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South Asian Smart Power – Aman ki Asha

February 26, 2010

Futility of Military/Economically Motivated relations Minus Democratic Input

Futility of Military Motivated relations Minus Democratic Input

While working in D.C. some years back almost every Congress person, Think Tank and academic I came across was certain on one thing on nuclear proliferation: if an atomic bomb ever goes off again, it’s going to happen in South Asia. It was a dismal but resounding notion that I have even heard expressed amongst South Asians. Profound mistrust, three wars, land disputes, all spurred by a gory colonial partition 60 odd years ago has left Pakistan and India scarred in a way that makes cynics of even the best of us.

A realist might tell you that nuclear armed neighbors by way of deterrence have allowed India and Pakistan to refrain from war since testing their atom bombs, but even they would conclude war is inevitable. Liberals would make a case for enhanced trade to gradually spur economic interdependence to help avoid conflict, which is perhaps the most palatable idea, but statistics show that deepening trade between India and Pakistan has not yet improved relations:

“trade between India and Pakistan was at its highest ever in the year following Kargil. 

Even the Mumbai attacks have not significantly dented India-Pakistan trade relations. Pakistan trades with 100’s of countries, India being the 9th largest trading partner”

So if deepening trade and deterrence haven’t yielded what confidently could be considered lasting peace, what will it take? I’m of the opinion that realist and liberalist policies must be accompanied by ground level, macro scale diplomacy.  Because while deterrence satisfies the all mighty military institutions, and trade satisfies highly influential business elites there’s little attention given to the masses; and by masses I mean billions of South Asians who have yet to even fathom peace as a possibility.

Call it ground level diplomacy, soft power or good ol’ winning hearts and minds: it’s  the missing ingredient in bilateral relations. Resident Indian’s and Pakistani’s have a perceived animosity for one another that verges on the irrational. Catapulting cricket matches between both countries as akin to war, hate crimes against Muslims in India to cross border terrorism is absurd for states divided by man made, post colonial borders.

So the problem is not one of trade, or military might: it’s epistemic. Both countries must engage one another from the ground up. Shashi Tharoor, the decorated Indian Parliamentarian described the effectiveness of Indian soft power best at a TED conference last year:

“India’s soft power, its true of music, dance of arts, yoga, aryuveda, even cuisine. With these examples come the sense that in todays world its not the side of the bigger army that wins, it’s the one that tells a better story. And india is the land of a better story. Stereotypes are changing.  Today people in Silicon valley people talk of IIT’s with same reverence of MIT”

Why not apply that soft power in Pakistan? And vice versa. I laud the Aman ki Asha initiative for doing exactly this. Launched by Pakistani media conglomerate Geo T.V. and on the Indian side, the Times of India, both companies have taken up the task of engaging both countries using soft power. As media houses, through television, print and web placements, they engage masses directly, finally sidestepping politically or economically motivated discourse both countries are used to. THeir mission statement reads:

Public opinion is far too potent a force to be left in the hands of narrow vested interests. The people of today must find its voice and force the rulers to listen. The awaam must write its own placards and fashion its own slogans. The leaders must learn to be led and not blindly followed. Skepticism about the given is often the genesis of faith. This skepticism has been brewing. It can be unleashed to forge a new social compact between the people of this region. A social compact based on a simple yet powerful impulse – Aman ki Asha. A desire for peace.

Aman ki Asha taps the widespread but underrepresented sentiments of commonality shared by South Asians. By engaging the masses directly with soft power it’s is a brilliant first step at mitigating the most potent problem in bilateral relations: mistrust. And what is most brilliant about the initiative is that could have teeth. Unlike countless other proposals for peace, Aman ki Asha uses mass media to speak to masses directly with a specifically outlined agenda:

“Issues of trade and commerce, of investments, of financial infrastructure, of cultural exchanges, of religious and medical tourism, of free movement of ideas, of visa regimes, of sporting ties, of connectivity, of reviving existing routes, of market access, of separated families, of the plight of prisoners, will be part of our initial agenda. Through debates, discussions and the telling of stories we will find commonalities and space, for compromise and adjustment, on matters that have bedevilled relations for over 60 years”

It sounds promising, because although I do not anticipate this dissemination of smart power to yield results immediately, if it’s done consistently it might have a capacity to democratize the push for peace. It ought not to be the military, or economic institutions setting the agenda, rather, policies should reflect the will of the people. Aman ki Asha is a hugely cooperative step in bilateral ties. More peaceful relations in South Asia can begin by reminding the masses of what my Pakistani born and raised mother said when she came back from a trip to India in 2005 they (Indians) eat the same food, sound the same, act and even look the same as us”. With such strong commonality felt amongst everyday people, one questions the legitimacy of policymaking that has historically divided, rather than united South Asians. And if that sentiment disseminates, albeit gradually, there’s much to hope for in the future.

