. . . . . .  

If countries could feel the force of a slap, the cheeks of India and Pakistan and Bangladesh should be smarting by now. 

On 30 April 1975, they witnessed the fall of Saigon and the reunification of the two war zones into one Vietnam.

In October 1990, they saw East and West Germany break down the concrete wall that separated them and coalesce into one Germany, consigning flaccid cold-war policies to the dustbin of history.

And on 27 April 2018, they watched Koreans from opposing poles of a common peninsula come together, address each other in the same language. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took one step southwards, his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in a step northwards, and with that diplomatic two-step ended seventy years of sponsored belligerence, hostility and hatred.

Was it accidental that three superpowers – the US, Russia and China - were common to these three contrived confrontations? Is there any hope that India, Bangladesh and Pakistan will come anywhere near accepting what the Dr Jonathan Sachs once described as ‘the dignity of difference’.  Or will we, after the traumas of 1947 and 1971, prefer to live out the rest of our lives in Byronic lassitude: ‘Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; / Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.’

There are some who believe that peacemaking should be its own reward. Others prefer something more tangible like a Nobel Peace Prize.  In 1973, the awardees ‘for ending the Vietnam war were Henry Kissinger (who accepted with alacrity) and Le Duc Tho (who refused with contempt).

In 2009, the awardee was US president Barack Obama 'for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.’  Some cavilled that he was simply doing his job, for surely isn’t fostering peace inherent in the job description of every world leader?  

Now raucous voices are being raised to nominate President Donald Trump as the fifth US president to receive the prize. This would be a stinging slap on the faces of earlier, more deserving recipients. Who can forget the humanitarian Dr Albert Schweitzer, the ANC activist Chief Albert Luthuli, Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or Mother Teresa? They sacrificed their lives for public causes; they did not expect the Peace Prize to sacrifice its credibility to massage presidential egos.

Peace is not the antithesis of war. Peace is the detritus left behind when war finds for itself another battleground. Germany, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Lebanon, to name a few, found peace only after war migrated to other countries.

It is another misconception that military spending prevents wars. Arms are designed and manufactured to be used in the field, not stored in the barracks. Had Karl Marx been alive today and read Pakistan’s National Budget 2018-9, he would undoubtedly have revised his maxim. Religion is not the opiate of the masses; Security is.

Whose senses cannot have been stultified by the National Budget 2018-9 presented before Parliament which has opted for euthanasia? The Budget Speech was read out by a Finance Minister Miftah Ismail who had been sworn in the night before. He was therefore qualified to dilate on a Budget about which he knew nothing.

He would have done well to have stuck to a summary. It was simple enough. The Budget has three components: Rs 1.620 trillion for Debt Servicing, Rs 1.100 trillion of Defence expenditure, and Rs 1.458 trillion left for 200 million civilians to squabble over for food, water, schools, technical education, universities, hospitals, social services, housing societies, wedding halls, clubs and golf courses. 

Which Pakistani would begrudge the amount spent on his or her security? Which Pakistani would dare to prefer peace over the greater ‘glory of hunger and thirst, of wading through the mud’ of unpoliced streets?

Don’t Pakistanis feel safer watching armed escorts accompany gubernatorial, ministerial, judicial, administrative, and martial cavalcades that congested roads part like Moses’ Red Sea?  For aren’t these custodians of the public’s interest - shielded behind tinted windows to ensure anonymity - entitled to a heightened level of security than the rest of us, especially when it is at our expense, to our cost, and against us?  

Those whose tongues are governed by their minds know better than to question such matters of state policy and international word-play. They learn to remain as silent as the British QC who recently crossed the border at Wagah from Pakistan into India. The passenger’s luggage was found to contain a map of Lahore, and a copy of this newspaper. Both were confiscated, not by the inquistive Indians but by the paranoid Pakistanis. Could anything have been more seditious than a map and a newspaper, both of which are freely available on borderless internet?

Such an act is not a noble manifestation of war. It is a slap on the face of common sense.  



[DAWN, 3 MAY 2018]


03 May 2018
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