Peace

Peace in Asia: Who benefits from military escalation in Pakistan, India

by Caesar D’Mello
Pax Christi Asia-Pacific Network

On the very day that Indian fighter jets were reportedly pounding the Islamist Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) base in the state of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, just one hundred kilometres from Rawalpindi, Pakistan’s capital, a group of us was visiting Gandhi Smriti in Delhi where Mahatma Gandhi, acclaimed the Father of India, was killed. A series of sculpted slippers reconstructs his brief last walk that was suddenly ended by an assassin on 30 January,1948. Gandhi, an ardent advocate of nonviolence, was broken when he saw his dream of a united and peaceful India, for which he had laboured most of his life, abandoned when the British partitioned Greater India in August 1947 into the two nations of India and Pakistan, as we know them today.

Gandhi paid the ultimate price for his active commitment to unity between Hindus and Muslims that was virulently opposed by some. That antagonism still underlies India-Pakistan relations, the aereal bombing of 26 February, 2019 being its latest expression. The hostility of the last seven decades is rooted in the decision by Hari Singh, the Maharaja, to cede Kashmir, a state with a Muslim majority, to India.

Much suffering and death have ensued ever since. There have been umpteen skirmishes, and major wars in 1948, 1965, 1971, 1999 and 2004. There has also been  recurring terrorist action led by various Pakistan-based militant groups to ‘liberate’ Kashmir from India, the most brazen being the incursion in Mumbai in November 2008 when after three days of mayhem 166 Indians lay dead with many more injured.

The bombing of the training base was triggered by a militant act on 14 February, 2019 for which JeM claimed responsibility. It appears its motivation was to be a springboard for another chapter in the conflict between India and Pakistan. An Indian military convoy was targeted in a suicide bombing in Pulwama in Indian-occupied Kashmir that took the lives of 42 Indian soldiers. India’s claims of destroying the JeM site and killing many cadres was disputed by Pakistan which, in a tit for tat response, bombed what it claims were ‘non-civilian targets’ in India. So the stalemate remains.

Who benefits? What learning has arisen from the hostilities?

Thankfully, tensions have now subsided up to a point. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the nations’ leaders, and others of goodwill, to reflect on the recent events. What has been learned, especially if the status quo ante remains mostly unchanged, poised to blow up another day?  Sadly, historic conflicts are not unique. Kashmir is one that  keeps festering. While it is wise to study the root causes of any conflict, leaving the two combatants trapped in a downward spiral of mutual hatred and periodic reciprocal violence is not. To enjoy the fruits of lasting peace, Pax Christi Asia-Pacific believes that rather than persist on the path of instinctively responding in kind, it is an urgent responsibility of all concerned to find a sustainable way out of the endless impasse.

Many dimensions of the recent eruption were most unhelpful. Those living in areas bordering the Line of Control in divided Kashmir suffered greatly. The fearful sight of noisy air force jets hovering above notwithstanding, lives were disrupted. The majority, being farmers, were deeply anguished over losing homes, crops and livelihoods. Relocating to safer places meant spending limited resources on rents and other costs. The wider community, too, was tense, as evidenced by the appeal by Sunila Ruth, a Christian member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, to Pope Francis to support ‘dialogue and negotiation’ to help end the conflict. Christians and many others took part in public vigils declaring, ‘War is not the answer’.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, articulated what appeared to be a face-saving way out for both countries when he asked, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we really afford a miscalculation”?  Acknowledging ‘the hurt that has been caused due to the Pulwama attack’, he said, “we should sit and settle this with talks”. A captured Indian pilot was returned to the Indian authorities.  Had there been reciprocity from the Indian side, the situation would have been diffused earlier, while spurring a dialogue focused on security, Kashmir, and meaningful ways to counter and frustrate  militant groups. Instead, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintained an aggressive stance, having earlier promised ‘a jaw-breaking response’. This fueled a nationalistic public mood in sections of the country believing their war as ‘just’, and demanding ‘a swift and appropriate reply’.

At the height of the conflict war hysteria was at its peak in both countries. Pakistan’s public and social media were awash with anti-India belligerent messages. Combative  sections of the Indian media endorsed actions such as removing the pictures of Pakistani cricketers from view, Indian cricketers using caps with military fatigue designs, airlines issuing boarding passes displaying the Indian flag, and so on. One can wonder if such an environment was exploited for the national elections.