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25 comments

  1. your ideas/discourse about AMAN KEY ASHA is commendable and re-freshing.The trouble is that in Pakistan we are ruled not by thinking-intelligentsia but by deep-pocket nouveau riche quacKKKs/parasites who excel in backbiting-with-derison/negative sum mentality what they lack in determination/ decisionmaking. Their vested interest is in perpetuating and perpetrating designer-status quo; law off rulers and chamchas, rather than cha-chaing with Rule of Law.
    people like you are a breath of fresh air instanter.
    are you in karachi or abroad?
    syyed iqbal jafree

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  2. There will be little progress on relationships between India and Pakistan as long as the bad influence of the Anglo-Americans continues.

    India remained out of influence of the Anglo-Americans for over three decades, when it preferred to be with the Soviets. It has now adjusted its relations with the US, primarily to counter Pakistan and China.

    Now it is time for Pakistan to do an “Iran” and come out of the Anglo-American influence.

    Any peace will start from there.

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  3. The poverty stricken region desperately needs peace and development.How unfortunate that once upon a time the subcontinent used to feed half of the world, now has the second largest under-fed population after Africa. We desperately want peace for the sake of masses who don’t even have the awareness of their basic rights. The idea of soft power needs to be implemented at the peoples’ level. Initially the progress is going to be insignificant but for sure it’ll gain momentum once people realize that this is their only chance.

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  4. Remember it took devastation of two WWs plus the horrifying impact of two atom bombs for the West to learn to co exist peacefully. We in South Asia are too naive and unsophisticated to learn anything from the history, so the task is really tough and demanding. Unfortunately the leadership on both sides of the divide has miserably failed to display level headedness, it has rather always tried to fan the fires of hatred for trivial selfish gains.
    India is though the fifth largest economy of the world yet almost half of its population lives below poverty level, the situation in Pakistan is no different. No nation has any right to feel proud of its military might and its nuclear arsenal if its people are under nourished, have no access to education, can’t afford to go to a doctor if they fall sick, have no access to justice and their lives are worse than those of the most wretched animals.
    Therefore, the people from civil society with no political ambitions need to lead the initiative. I sincerely feel that if a person of Imran Khan’s stature diverts all his energies towards bringing the two people together, he will be doing invaluable service to the people for whose rights he is fighting the political battles. He, alongwith other sane elements of civil society can carve their names in history if at any time in near or distant future they succeed in lowering tensions between the two neighbors through people to people contacts.
    Another important point to remember over here is that the people of both countries have always and every time rejected extremist elements through their democratic right of vote. It makes no sense to me that why on God’s earth does the popularly elected political leadership of India and Pakistan fall prey to the exploitation of politically insignificant forces. In case of Pakistan it is understandable because successive dictators have infused artificial life into such elements, nonetheless i fail to figure out why the Indian political leadership is so scared of such elements who are an ugly scar on the face of SECULAR India.
    Lets move out of the EGO syndrome and proceed ahead with some practical steps in the right direction. Over here we’ll have to treat each other at parity and respect the sovereignty of the other as well. If India has certain reservations, we should not forget they also stem from mistrust. The Kashmir issue still stares scarily in our face and India’s role in secession of East Pakistan has now been acknowledged openly by quite a few Indian and Bangladeshi characters of 1971 war. The people in India must also understand that events like Mumbai attacks are planned and executed by elements who would never let peace come to this region. So the violent reaction at govt level and at peoples level actually serves the interest of powers of regression.
    To my mind there is another force as well behind widening the ocean of distrust between the two nations. The vested interest groups who have sold trillions of dollars worth of military hardware to both countries, the elements who could foresee that the combined economic might of the region would tilt the balance of power, specially after the second world war when most of the western economies were in tatters.
    Lets not fall prey to the interests of outsiders anymore and show some maturity to bring prosperity in the true sense of the word to this region. Let’s also keep in mind that we collectively possess at least half of the known natural resources of the earth, we’ve potential in agriculture to feed and clothe half of the world with its current population. The trend of recession in western economies will once again prompt them to slow down our economic process by sowing seeds of distrust and disintegration, so that we invest major portion of our resources in buying weapons and war machines. This process will help the developed world revive their economies and push us further deep into instability and distress.

