A Noble Surprise
Two champions from civil society get recognition
Malala, Kailash richly deserve the honour
The general public had resigned itself to an expectation that the Nobel committee would remain true to tradition and select a warlord for its Peace Prize, but it has sprung a happy surprise this year, and given it to two notable representatives from civil society. Every right-thinking person in Pakistan has joined the world in rejoicing that Malala Yousafzai’s valiant championing of the rights of girls to education has been so well honoured. Undoubtedly, the benighted Taliban remain determined to shackle women to illiteracy, the home, and drudgery. And not only they. There are several groups in India from the khap panchayats to the Rama Sena in Mangalore who are not far behind in their desire to treat women as household chattels. The rape statistics from the United States, including those for offences committed within the campuses of the halls of learning, show that young Malala speaks for all humanity when she asks national leaders, international opinion makers, and families to see the urgency in confronting and changing ancient destructive patriarchal attitudes.
If there is one attitudinal distinction that sharply differentiates Americans from Indians it is in their response to a neighbour’s success. Americans openly rejoice, undoubtedly hoping that the lightning of good fortune would strike them next. Indians artlessly express disdain, if not worse, for being crowded together they feel that if the neighbour had not existed, or even better died all of a sudden, they themselves might have been so favoured. Congratulations for Kailash Satyarti have been tardy in coming from the legions of Indians who get their well-buttered bread from civil society ‘activism.’ What is lost in their multitude of caveats is the sterling fact that this most important prize recognises the worth of community endeavour for a better world, and if Satyarti has been chosen to represent this present-day movement all honour is due to him.
Clearly the Nobel committee by linking the citizens of Pakistan and India to the prize are nudging their leaders, wink, wink, towards a peaceful settlement of their differences, though, of course if peace does break out in South Asia, it would be a major blow to tottering western economies which depend so much on arms sales to keep afloat. It is this link between economics and militarism that has carefully fostered the military establishment in Pakistan and reduced its civil government to the status of puppets.
This process was aided by two blinkered political notions. The Secretary of State for the United States during the Eisenhower era was Dulles, famous for his nuclear brinkmanship, and in cahoots with his brother Allen, in charge of the CIA. He along with successive American administrations seem to have genuinely believed that the people of the world would abandon capitalism and run towards communism unless they were subdued by cruel dictators backed by fearsome American power. It was only after the American military was soundly thrashed in the Vietnam war that Americans began to see that people in south-east Asia and elsewhere in the world were willing to experiment with the free market, and were also cagey about the strictures of communism. Even in Cuba, led by the romantic figure of Fidel Castro, there are visible yearnings for market freedoms, despite the American economic blockade that keeps Cubans securely tied to socialist methodology.
The other political pressure that pushed forward the militarization of Pakistan was Nehru’s dilettantish romanticism that portrayed himself as the centre of the non-aligned movement – an attitude that would have delighted participants in a Chatham House debate but warned the paranoid Dulles that the only defence for his country was a heavily-armed Pakistan. Americans had great expertise in propping up military dictators in Latin America, so his staff knew what to do. Nehru, late of Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, rejoiced in being gentlemanly in all things, and readily agreed to a UN plebiscite in Kashmir, and yet as a Kashmiri pandit he could not quite bring himself to let it happen. As a secular democrat he readily agreed to Article 370 of the Constitution defining the relationship of Kashmir with the Indian Republic, but then as a haughty feudal ruler he had Sheik Abdullah thrown into jail. As an aristocratic and Anglicised Indian he had little respect for Mao ZeDong and the Chinese, whom he was willing to lead into the civilized world if they were polite followers. He grandly overlooked CIA activity from Indian soil in the Tibet region. In fact Nehru went out of the way as the leader of the home of the Buddha in befriending the self-exiled Dalai Lama. The border war was a product of his hauteur towards the great neighbour and his incurable romanticism which made him believe that Krishna Menon could send back the Chinese with a few well-chosen words. That conflict and succeeding Indian posturing taught the Chinese the lesson that the only way they could protect their national interests from a whimsical neighbour was to join America in supporting Pakistan over the years, and thanks to their facilitation the Pakistan military command nuclear weapons.
The war on terror has in no diminished American support for the Pakistan military, which is needed to contain the eastern wing of their encirclement of the Middle East, and also to threaten Iran, a key oil player, nowadays even more un-subdued than in the days of Dr Mosaddeq, overthrown by the CIA of Dulles before the re-installation of the pliant Shah. Western-trained Indian bureaucracy and leadership have little understanding of the Chinese, or their diplomatic signalling methods. Their habitual arrogance is carefully stoked by their Western counterparts, so there is little prospect of Indian rapprochement with China in the near future.
Hence, despite the kindly twinning of Pakistan and India by the Nobel committee, peace between the two countries will remain as illusory as their hope that Obama, America’s first black president, will be more peaceful than the other warlords who have ruled that great country and shown their patriotism by bombing hapless people around the world.