On the morning of October 10, as I read that Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi had been awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, I couldn’t help but think of the irony. An Indian and a Pakistani were sharing the world’s most prestigious award of its kind, while India and Pakistan still do not share stability, close relations, or peace. On the contrary, this month saw a renewal of fighting in the disputed territory of Kashmir, in which many civilians were killed and injured.
Undoubtedly, the decision made by the Norwegian Nobel Committee was a conscious one. The givers of this prize often seem to have an underlying political message behind their annual choice. This year they awarded it to a teenage, Pakistani, Muslim girl and an older, Indian, Hindu man—two people from strikingly different backgrounds. Both recipients recognized the pressing issue of children’s rights in their respective countries and strove to make a tangible difference. The convergence of their missions via the Nobel Peace Prize is one of the endless similarities that bring Pakistanis and Indians together, in spite of the efforts of those who seek to make the neighbors enemies. The blindly nationalistic sentiments that pull the countries apart often come out with greatest intensity when Kashmir is involved, which is why the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize is timely and could have greater significance beyond the award itself.
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Satyarthi and Malala should be an opportunity for the governments of India and Pakistan to pursue concrete diplomatic solutions and empower Kashmiris, especially youth, by providing them with quality education and a war-free environment. Not only would this be an affirmation of this year’s prize by advancing children’s rights, but such action is necessary for the future welfare of Kashmiris. For any volatile region to be stabilized, children need to be given an environment in which their families are not being killed and their homes are not being destroyed; absent this, the likelihood of ending cycles of poverty, frustration, and violence is low. Things will not change for the better unless Pakistan and India commit to respecting, serving, and developing Kashmir, instead of using it as a tool to serve their political interests. One of the worst things for them to do is to continue firing across the border and ruining the lives of civilians, scarring another generation of Kashmiris.
In this latest round of conflict, approximately twenty civilians have been killed and over 100 injured in cross-border firing and shellings by both India and Pakistan. Predictably, both parties blamed each other for violating the ceasefire and displaying aggression. Unfortunately, the conflict’s effects are far-reaching, with tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes due to the lack of security. The accounts of civilians who want nothing to do with this violence but have been caught in between the Indo-Pak rivalry are tragic. To make matters worse, all of this comes as the region struggles to recover from devastating floods that killed hundreds and left thousands homeless in September.
Although Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remarks about the recent disturbance have been standoffish (among other things, he said, “...when bullets are being fired on the border, it is the enemy that is screaming...their old habits will not be tolerated”), Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have emphasized the need for a diplomatic solution. Yet the countries have been vaguely referring to diplomatic solutions for years without any result. South Asian politicians, as well as the international community, must not only understand that a resolution of the conflict is long overdue, but take action.
The Kashmir conflict will never be solved through full-out war, let alone these sporadic skirmishes; neither the local nor the international community would accept that. Small exchanges of fire, like the recent one, prove little and have no result other than the loss of innocent civilian life and the destruction of homes and livelihoods. It is a shame that such useless and detrimental fighting has become common in Kashmir for so long. The Kashmiri people have been living in a war-torn environment for decades, and a permanent solution for stability remains elusive since both Pakistan and India are unwilling to give up their claims to the entire region. As long as the two countries cannot agree on an international border, the situation cannot be fully resolved. The two countries will have to come to a compromise that prioritizes the will of Kashmiris.
The driving force behind this issue should not be the egos of the two nations, but rather the lives of the people who are negatively impacted by the unending cycles of violence in their region. Besides the wars that they have fought over Kashmir, India and Pakistan maintain a heavy military presence in the parts of Kashmir that they each control. The armies often clash with local residents, resulting in serious human rights abuses including infringements on free speech and due process, as well as the use of torture. Children from Kashmir grow up surrounded by violence and fear, and the psychological and emotional impact is scarring. As these children grow up, their anger, frustration, and helplessness often lead them to resort to violence, continuing the cycle. This is not the kind of lifestyle that generation upon generation of Kashmiris deserves.
Here is where last week's Nobel Peace Prize comes in. Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi have dedicated their lives to improving the future prospects of South Asian children by championing causes like education and anti-trafficking. Satyarthi’s ongoing movement focuses on ending child trafficking and labor in India; Malala has been a strong advocate for education, especially for girls, in Pakistan. The children of today are a very real hope for the future in South Asia, but the latest outbreak of violence in Kashmir threatens this prospect. Only with stability, peace, education, and opportunities will the children grow up to bring prosperity to their communities.
Malala has already taken the first step of making this year’s Nobel Peace Prize much more valuable than a medal, some money, and some publicity. She has invited the prime ministers of India and Pakistan to the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo in December, and has encouraged Satyarthi to do the same. Considering the recent tension between the two leaders, their attendance would have symbolic and political significance. In the spirit of advancing children’s rights in South Asia, Modi and Sharif should attend the ceremony and develop a plan for stabilizing the region of Kashmir. This should entail committing to strict adherence of the ceasefire and creating programs to improve education, development, and free movement for Kashmiris on both sides of the border. Allowing Kashmiri children to lead more normal lives will prove to be valuable for their mental and emotional health, eventually resulting in a more prosperous and safer Kashmir. Then, perhaps, Kashmir will again be recognized as “Paradise on Earth.”
The image featured in this article is taken from Tim Ereneta's Flickr account and has been cropped. His original image can be found here.