We all like to get recognition from people we respect and like, and we pay less attention to opinions from those we don’t like, or feel we have less in common with. Sometimes, we don’t tell others whom we admire either, but we may listen to them, secretly and quietly. On the sub-continent, there is little official contact between the two countries. Yet, we watch Indian movies, we compare notes about development and democracy, and we are actually glad, and maybe envious, if our neighbours do well. In public, though, we may be quick to distinguish ourselves from each other, and point out own attributes, even infallibility.
A few days ago, I attended a book launch in Islamabad. An Indian-British couple had come to introduce their books. Well, it was mainly Lord Meghnad Desai’s book ‘Hubris’, about the world-wide economic crisis since 2008 that was discussed, since the book that had just been released. Some of Lord Desai’s earlier books were on display. His wife Kishwar Desai’s books were also there, and she, a dancer, actress and more, spoke about one book in particular. Oxford University Press’ Managing Director Ameena Saiyid, OBE, was proud of the prominent guests, Brits now, but originally from the sub-continent; Lord Desai is now a retired professor of economics and a Labour Party politician; and she is still too young to be a pensioner.
Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, had written a uniquely competent review of Lord Desai’s book. Vaqar Ahmed, the Deputy Executive Director of the Sustainable Development Institute (SDPI) chaired the event and tied it all together. The select audience had a treat and enjoyed themselves for more than two hours.
All this is good and well, and has been reported in the media. I will just draw attention to some of the concluding remarks, something that we in Pakistan will be pleased to hear today – the day before this year’s Independence Day: Lord Desai, being a specialist on economic and social development said that he was only optimistic on behalf of Pakistan’s future development. He mentioned the many well-qualified Pakistanis, especially in the many competent people in the middle classes.
And then, Kishwar Desai, being an artist, gave a moving profile of a Pakistani man, a Punjabi, from the Pakistani Gujrat, who was one of the most handsome men on earth, yes, and a very poor and, obviously, a Muslim. She summarized the story in her book. The Pakistani man fell in low with an Indian woman, a Hindu, and he had no problem with her background or status in society – or she with his. The book, based on the true family history, narrates in detail the life and time of the Pakistani-Indian couple, and Kishwar left no doubt that she had as much admiration for the Pakistani man as for the Indian woman and their people. We shouldn’t be surprised as the border between two lands would not change that, and was drawn quite arbitrarily.
I am a Norwegian from the smallest of the Scandinavian countries; today, Norway is wealthy land mainly due to oil and other natural resources. Earlier, Norway was in the backwaters, under Denmark for four hundred years till 1814, and then in a union with Sweden till 1905. Yet, few countries are as alike as the three – and the two mentioned earlier. In Scandinavia, we have managed to become closer after each of the three countries became entirely independent and sovereign.
We have become like true brothers and sisters; we appreciate compliments from our neighbors, and we may also like to correct each other if we think somebody has made a mistake or can do better. But if somebody from outside, especially from a big country, criticizes us, we are quick to defend and support each other. That is how it should be among family and friends. Of course, we also know what fields we should not poke our nose in and refrain from talking about; sometimes it would be valuable if we were more direct. But generally, we should rather give positive compliments than negative ones. I always do that about Sweden, where I was a student in my youthful days; it is easy to do since I genuinely have only positive things to say about the ‘sweat brothers’, as we say, well, since they are the biggest country and ahead on the others in many fields.
If the aggressive and rural Vikings in Scandinavia could put away their swords and clubs, then the friendly and urban people on the sub-continent can do it, too. People can learn to put aside old misunderstandings and antagonisms; yes, they are often misunderstandings and misinterpretations. When young students ask me for advice of topics for dissertations, I usually tell them not to re-visit old history about wars and conflicts. I tell them to look ahead, find new ways and new solutions- as we saw we shall harvest; as we seek, we shall find.
In some of my earlier articles, I have referred to a German-Norwegian professor, Evelin Gerda Lindner, the founder and coordinator of an international network for Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies. Her several recent books about psychology and common sense in conflict-resolution and diplomacy are gaining recognition. We should not get stuck in separateness and antagonism, generation after generation, till such a time that the young don’t quite know why they shouldn’t like their neighbours at home or abroad.
On the sub-continent, including Kashmir, practical solutions should be found so that people can live together peacefully, even if one doesn’t agree on everything and territories may remain separate. Besides, joint jurisdiction could also be implemented.
We live in a time when the nation-state still exists, but people travel, migrate and become more and more global. Ideas, thoughts, awareness and values are global – not to speak of goods, services and the economy. True, we must not all become alike; we must value our differences and diversity. But we must be able to live side by side even if we are different and have different administrative systems, religions and traditions. That is what makes human beings grow; to compare notes and borrow from within own land and across borders help in our development.
As Lord Desai said, Pakistan has a prosperous future; and as Kishwar Desai said, the people are beautiful. We must choose prosperity; we must see and use the beautiful minds.
On the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day the 14th of August, it is my pleasure to convey this positive message. No, I don’t think I am saying anything new or different; people already know what I am saying. Yet, it is important that we see it and say it.Pakistan is a unique country on a unique and diverse continent, with great neighbours – to the east, west, north, south, and further beyond. Let us be God’s custodians and do what is right for all to create a prosperous future for all.