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Anshul is a Political Science and Law graduate from the University of Delhi. He is interested in political, legal and policy developments and frequently writes on related themes. You can contact him on anshulkumarpandey [at] gmail [dot] com.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Aman Ki Asha? The Dynamics of a Subcontinental Nobel for Peace


Perhaps the most anticipated announcement of the whole year is that of the Nobel Prize. Awarded in the disciplines of Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Medicine, Economics and Peace, the Nobel Prize, in the eyes of many, is the ultimate recognition of one's contribution to the chosen field. In the past, Indians have won the prize in the fields of Literature, Economics, Physics and Peace. This year, another Indian, Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, was awarded the Nobel for Peace along with the 17 year old Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousufzai.

The announcement has come at a time when both India and Pakistan have seen an escalation in tension along the International Border. The governments of both countries have traded charges of breaking the ceasefire and heavy civilian casualties have been reported from both sides of the border. Add to the fact that both the nations are nuclear rivals with a history of four wars behind them, and you have a world sitting up to take notice of the ongoing escalation of hostilities. A Nobel Prize shared by the citizens of these two hostile neighbors then, is a very subtle hint by the world community to deescalate confrontation along the border.

Tensions in Islamabad

Things had not been this rough from the start. After taking over the reins of government in May 2014, the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi reached out to all the heads of the SAARC nations including Pakistan and invited them to his oath taking ceremony. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, was gracious enough to accept the invitation although there was much debate at home before he could do so. At that time, the two Prime Ministers agreed to cooperate to ensure peace in the sub-continent.

However, in the past few months, Mr. Sharif’s government has wobbled at home on account of the twin protests headed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chief Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) Chief Tahir-ul-Qadri. These protests, calling for the resignation of Mr. Sharif and fresh elections, have paralyzed any activity in Islamabad and have forced the government on back foot. However, Mr. Sharif still retains a strong backing from the majority of parliamentarians who want him to continue.

The protests have had their consequences though. As pressure on the government mounted, many political observers within Pakistan began to anticipate an imminent coup. However, the military chief General Raheel Sharif (not related to the Prime Minister) rebuffed any suggestions towards the same, even when 5 out of the 11 core commanders of the military were in favor of the army intervening to end the political crises. The army chief, however, successfully managed to get the government to ‘cede space’ to the military in the areas of Security and Foreign Policy. This means that the Prime Minister does not have the capability to take independent decisions anymore when it comes to Indo-Pak relations and the decisions are ultimately taken and approved at the meetings of the National Security Council, which has been criticized in the past as providing legal cover for increasing the role of military in foreign affairs.

Tough Response from New Delhi

One of the major reasons for the growing hostilities along the border has been the hardline approach taken by the new right-wing government headed by Mr. Modi in New Delhi. The Indian Prime Minister had relentlessly attacked his predecessor for continuing dialogue with Pakistan even when the latter engaged in a 'proxy-war' of terrorism and militancy in Jammu & Kashmir through infiltrations effected by repeated ceasefire violations.

After becoming the Prime Minister, although Mr. Modi displayed his softer side by inviting Mr. Sharif for his oath taking ceremony and agreeing to cooperate in the future, he was also quick to break off dialogue after Pakistan did not heed a warning to disengage the separatists. The issue of Kashmir has always been a sensitive one for both the countries, and Pakistan’s repeated attempts to engage the separatists operating from the Indian side of Kashmir had been viewed as a way to pinprick the Indian establishment and to keep the Kashmir issue alive in the international arena.

At the recent UN General Assembly session, Mr. Nawaz Sharif tried to remind his international audience about the importance of some sort of resolution of the Kashmir dispute as a pre-condition to the improvement of bilateral ties between the two nations, while Mr. Modi rebuffed his counterpart by stating that bilateral issues would not be solved by raising them on international platforms.

The repeated ceasefire violations by Pakistan are being seen by the Indian administration to be an attention seeking move now that India is not engaging its hostile neighbor with talks and flag meetings. Instead, Mr. Modi's government has asked the border troops to answer a bullet with another bullet which has significantly raised the morale of the armed forces and has resulted in heavy casualties on the other side of the border. Although this tough response has soothed the sentiments of Mr. Modi's domestic audience, on the whole it has only resulted in the escalation of hostilities to newer heights.

Nobel to the Rescue

The west recognizes the fact that a confrontation between two nuclear armed rivals does not only pose a threat to the stability of the subcontinent, but can possibly have catastrophic consequences for the peace and tranquility of the entire world. A joint Nobel at this juncture to citizens of both the countries is being seen by many as a subtle hint by the world community to both the nations to deescalate the tensions at the border.  This is not to say that both these activists did not deserve the Nobel prize on the basis of their own incredibly inspiring hard work. Instead, it is to reaffirm the fact that the world sees more areas of cooperation and a potential for rapid progress through peace and cooperation between the two countries, rather than hostility and strife. 

Sandip Roy of Firstpost.com, a prominent digital news website, christened this prize as the 'LoC Nobel'. Predictably enough, 17 year old Malala Yousufzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel peace prize and only the second person from Pakistan to be thus honored, expressed her desire to see the Prime Ministers of both the countries in attendance at the Nobel Award ceremony in December. She also exhorted both the countries to stop fighting each other and instead fight for peace, development and progress.

However, the Indian Prime Minister has been reluctant to answer the call. In a statement released to the media, he congratulated both the people for the prize, but remained tight lipped on the proposal by the Pakistani teenager. The Pakistani Taliban, however, has been quick to read the significance of this Nobel. According to a report published in Dawn, Pakistan's leading English language newspaper, members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan have commented that Malala did not represent Islam and threatened that people like her who continued to take 'anti-Islamic' positions would continue being targeted.

As the last lines of this article were being written, India accused Pakistan of yet again violating the ceasefire in its Poonch sector, after a 41 hour calm. Whether this Nobel succeeds in cooling down the tensions between the countries, only time will tell.

(This was published in Youth Ki Awaaz)