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Speech at the SEEDS OF PEACE Speaker series, Ambassador Hotel, Lahore, 31 March 2007]

First of all, I would like to thank Mr Sajjad Ahmad [Director Programs] for his kind invitation to speak to you today. At my age, whatever seeds I had to sow, I have already sown. However, I am grateful to him for the implied compliment that I am still capable of germinating ideas.
If I stand before you today, it is entirely because of the persistence and patience of Fahad Ali Kazmi. Persistence, because he insisted that I should honour my promise to him that I would speak at your forum, and Patience because he has waited almost a year, ever since I had to cancel – to my deep regret and his embarrassment – my commitment to speak to you last year. Well, Fahad, I am here at last – you can pinch me if you want to make sure that I am actually here.
The purpose of these gatherings, I understand, is to empower you young leaders to jaw-jaw, as Winston Churchill put it, rather than war-war. If war begins, as a sage once said, in the minds of men, then it is in the minds of men that seeds of peace must be sown. That is why it is so important that the consciousness of your generation should be enlarged about the futility of war, and about the fertility of peace.
You as the next generation are better qualified than we – the generation of your parents - can ever be, for you have not yet been tested. We have, and it is obvious that we have failed. Our success lies only in acknowledging that failure.
The theme I have chosen for my talk this afternoon is ‘Our Todays, and Your Tomorrows.’ You will already have understood its emphasis. Together, we share our todays. Tomorrow belongs entirely to you.
When I open my newspaper every morning, I sink deeper and deeper into depths of depression. I suspect many of you have the same reaction. I read for example about our national cricket team that went to Bermuda as sportsmen and returned as murder suspects.
I see pictures of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan being assaulted by the police. When the person of the Chief Justice is subjected to such physical abuse, what hope can there, what legal protection for us as ordinary citizens? If the law cannot protect its own highest functionary, how can it be relied upon to defend the poor, the weak, the down-trodden?
I read statements by political leaders who can afford to live abroad, and yet expect their followers to demonstrate and agitate and suffer beatings on their behalf within Pakistan.
I try not to read the statements of political leaders operating within the country. They assume that the voting public suffers from a collective amnesia, and will therefore not be able to remember the lies they spouted yesterday or their misbehaviour or corruption the day before.
I wonder when I will have to grow a beard to be accepted as a loyal Pakistani. I wonder when my daughter will have to grow a beard, and then be forced to wear a hijab to hide that beard.
I become apprehensive when I see girls wearing black burqas stream out of a madrassa in Islamabad, brandishing guns and lathis.
I tremble when I realize that a government that rules my country ostensibly with an iron fist, should swap and replace that authority with an ineffective, velvet glove. I am told that the government has ordered that the civil administration and the police authorities in Islamabad should keep a light hand on these protestors. If that is in fact true, it is then truly a sad day for our country’s governance. Concessions cannot masquerade as conciliation; weakness is not a synonym for wisdom.
Nowadays, it requires strong nerves to switch on the news channels to plough through a newspaper. Some years ago, I read a piece by the American humorist Art Buchwald in which he mentioned that in his home at the breakfast table, there was a collective feeling of gloom and despondency whenever the newspaper was being read.
He decided therefore that, rather than everyone in his family being depressed simultaneously every morning, they would allocate within themselves responsibilities for separate topics. Father would concentrate on news items about political events; Mother would focus on the economy; one son on local community affairs, another on the law and order situation, and so on. In this way, only one person in the family needed to worry if anything went wrong in their specific area, rather than everyone worrying about everything.
I suspect that is the only way one cope with the traumas of today, as we read and hear that something is going wrong somewhere in the world, and that almost everything is going wrong within our own country. No wonder so many Pakistanis are tempted to migrate. But is the dollar really greener on the other side of the immigration fence?
I do not think so. People tell me that the world has changed since 9/11. I am not entirely convinced that it has. I am prepared to concede that if 9/11 has changed anything, it is the United States. In one otherwise cloudless morning, the US’s self-confident isolation was destroyed. Its invulnerability was challenged and found wanting. It stood defeated by the very technology that had underwritten its status of the sole superpower, to behave as the John Rambo of the Free World.
I was in Washington on 9/11. President George W. Bush was not. While I walked past the empty White House, he was somewhere up in the air, kept airborne by his Security advisors. I saw at first hand how the whole of the United States retreated into its shell, like some tortoise suddenly threatened, emerging only in the evening when President Bush returned to Washington. It made me realize that no matter how powerful a state may appear, true power is in fact a state of mind. You are only as strong as your enemies allow you to be.
Today, the United States is wreaking its own 9/11 in Iraq and in Afghanistan. It may well take on Iran. I wish we could dismiss these misadventures as a US problem. Unfortunately, we already live in a dangerous neighbourhood, with a hostile India on one side and a combustible Afghanistan on the other. There is a Dutch proverb that says: No-one can have peace longer than his neighbour pleases.
It is vital therefore that we in Pakistan secure peace with our neighbours so that we can have peace within ourselves. External insecurities breed internal dissension. Even the rigid Iron Curtain put down by the Soviet Union following the Second World War came down with the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
In our case, our borders are too porous to be foolproof. We have not been able, for example, to prevent Afghans from crossing into our country. They have gradually taken over Peshawar. It was as if the Hindus who fled East Pakistan in 1971 had decided to remain in India, and then taken over Kolkata.
We have to recognise that, particularly in the Punjab, even the division of 1947 could not alter the geo-physics of the terrain nor the water resources that nourished the entire agricultural basin. I am convinced that the future sphere of any potential conflict with India will not be as a result of military conflict, but over water and other resources.
Bullets cannot stop dams, but dams can stop the flow of precious water to our crops. And we should never forget that – industrialization notwithstanding – we are still an agro-based economy, with agriculture feeding both our population and our downstream economy such as textiles, sugar, leather, etc. We need to live and work with our neighbours, for our own survival.
I am tempted to conduct an analysis of our national economy to alert you about the kind of nation that you will inherit, but I will restrict myself to certain key statistics which might be of use to you.
[Contd./ 2]
31 March 2007
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