A high level of military preparedness over the years, and the sort of expenditure involved in the latest military engagement entail allocating increasing proportions of precious resources to military arsenals and sophisticated conventional and nuclear weaponry. The known defence expenditure by India is in the order of $60 billion a year! While military needs are met, the basic needs of vast sections of both countries’ populations are not. As Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore said, “Escalating defence budget should instead be diverted to develop people”.

Peace is too precious and basic a human right to be reduced to a zero sum game run on mutually retaliatory actions. History has shown the role of asymmetrical approaches in achieving peace when magnanimity or a greater give and take become a circuit breaker. Every chance should be seized, even if in the past any attempts were thwarted, including by non-state actors who should be brought to heel. Realising long lasting peace by negotiations is preferable to living in a constant cycle of violence and the shadow of a nuclear threat. It is crucial that ways forward discussed are realistic and based on justice, and serious attempts made by both sides to tone down the war rhetoric. The relatively new government of Pakistan and the Indian government that emerges from the elections provide a new opportunity ‘to give peace a chance’, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi who denounced ‘politics without principle’. Pax Christi Asia-Pacific is convinced that “diplomacy and other peaceable ways…will serve…not only the peoples of India and Pakistan but also…of Asia-Pacific and beyond”.

Caesar D’Mello is a member of Pax Christi Australia, and a consultant on Global South ‘development’, climate change and peace concerns.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nonviolence: A matter of choice

by Sr. Veena Jacob, RA

Assumption sisters are working with migrants in the Patna slums. The slum dwellers come from the drought- and flood-affected villages of Bihar and Jharkhand. These people are mostly landless and are agricultural labourers. They are illiterate and unskilled and belong to the Dalit (low caste) community. A number of them do not have legal papers as citizens to get the entitlement of government welfare programs.

When migrants come to the city they live near the waste dumping ground, the canal and the sides of the railway with makeshift houses. The atmosphere in the slum is very violent. We have been working with women for their empowerment and development of their children in this slum for the last eight years.

Stalin nagar has been a slum for more that the last 50 years. Due to our interventions many families have gotten their ration cards which entitle them to government food security for people below the poverty line. They are supposed to get subsided food (wheat/rice/ sugar) and kerosene (fuel) from the ration shop every month according to the number of family members.

The owner of the ration shop is a powerful man of this area. He and his workers refuse to distribute rations to the Stalin nagar slum people who have a right to get the rations. Due to corruption in the distribution system, the rations never reach the poor. Rations were sold out before they reached the ration shop. Poor people were frightened to demand their rations. Anyone who challenges the owner of the ration shop is beaten up, their women and children were raped, or their huts burned down. The law and order of the state is very poor; hence no action was taken against them.

Sisters trained around a group of 30 illiterate women from Stalin nagar slum in self-help to demand their rations from the ration shop. They went and stood in front of the ration shop owner with empty bags in protest till he gave them rations. Now they get their regular rations every month.

The method used by the women is Satyagraha. One of Gandhi’s teachings is Satyagraha. Satya means ‘truth’ and agraha means ‘firmness’. Satyagraha is the vindication of truth — not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one’s self. This principle reverses the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ policy which Gandhi says is blind and destructive. It returns good for evil until the evildoer tires of evil…

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* Photo credit: TerraUrban blog, http://www.terraurban.wordpress.com
Nonviolence

Advancing ‘just peace’ through strategic nonviolent action

By Dr. Maria J. Stephan
U.S. Institute of Peace

Note: The following article was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016 as one of the primary background papers of the conference.

All across the globe, from Guatemala to Poland to Venezuela to Palestine, ordinary people are organizing and challenging systems of injustice, inequality, and oppression using weapons of will and active nonviolent means. Their struggles are part of a rich history of nonviolent movements and “people power” that include the Mahatma Gandhi-led fight for self-determination in India, the Polish Solidarity movement against communist dictatorship, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the peaceful ouster of dictator Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and recent nonviolent movements for human rights and dignity in Tunisia, Guatemala, Brazil, and elsewhere.

