Why can't Modi and Nawaz be like Malala and Kailash Satyarthi?

Fasihur Rehman Khan
Fasihur Rehman KhanDec 12, 2014 | 13:15

Why can't Modi and Nawaz be like Malala and Kailash Satyarthi?

Tensions, mistrust, geo-strategic compulsions or the chequered history baggage perhaps didn't allow the Pakistani and Indian Prime Ministers to jointly rejoice and celebrate a historic event - as a son of India and daughter of Pakistan were awarded the most prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. A missed opportunity once again as some would perhaps call it in the days and months to come. Malala Yousafzai's invitation for both of them perhaps didn't carry as much weight as the artificially created tensions between the two nations because of recent events of cross border firing.

Still we expected more magnanimity, more leadership skills, and a more open-hearted approach. Even when many naively thought a handshake at the recent SAARC summit in Kathmandu after a lot of angry posturing in front of cameras and regional leaders was a positive direction. This was not to be. The whole world however celebrated and watched Malala and Kailash Satyarthi jointly receive the Nobel for their achievements focused on service to humanity in this part of the world. In the absence of an impressive state welfare system, global recognition of these two individuals' larger than life achievements can surely be dubbed as a way for the South Asian neighbours to transform from security oriented to welfare state models.

It was in striking contrast to what politicians and generals in respective countries have come up with only recently. One step forward and two steps backward has been the history of Pakistan-India relations, and the same has been the fate of recent overtures kickstarted by Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. There was optimism only a few months back, only in June this year, when Sharif travelled to New Delhi for Modi's inauguration as many in Pakistan criticised the overture as too early and too fast in the backdrop of conflict prone relations.

But events that followed proved Sharif's critics right to some extent. Official jargon apart, sources close to the Pakistani prime minister complain about Modi's lack of reciprocity, and uncalled for hawkish attitude to impress the domestic audience in India, even as the two nations have had a good chance to clear the air and make headway. The Indian side naturally has its own set of arguments and complaints.

Interestingly. the first thing that came to my mind when asked to write on the joint Nobel was to write a typical and safe journalistic piece that would serve the purpose. But then a thought struck me.  Should I add more of a South Asian sentiment, leaving aside the typical safeguards we employ when it comes to Pakistan-India relations? Why should we not leave geo-strategic issues to politicians and generals (through a close and minute monitoring by civil society) and focus on the service of our people to start afresh?

The same could become the best of all confidence building measures Pakistan and India need to employ without the waste of more time and energy. Malala and Kailash Satyarthi have actually shown us the way forward. We need to do more for our hapless people. After all, whether we like it or not, this is one of the poorest areas of Asia where tens of millions still live below the poverty line. And despite inherent optimism generally deep rooted in people of this area, there is little hope of a marked improvement in the lives of the generations at hand. Unlike Europeans or even the Chinese, people of both Pakistan and India still have a long distance to cover before they can make that elusive victory sign on the world stage. Many nations have done so. And others are in the process of doing so. Malala is a brave and proud daughter of Pakistan who after having survived a cowardly attempt on her life by fundamentalist rogue elements got the world's attention and recognition. Kailash Satyarthi is now an icon of dedicated struggle, devotion to the cause and love for humanity.

For sure, the joy of winning a Nobel is an event for both nations to celebrate. But inherent compulsions and mistakes of the past should not prevent us from embracing the future. And if I try to put it in the words of a five star hotel steward who served us in January when I was visiting: "Sahib, we love to talk to you and serve you. The goras (Europeans ) throng this place, but you Pakistanis are very similar to us. Why can't we bury the ugly past and start afresh?"'

South Asia needs a new beginning, new hope. Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi have shown us it is possible.

Last updated: December 12, 2014 | 13:15
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