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  5. Will Indians and Pakistanis ever understand the British “Divide and Rule” philosophy

    Hey after all India and Pakistan are the largest customers for ARMS for USA. More than any Arab country or even Israel..

    When will that issue be addressed?

    When there’s an economic interest in selling arms, how can you expect peace?

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    • it’s high time we should realize that there is no other option but to co exist as neighbors _____ peacefully or otherwise, co exist we’ve to !!
      I sincerely believe the initiative has to come from India.

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  6. A Nobel step indeed. But will it succeed?
    Search for India Pakistan in Google.
    Most sites and blog advocate hate instead of peace.
    People on both sides know the truth. Soft-power will only work when people will show will-power to assert their belief.

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  7. Hello Zainab. you looking so beautiful as ur article

    Like


  8. “India’s soft power, its true of music, dance of arts, yoga, aryuveda, even cuisine. With these examples come the sense that in todays world its not the side of the bigger army that wins, it’s the one that tells a better story. And india is the land of a better story. Stereotypes are changing. Today people in Silicon valley people talk of IIT’s with same reverence of MIT”

    Like


  9. PLZ BE MINE

    Like


  10. dost dusmani jee bhar ke karo lekin yeah gunjaish rahe jab kabhi hum dost ho pastana na pade

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  11. nothing but devotion, and i say that your article is superb…………..

    Like


  12. the first thing both side has to do is to get their political motives clear and get rid of extremist fundamentalist from their sides then come up with broader solution as these days energy power solution then oil and gas solution all these has to be addresses by both sides with clear mind and all political parties from both sides to agree and come one one agreement platform then there is chances of development and come up at par with any western counties. So both sides think tank so sit together and have a clear mind then world can see the prospering of India/Pakistan together by doing this they can cut down on their yearly budget and give relief to common citizen but cutting on extra expenditure on arms and oil plus energy sector. By doing this Allah & Bhagwan will be happy and reward them hereafter.

    Like


  13. the first thing both side has to do is to get their political motives clear and get rid of extremist fundamentalist from their sides then come up with broader solution as these days energy power solution then oil and gas solution all these has to be addresses by both sides with clear mind and all political parties from both sides to agree and come on one agreement platform then there is chances of development and come up at par with any western counties. So both sides think tank so sit together and have a clear mind then world can see the prospering of India/Pakistan together by doing this they can cut down on their yearly budget and give relief to common citizen but cutting on extra expenditure on arms and oil plus energy sector. By doing this Allah & Bhagwan will be happy and reward them hereafter.

    Like


  14. According to me this blog is a rubbish production of rubbish minds

    Like


    • your face is rubbish

      Like


  15. According to me we have wasted more than enough precious lives, resources, time and every thing else valuable by being emotional with our religious faiths.

    Its time that we look things practically- not to attach any patriotism while interacting with our neighbours-treat them just as your country men.

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  16. i am Ammad from rawalpindi i work in punjab police
    vry vry good effort to wirte this page .it will be good effects of our peoples.
    pakistan zinda bad.

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  17. Actullay dear we need only peace in this stage other wise god for bit we will go back fastly.

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  18. will this help to resolved the problem

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  19. now we should change our mind.we should discuss our domestic problems,pak is vulnerable and v cant afford new games
    ahad kakar

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  20. If we want to improve our region and our status then we have to minimize our arms expensions. But we have to give freedom to Kashmir before taking every step in this regarde.

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  21. peace is better than every thing. u knw south asia is becmng a big consumr markt nd we can take advntge of this.

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  22. y is this a poem

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  23. our politicians will never think about peace because this is not in their interest… indo-pak dispute is a very good political instrument for our politicians…we the common man from both side will have to think what is actual root cause of problem …

    Like



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