thousands and thousands of people are signing it. The city council of Karachi has signed, that means the government of the city of Karachi. The speaker of the Sind Assembly organised a function in the Assembly building, where we explained the objective of this campaign. He signed it himself and he has sent it for signatures to all members of the Assembly and most of them have signed it and this is going on in every city of Pakistan and there is constant mobilisation. We are going to universities, schools, and colleges. Trade unions, professional organisations, are all involved, like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, they took it up officially, they invited the press, they invited us, our colleagues, and they asked the entire party to get involved in it. Other parties have done similarly. So we are trying to create an environment in Pakistan so that when the civilian government wants to take action, it has the backing of the people because civilian governments are extremely constrained in Pakistan because of the very long military rule.
And I would really like to appeal to the Indian people and the government to support the civilian government because we should not allow another return of the military in Pakistan. That would be disastrous, not just for Pakistan, but the entire region. But there are no two views that the perpetrators of Mumbai and their backers need to be apprehended and brought to justice.
A joint mechanism sounds good. But how can a joint mechanism deal with, for instance, what we saw on February 5 – Kashmir Solidarity Day - with organisations and people in Pakistan pledging support to ‘liberate the Kashmiri people from India’? Can that be conducive to bilateral peace?
To me this is all a kind of posturing. We need to come out of this mode. To my mind it does not help the Kashmiri people when Pakistanis don’t work for a day. It’s quite foolish actually. It was started in 1990 by the Nawaz Sharif government and it has become a ritual now so it has to be repeated.
Sure, we have disputes but we have to commit ourselves to peacefully resolve them and enter into a dialogue. In my view, if we adopt a South Asian approach, then we need to deal with all our disputes through peaceful means. I know from a close and reliable friend in India that in early-2007 India and Pakistan were very close to signing an agreement on Siachen, and also a mechanism for moving on from the Kashmir issue. Then General Musharraf took on the judiciary and there was turmoil in Pakistan and the Indian government was waiting for it to settle down, and by that time Mumbai happened. But whatever has been achieved till now is still there and that needs to be put into effect.
Can you elaborate on the Ghazwat ul Hind, the prophecy promising salvation to those who wage ‘jihad’ in India?
Well you know how these jihadi organisations started. They began with the crusade against the Soviet Union in which they said they were against communists and atheists and all that nonsense. They were helped by others. When they finished fighting the Soviets, they were diverted to Kashmir and they have said that they want to impose their version of Sharia and Islamic law all over the world and in this, they say, India is a big hurdle in their way. Obviously, they feel they can take over Pakistan. This is not speculation, this is actually what is written in their pamphlets so this Ghazwat is related to that.
We sometimes hear voices, from even some Pakistani liberals, expressing concern for the Muslim minority of India. Is this not tantamount to interference in India’s internal affairs? It will also give people in India the chance to raise the issue of minorities in Pakistan.
I don’t believe in this. I speak as a South Asian and to me all communities are related to us. I don’t like this concept of minority and majority – they are all citizens. So why should we talk about majority being based on religion? Pakistan, for me does not belong to Muslims alone, it belongs to everybody. However, it’s not out of love that people sometimes raise this issue, but to spite the adversary. I don’t think a non-Muslim landlord is being discriminated against in Pakistan. Similarly, I don’t think a rich Muslim is being discriminated against in India. It’s not the religious discrimination but discrimination based on class and caste that is prevalent everywhere in South Asia.
This sheet is also available in French: Karamat Ali et la société civile pakistanaise
« Karamat Ali, A Pakistani in Patna with the message of peace », The Bihar Times, 6 March 2009
Beena SARWAR, « Pakistan/India: Citizens Push for Peace », Journeys to Democracy
Harsh KAPOOR, « Marcher pour la Paix », Altermondes, 2 June 2005
Interview by Aditi BHADURI, ‘Things have changed; 16 years ago coming to India was seen as treason’, InfoChange, February 2009