Peace # 1 Issue in the World Today: Pakistan & Palestine- Parallel Pivots in the Peace Paradigm

Date: May 2011

Pakistan — the Road to Abbottabad

“So what did they know?” I asked a dear Pakistani friend in Washington DC, who a few years ago had been able to meet with senior Taliban officials in Karachi easily, if he also knew about Osama living in Abbottabad or knew somebody who knew about Osama’s hide out. “Do you think the Pakistan government knew of bin Laden’s existence in Abbottabad?”

He responded, “It is a complex landscape. The Afghan Taliban enjoyed Pakistani support during the Soviet era. Many of the older Pakistani military personnel, who are now retired, are probably still close to the Afghan Taliban.” He thought there were definitely people “in the know” about “people in hiding.” He likened the bin Laden hideout to a Sherlock Holmes detective story where the criminal is always under the nose of the detective in an obvious — but overlooked hiding place.

We and our Madrasa teachers were just down the road: The Muslim Women’s Fund’s (MWF) very first project — a curriculum training workshop for girls madrasa teachers on non-violence, human rights and gender equality took place in Abbottabad, just as the U.S. was beginning to track Osama. We gathered 37 teachers from 27 madrasas for our first teacher training workshop — and we certainly didn’t know who our neighbor was!

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistani and director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington gives us his analysis of the bin Laden operation:

“Killing bin Laden has indeed succeeded at putting pressure on the Pakistani army, but not to the effect that Washington may have wished. The truth is that Pakistanis are angrier about the United States’ ability to launch a special-operations raid right under their noses than they are that bin Laden was found on their soil-and the military is bearing the brunt of the criticism inside Pakistan. Text-message jokes about the army are making the rounds, parliament is angrily voicing embarrassing questions about the military’s lack of preparedness, and the chattering classes are tossing ceaseless insults. But it’s the United States that now has the most to lose.”

Parallels with Palestine: As I listened to President Obama’s speech last week, challenging the Israelis and Palestinians to revisit an old paradigm for peace, suggesting a return to the 1967 boundaries as a starting point, I realized that there were many parallels between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and what the Economist this week called “the world’s most dangerous border” — that between India and Pakistan.

Look at the list:

  • Israel was birthed in 1948; the India/Pakistan partition was in 1947.
  • Both remain unresolved because they ended with cease-fires, not agreed on borders.
  • Both involve conflicts between a Muslim and a non Muslim population.
  • Both are hot spots – at boiling point – which have destabilized their regions.
  • Both put the world at great risk.
  • Both have militarized their regions, putting war over education, employment, economic and social progress. (Pakistan expends 16% of its budget on defense and 1.2% on education.)

The old stalemates are breaking up: The unreliability of Pakistan as an ally is one of the President’s biggest challenges. But the Middle East is another.

President Obama is eager to resolve the Israeli-Palestine conundrum, cognizant of the urgency, as President Mahmoud Abbas seeks a UN vote on nationhood for Palestine in September. Some might like his initiative and others might not, but one thing is clear: the Arab Spring has created tectonic shifts. Entrenched tribes fight to preserve old customs even as the globe gallops along the Internet highway, heralding a new world. A dramatic new world order, allows countries previously considered as “have-nots,” to flex their muscle, enjoying unprecedentedly high growth rates. Even the International Monetary Fund, long dominated by European and American leadership, is being challenged by China, Turkey, and maybe even India.

As spring becomes summer, will Islamists share power or dominate? Will women have equal voice, power and participation? The Arab Spring and the Arab street perplex us. The Islamist parties are surfacing more visibly in Tunisia, Syria and Egypt. Will they take over? Will they share power and leadership with women — who have been at the forefront of the revolutions as equals with men? In Libya, we note that only 2 women have been appointed in the new government body of 40 members. With dictators in power from three to four decades in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, there is a leadership vacuum and a lack of significant civil society institutions. Where do we start? How do we help the rebels of yesterday be the leaders of tomorrow? How do we ensure that women — half the population — will be granted equal voice, power and participation in the new governments?

What’s the role of outsiders? Even for those of us who want to empower the rebels to move forward and give them the tools to build democratic societies, we need to recognize this is their revolution, not ours. These are their dreams for democracy, not western imposed mandates. A few days ago, one of my donors told me that an American colleague of hers, who had just returned from meeting key players in the revolution in Egypt, suggested that Westerners lie low and let the Egyptians lead the way. Having been in Cairo just before the revolution erupted where I met key leaders from a handful of independent NGOs, I would suggest an alternative frame: Yes, let the Egyptians take the lead, but give them the tools, training and models for development. Support them until they become self sufficient and can rely on local funds and resources to build civil society institutions which support human rights, women’s rights, freedom, democracy, and a free press.

On the global landscape, Palestine and Pakistan are terrifying. On the local landscape, I continue to be heartened. One of my best Jewish friends and supporters encourages me to have faith, as he has in Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the PLO, whom he has met with a couple of times, but about whom he is concerned.

Last week my dinner host, an American Muslim and an attorney at a prominent local law firm, talked of being trapped in the Mumbai blast of the Taj Hotel, November 2008, with his 78-year-old father. He narrated the harrowing experience at length and focused on the “dastardliness of the terrorists who killed the Jewish parents of an infant.” Sanity and humanity can still win the day!

The opinions mentioned in this blog reflect the personal perspective of Shahnaz Taplin Chinoy, Chair, Muslim Women’s Fund.

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