The Technique of Nonviolent Action

In each of these cases, unarmed civilians used nonviolent direction action, or what nonviolent action scholar Gene Sharp described as techniques outside of institutionalized behavior for social change that challenges an unjust power dynamic using methods of protest, noncooperation, and intervention without the use or threat of injurious force. The theoretical underpinnings of nonviolent resistance, articulated by Sharp and by earlier scholars including German philosopher Hannah Arendt, holds that power is fluid and ultimately grounded in the consent and cooperation of ordinary people, who can decide to restrict or withhold that support. Sharp identified six key sources of political power, which are present to varying degrees in any society: authority, human resources, material resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, and sanctions. Ultimately, these sources of power are grounded in organizations and institutions, made up of people, known as “pillars of support”. When large numbers of people from various pillars of support (bureaucracies, trade and labor unions, state media, educational institutions, religious institutions, security forces, etc.) use various nonviolent tactics to withhold consent and cooperation from regimes or other power-holders in an organized fashion, this can shift power from the oppressor to the oppressed without bombs or bullets.

Sharp identified 198 methods of nonviolent action that included peaceful marches, vigils, social and consumer boycotts, stay-aways, sit-ins, street theatre, humor, and the creation of parallel structures and institution (included in what Gandhi referred to as the “constructive program”, which focused on social uplift for the poor and marginalized). The rise of social media technologies, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Instagram has expanded the universe of tactics even further, while offering new avenues for communication, mobilization, and peer learning across borders. Successful movements have integrated both on and offline forms of mobilization, organization, and direct action – online activism is never a substitute for nuts and bolts offline organizing…

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Nonviolence, Peace

A just peace built on contemplation and resistance

by Rose Berger

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

In 1999, I walked into Camp Rakovica. There were 1,500 Kosovar refugees in this camp on the dusty outskirts of Sarajevo. They had come by bus, car, and on foot. First held in the expansive bottling rooms at the Coca Cola factory, the refugees now live in an old cattle barn, in tents, and on an open field.

We were invited into the barn’s converted milking room and given the best of the plastic seats around a plywood table. Forty families live here in 6-by-8 foot cubicles separated by curtains. The men told us that Serb soldiers herded them out of their homes. One asked us to find information about his brother, who he presumed was dead in Kosovo. Adem, the oldest man in the camp at 80, wore a blue wool beret and his weatherworn face glistened with tears. Thirty members of his family had been killed by Serb paramilitaries in Kosovo.

The women stand around the ring of conversation holding children on their hips. They served us coffee in chipped red cups. Harija, in her mid-30s, shot her words at us like fire. “How can I live with this pain that my neighbor—my husband shoveled snow from her walk before he even cleared our own—stood in our yard while I was hanging laundry and spoke aloud how she was going to kill me and my children? She was trying to decide between mortar or sniper.”

There was no doctor in this camp. The outhouses were overflowing. The only food available was bread and canned vegetables. The graffiti on the wall shows a young man with a gun to his head.

One man led me down a shoe-strewn hall. He opened the curtain and there, on the bunk bed, lay a 2-day-old baby boy wrapped in clean linens and a rough army blanket. The mother looked worn and happy in her torn T-shirt and dusty skirt. I prayed over the Muslim child, making the sign of the cross on his forehead. No one seems to mind the mix of religious symbols.

War is the great evangelizer. As NATO tossed Tomahawks into Slobodan Milosevic’s tinderbox, Madeleine Albright said she’d pray for Serbia. At the same time, in the foxholes of Belgrade basements, cultural atheists were coming to Christ. While Belgrade burned and Pristina became a ghost town, prayer seemed to be the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. But how do we separate the arrogant petitions of the powerful and the desperate pleas of the weak from that revolutionary act that “moves mountains”?

Authentic prayer brooks no illusions. It is a process of disillusionment. Disillusionment requires education. Education requires context.

For more than 40 years, Tito and his successors squelched religious affiliation or ethnic identity for the sake of a “unified” Communist Republic of Yugoslavia. After Tito’s death, the country went into sharp economic decline. In 1982, The Wall Street Journal ran a story on the upheaval caused by an International Monetary Fund austerity program in Yugoslavia. The program was causing unrest, especially in a small province called Kosovo.

Lesson one. The end of communism’s enforced monoculture produced a renaissance of ethnic and religious identity and pride in the Balkans. Genuine pluralism cannot be produced by force.

Lesson two. Budgets, international monetary systems, and structural adjustments are moral issues with real and ethical consequences.

