With India and Pakistan celebrating the 75th anniversary of their Independence, we are both immensely happy and optimistic, and yet also cautious and concerned. India and Pakistan are products of a common history and culture, yet these nuclear-armed neighbours are stuck in mutual suspicion and hostility. As they look back on 75 years of their separate journeys, they will fail in their duty to the future of their people unless they work together.
Rich in culture and resources, home to first-rate talent in every field, and the birthplace of several great civilisations and world religions, the region is still marked by extreme poverty and conflict. It is beset by disease, social dysfunction, religious intolerance and a culture of irrational violence. For both of us, this is a source of immense sadness, but we are also optimistic in the two countries’ potentials and possibilities.
The accomplishments of Pakistanis and Indians must be recounted here: in education, business, leadership of international financial institutions and UN agencies, academic life, and literature. And though women suffer unequal treatment, both countries have had distinguished women political leaders, activists, journalists, diplomats, novelists and filmmakers.
They face immense, almost identical threats to their well-being. Rapid and systematic environmental change has destabilised the very basis of their existence leading to natural disasters such as floods and drought, causing life-threatening water shortages in urban and rural communities alike, damaging agriculture, economies and food supplies. Yet they share a common natural environment – and this includes their sharing of one of the most extensive and complex river systems in the world.
Imagine the benefits of their sharing scientific and technical know-how and information and working together on practical solutions to their common and even shared challenges.
Indo-Pak subcontinent is beset by disease, social dysfunction, religious intolerance and a culture of irrational violence.
The same might be said about the possibilities of collaboration to manage their immense public health challenges in crises such as pandemics, as well as in chronic deficiencies such as infant and maternal mortality, which are among the highest in the world.
Yet such collaboration is rendered impossible by the high level of distrust and hostility between them. The resources that each devotes to military capability against the other also diverts resources away from addressing such needs.
Despite their shared history and culture, the two nations are also divided by radically diverging views of what that history and culture signify. In order to escape from perpetual conflict, each must recognise that neither can prevail entirely or dominate the narrative.
It is precisely because the Muslim presence in the subcontinent is more than a millennium old and is an integral part of the region’s history and culture that Islam here has developed a distinctive character. Hindu zealots talking of Muslims as invaders (and thereby justifying violence against loyal Muslim Indians) is as absurd as the Welsh speaking of the English as invaders. By the same token, religious extremism in Pakistan not only threatens the religious freedoms of Pakistanis, but is also feared in India by Muslims and Hindus. In the past, recognition of this complexity produced a culture of religious tolerance and mutual curiosity and respect. Emphasising and disseminating that culture can help cut through hostility and distrust and form the basis for a willingness to work together on shared problems.
The stakes are enormous. India and Pakistan account for almost one-fifth of humanity. If both countries want to foster the prosperity of their citizens, they will need to focus on common challenges and opportunities together.
We are very optimistic about the future of India and Pakistan, and we feel that it is time to focus on a positive, people-focused agenda. We think that what we have in common is greater than what divides us.
There are as many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan. A Pakistani who cares about the welfare of Muslims everywhere must surely see that a weak and impoverished India is not in the interests of Indian Muslims. And if the hostility persists, Pakistan’s progress will remain hostage to it. Indian nationalists or Hindu revivalists concerned with India’s strength, prosperity and security must see that a weak and hostile neighbor is a liability.
South Asians and their diaspora want ‘free and fair’ elections, a free press and corruption free governance and law-enforcement agencies across South Asia.
We present here our four-point agenda for peace, prosperity and cooperation between the two countries.
Collaborate on scientific research, monitoring and early warning systems. Share lessons learned in attempts to establish access to primary health care, emergency medical services, modernisation of basic healthcare infrastructure and medical and paramedical training and education. The South Asian diaspora wants to see a state-of-the-art EMS system and free healthcare access to all seniors, children under five, and the disabled all over South Asia.
Environment, Agriculture and Water
Collaborate on scientific research, monitoring and early warning systems on areas such as glacier loss, shared river systems, meteorology and satellite surveillance.
Share lessons learned on disaster response and establish cross-border cooperation on this.
Education and Culture
Develop and share innovative curricula and delivery methods for scientific and technical education – mass as well as elite. Mutual recognition of educational degrees and vibrant cultural exchange programs in arts, entertainment and sports across South Asia are extremely important to develop and understand each other’s perspectives.
Because so much of what holds each nation back is rooted in governance failures, and because their mutual hostility is based on governance that is alienating and radicalising, dialogue on matters such as corruption, democracy, policing and the rule of law will benefit both countries. South Asians and their diaspora want ‘free and fair’ elections, a free press and corruption free governance and law-enforcement agencies across South Asia.
We are very optimistic about the future of India and Pakistan, and we feel that it is time to focus on a positive, people-focused agenda. We think that what we have in common is greater than what divides us. In the process of collaboration, each could become what it aspires to, and what the other would respect rather than fear. We hope that our simple initiative described above will inspire similar initiatives from the leaders of scientific, educational, business, cultural and art industries as well as grassroots organisations already addressing these problems. Civil society can push politicians to do what is right.
Bilateral cooperation offers the almost certain prospect of economic growth, a peaceful culture based on co-existence and diversity, poverty reduction and empowerment of the citizens. This is the road for peace and prosperity in South Asia.
Join us in this dream for South Asia and South Asians in America.