South Asia dialogue
Over the past few months there has been an escalation of tensions in South Asia between Pakistan and India over the disputed region of Kashmir. There are many factors contributing to this, but the U.S. War on Terrorism and the attack on the Indian Parliament have helped to exacerbate the situation between these new nuclear powers. This problem in South Asia has a direct impact on the efforts of Washington University students to encourage dialogue and understanding on the issue.
The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 is one of the saddest events in human history. As this was the largest human migration in history, it brought about great suffering and loss of life, as people found themselves on the wrong side of the border. The ethnic and religious clashes left millions dead or homeless. The visual image of this time is beyond explanation, as dead bodies were piled on trains; women were mutilated and raped; and civilians were killed in cold blood by the millions. This transition of power, a legacy of the British, created human misery which is seared in the minds and hearts of those who experienced this horrible turmoil. Shortly after, the misappropriation of Kashmir had its impact of three subsequent wars between Pakistan and India. The legacy of partition and Kashmir, as well as extremist nationalism, has created the view that the conflict is between Islam and Hinduism, which has always been in South Asia. Any well informed person would be able to easily discount this myth; however, the lack of education and surplus of opportunistic politicians lead to such heinous acts as the destruction of the Babari Masjid in India or the Bombay riots of 2000.
The major problem between the peoples of India and Pakistan is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the religion, history, and politics of the other side. Politics in the South Asian context is integral to the life of even the common man. From the bazaars to the restaurants and the coffee shops, everyone talks about regional politics and it is a common daily discussion. For politics shapes not only how Indians and Pakistanis see themselves, but how they understand their history and their future.
But this is not just a regional problem for South Asia. It is a problem for the world. Now that both sides have nuclear capabilities, the possibility exists for a nuclear war. Unfortunately, both sides do not necessarily see nuclear arms as only a deterrent in the Balance of Terror theory. Presently, there are 1,000,000 soldiers on both sides of the border. This is the largest buildup of forces anywhere since WWII. Over one-fifth of the world’s population can be affected by a war in the region. And now it has become imperative for a solution, which only the U.S., as mediator, can provide.
It is this dialogue that I am advocating here at WU. The Pakistani students at WU have been advocating for a long time that there should be a dialogue and discussion of South Asian politics, as they relate to each side. However, the Indian student groups on campus have been reluctant, citing various reasons. My answer is this: inasmuch as the benefit exists for exposing students to the cultural richness of South Asia, one also does a disservice by not wanting to understand the very substantive and real life issues faced by Indians and Pakistanis alike. Culture in a vacuum is for those who are content with abstractions and the fantasy of ancient glories. Indians and Pakistani’s today are spending more time in front of the news because they are facing the biggest crisis since independence. They are not dancing to Bollywood remixes. It is time to start something…and maybe WU is the place for that. WUPSA’s goal is to inform about every aspect of Pakistani society, as today there is a greater need to be informed then ever before. It is a great disservice one does to his or herself, in not wanting to be exposed to new ideas, perceptions and viewpoints on what is by far the greatest threat to South Asian stability for the future. As students, we are here to learn and to experience and understand new ways of thinking, and to challenge our pre-conceived notions about others and ourselves.
I challenge all students, especially of South Asian descent, to get actively involved in helping to plan the upcoming Kashmir forum in April, hosted by the WU Pakistani Students Association. It is only by dialogue that we may be able to understand others and perhaps achieve a deeper understanding of ourselves.
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