We live in a time with great opportunities and possibilities for creating more peaceful and harmonious societies, at home, in the region and internationally - if we chose to see and do it. Peace is the foundation for further development, without which countries’ potential will be delayed. But it is not something we get for free and should take for granted. Peace is something we make. To develop a ‘culture of peace’ requires efforts and work. It requires ideals, visions, values and standards, which we must work to establish and keep. Often, we have to be stubborn and firm. Peace is not a “soft and girlish thing”. It is ‘realpolitik’ in big national and international connections, and it is constant ‘positive’ practice and learning in everyday situations. We have to question our own prejudices and misunderstandings. We have to correct our own selfishness and tendencies to be unjust and take the lion’s share for ourselves. We have to try to put ourselves in the other person’s position and then do what it is best. Peace and justice for all is what we must work for, with serious strategies and plans. It is not always going to be pleasant. But the result of peace is our reward. Let us pray that we all will be able to contribute to this, to be able to do God’s will so that all human beings, men and women, black and white, Muslim and Christian, can live good lives in harmony with each other. May this be possible in the New Year we have just entered, with God’s help, Inshallah. May it also be the focus of the public debate and the political and election campaign!
On Tuesday this week, the University of Gujrat (UOG) held an international seminar about these issues, entitled Human Rights, Culture of Peace and Tolerance in an Era of Extremism. Vice Chancellor Prof M. Nizamuddin spoke and the key note address was given by Visiting Scholar Ingeborg Breines from Norway. She is Co-Chair of the International Peace Bureau and, earlier, she was Director of Peace and Gender Issues at UNESCO Headquarters and its representative in Pakistan. The conference was attended by hundreds of students and experts from outside.
I am glad that the young students were so active because it is only the youth that can realise the wishes I expressed in the introduction to this article. We who are now getting old have not much to be proud of in this field. The military men’s and its alliances’ shortcomings are terrible, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and all over the world. Politicians must realise that in a time with growing inequalities between people, more frequent and devastating conflicts, and more costly military systems, it is, indeed, necessary to re-evaluate the outdated thinking about defence and military. New and bold approaches are needed, and I believe most, if not all of them, should be pacifist.
Then what should we do, concretely?
Drawing lessons from the UOG seminar and after many talks with my countrywoman Breines, I would emphasise ‘positive approaches’. If we want peace, we must not talk about war. If we, indeed, want peace, tolerance, respect, human rights and equality for all, we must find positive approaches. Naïve? Maybe, but there is no other way! True, we must also analyse the negative issues; we must know what the problems are and reveal what is wrong. But merely to describe what is wrong does not lead to improvement and change. We need strategies and positive means to do that. And, we need to include the young people in debate and decision-making.
We are in an election year in Pakistan - and in America, too, for that matter. I hope that our politicians will be able to see the myriad of opportunities that exist. In USA, I find it difficult to understand that politicians keep focusing on negative issues. For example, they say that the country and the world is in an economic crisis. No, there is no crisis; there is only a problem finding ways of sharing the enormous resources America and the world have, not only looking for further growth along the same old, unsustainable ways. And, obviously, USA must realise that they have to reduce its astronomical military budgets, which is entirely illogical in our time and age, and in all times.
This week, when the world leaders meet at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, I hope they too realised that they have to think anew, find alternative ways out of the economic problems. And the problems are not just dry economic problems, they inflict directly on people’s lives. This year’s WEF meeting focused on these issues; it questioned the existing Western and international model of development. But when Kristine Legarde, the International Monetary Fund’s new Director spoke a few days ago, she seemed not to be willing to see the opportunities, only the problems. I should add that she is a competent woman, yes, in the midst of a crowd mostly made up of men! The founder of WEF, Professor Klaus Schwab, was bold and positive: He said in a TV interview that capitalism is outdated. Today, it is talent that is the major resource, not capital. And it must serve the interest of the public. These are great thoughts from the WEF founder, and I hope the large number of leaders will be daring enough to discuss them.
In Pakistan, a beautiful land with great people and ample resources, we are in a similar situation as the US and the rich world, at a different economic level and with many different problems, of course, with a GDP at a fraction of what America has. And if we compare Pakistan’s GDP with that of small and rich countries, such as Norway, with five million people, Pakistan’s GDP lags behind. But that is the situation today. It doesn’t have to be like that tomorrow. Pakistan has enormous opportunities to develop and become the great country it is meant to be. How? Simply by allowing people to participate and tap the energy, creativity and abilities, not least by providing education and health services for the poor so that they are able to do well. And, by getting the outdated upper classes out of the way, those who don’t want change, don’t want to share, and have no ideas for an all-inclusive Pakistan. The youth must be given more room, as was underlined at last weekend’s youth summit in Pakistan. But let us guard against only letting the sons and some daughters from elite backgrounds taking the lead. It is mainly the middle and lower classes that are missing in the debates. We are also in need of political analyses and expertise to help find the best strategies. And, again, we must give priority to the lower classes in participating in a democratic debate and benefiting from the “new deal”. After all, three-quarters of the people belong to these classes and they must be given their fair share. What a great potential we have!
We are in an election year, and I wonder why so much of the political debate is just negative and often self-serving. The issues are often quite simplistic and not well analysed. That means that the proposed solutions become half-baked, too. Some of the promises are unrealistic and not well prioritised.
The political parties have a great opportunity to put any topic on the agenda, with positive issues that can, indeed, improve people’s lives. The politicians can become great inspirers and public preachers and teachers that we need. They can put on the agenda the topics that the people feel deeply about, tangible and intangible cultural and everyday issues. They must talk about moral, religious and existential issues, and more local than international topics. There is, indeed, room for leaders and politicians who want to engage the masses and have dialogue with the people, politicians who can inspire the masses so that they will continue debating and finding solutions. Essential is to first listen and then lead, and to allow people to find solutions for themselves, yes, together with their leaders. Leaders should put words and forms to people’s grievances, and indeed, their hopes and aspirations.
I started my article with some discussion about peace. After all, peace and harmony, tolerance and acceptance, equality and unity, are the most important foundations of human communities anywhere in the world. We all yearn for it!
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist based in Islamabad. He has served as United Nations specialist in the United States, as well as various countries in Africa and Asia. He has also spent a decade dealing with the Afghan refugee crisis and university education in Pakistan.