The onus is on secular and liberal Pakistanis

It is in the best interests of South Asia if such secular, liberals from across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India form a bonding and recognise each others' strengths and pledge to convert each others’ weaknesses

I see a lot of Pakistanis fighting the good fight. Against misogyny, bigotry, discriminatory laws, for a change of the theocratic constitution to a democratic one, against poverty, against ignorance and illiteracy, against the plague of radicalism that Zia's war room plans enabled the country to get engulfed onto; against their negative image and stereotype constantly in the news for the wrong reasons.

It is especially inspiring to see the young generation of Pakistanis who inherited the mess of the Partition, the ongoing turmoil and have chosen to think broad-mindedly than their ancestors rather than nurture the hatred. It is heartening for us secular, liberal Kashmiris this side of the border to see such positive changes.

We do realise how difficult it is to be secular in an otherwise deeply religious society. Not only is it dangerous to have those ideas but to express those liberal ideas can also warrant actual physical bodily harm as in the case of Malala Yousufzai, Sabeen Mahmud, Raza Rumi, Hamid Mir, Salmaan Taseer and much more. I don't mean to play a comparison game here, but India at least does not have this happening on a mass scale.

Sure the Sanghi cadres, like the RSS and the VHP (right-wing Hindutva groups) are desperately trying to turn it into a fascist country but it can safely be said they are contained and hopefully, the strong democratic and secular institutions of India will see that it remains so, even if there may be a pro-Hindutva government at the helm for now.

Which brings me back to the immense respect and admiration for those in Pakistan trying to set the country on the right course. The thinkers, writers, artists, intellectuals, journalists, investigative reporters, lawyers, activists, aid workers, teachers, and much more. Some celebrated, some unsung heroes. Some still nostalgic for an undivided country, some dreaming of a new and radiant Pakistan.

It is in the best interests of South Asia if such secular, liberals from across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India form a bonding and recognise each others' strengths and pledge to convert each others’ weaknesses. In an age where we have prevailed over the impossible frontier of space, we need to now combine resources to conquer the last frontier – misogyny. In South Asia misogyny has no borders. An equal number of horrendous brutalities happen across the subcontinent and there can never be enough paper or laws to heal the wounds and grief of many victims of regressive practices. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, transgenders, Dalits, prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, young boys radicalised, young women targeted daily...

In a time when we have the threat of disasters on a global scale due to climate change, when all our capitals and megacities lie on fault lines on the tectonic plates, we should be collaborating with each other for disaster management schemes rather than arming ourselves with bigger guns and stealthier planes. For Nature never discriminates between people, it is cruel and kind, a nurturer and a destroyer, a rebuilder, and a resettler. This duality in Nature has produced our civilizations and our species and this duality is what should keep us united against its force.

Of course, it is always politicians and military dictators who are the most against peace, or any notion of peace. For conflict and war are industries now and the easiest ways to make more money and keep a population in line. And when brave voices from that repressed and contained population speak out, they are brutally silenced. This why great respect and salute for those who do speak out in Pakistan – against their Army's atrocities in Balochistan; against their politicians and people's obsession over Kashmir; against their repressive and archaic laws; against their low human development index and so on.

A vibrant, secular and liberal Pakistan means a lot for the region. It means lots of scopes to turn those precious defence funds and budgets of both countries towards health care, education, infrastructure, employment, development, conservation, and a prosperous and economically competitive South Asia. So I know the onus is definitely on the brave, secular, liberal Pakistanis with equal cooperation and camaraderie from us.

Lead the way!

Arshia Malik is a Srinagar-based writer and social commentator with focus on women issues and conflict in Kashmir. She makes her living as a school teacher and is an avid collector of literature. She is currently writing a book about her life as a female in Kashmiri Muslim society

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