In 1986, Slobodan Milosevic became head of the Serbian Communist Party. He made a powerful nationalistic speech in Kosovo that effectively stole the national agenda from democratic forces and the Serbian resistance movement. His rallying cry was that Kosovo could never be separated from Serbia. In 1989, with massive popular support, he cracked down on opposition, purged the party of reformist rivals, and abridged autonomy in the regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina, establishing de facto martial law.

Lesson three. Past behavior is an important indicator of future behavior. Milosevic was an educated, urbane, and charismatic leader. He was also cruel and desperate to hold on to the last stronghold of communism in Europe. While we must always appeal to the “king within the man,” we should not be surprised by—and more importantly, we should be prepared for—the response of the tyrant.

While Milosevic was preoccupied with genocide in Bosnia, Kosovar Albanians—under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova—organized a pacifist resistance movement modeled on Gandhian strategies. It was mainly unrecognized and unsupported by the international community. The death knell of the resistance was the Dayton Accords, when the European Union not only recognized Yugoslavia and Milosevic as its leader, but also rewarded Bosnian Serbs, who had committed the worst acts of genocide since the Nazis, by giving them half of Bosnia.

Lesson four. Appeasement has no place in building a sustainable peace with just foundations.

Early in 1998, after the Dayton Accords, Serb forces massacred ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo during a seven-month “anti-terrorist” sweep. Albanian dissident Adem Demaqi promoted a more aggressive nonviolent approach to Kosovo independence, calling for mass demonstrations and strikes. The Serb military responded with brutal force. As despair built among the Albanians and the war in Bosnia wound down, the militant Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army formed. They smuggled in weapons and began an armed guerrilla offensive.

Lesson five. By the time we come to a place where violence seems the only option, the failure is not simply in the moment, but in how we arrived at the apparent lack of options. The time to address a situation is before it devolves to violence. Once we are in the midst of violent conflict, peacemakers must be active in negotiating justice between the warring parties and interceding on behalf of the victims—all the while building the groundwork of a just peace.

Lesson six. Nonviolence is like horseback riding. When you get thrown off, you have to climb back in the saddle. Grappling with the hard questions about applying nonviolence in real-world situations can make us stronger, even when we don’t have simple or clear answers.

In the U.S. Christian commentator Chuck Colson decried the lack of church protest against the war. “What makes this silence even more disturbing,” he said, “is that the situation in Yugoslavia raises profound moral questions that the Christian church is uniquely qualified to address.” Theologian and activist Ched Myers reminds us that the body politic can be possessed by a vicious demon of silence just as the mute boy was in the gospel of Mark. Jesus tells us that the demon of silence can only be exorcised by prayer and fasting.

The prayer we are called to is at once profoundly personal and profoundly political. It consists of contemplation and resistance. Contemplation is the process of dismantling illusions and authentically seeking truth. Resistance is the act of rebuilding, both personally and politically, on a firm and true foundation.

Nonviolence, Peace

Sumud: Neither resigning to the occupation nor becoming absorbed by hate

by Rania Murra
Director of the Arab Educational Institute, Bethlehem, Palestine

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

My personal, family, work and political circumstances as shaped by the Israeli occupation have motivated me to participate in nonviolence and peacebuilding. During my work at the Arab Educational Institute (AEI)/Sumud Story House in Bethlehem/Palestine, I have been exposed to different kinds of formal and informal education and participated in several of AEI’s nonviolence activities. Examples are interreligious prayers and retreats; singing and acting in front of the Separation Wall; collecting, editing and fixing story posters in the so-called Wall Museum; vigils and marches; encouraging the Bethlehem Sumud Choir; filming, documenting, and interviewing peace activists; and holding an annual Sumud Festival.

Sumud is Arabic for “steadfastness”. It refers to an active, nonviolent lifestyle in which one neither resigns to the occupation nor become absorbed by hate towards the enemy. Sumud is a third way in which one keeps head and dignity high, stays actively connected to the land and the community, and challenges occupation by a peaceful lifestyle with preparedness to suffer. Sumud is about being tested as Jesus was tested in Gethsemane and afterwards. It’s a concept which gives space to stories and voices of individual women, families and communities. Jesus, as well as personalities like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are examples showing the personal leadership of sumud.

Sumud implies a solid strategy, living by example. Strategy means that we have to work on educating and liberating people, and especially raising the voice of women. Women have to participate and present their stories, but they should also be decision-makers in their communities. Each woman has her own way to make a difference. This has also a personal and family dimension. It is about raising your children in the spirit of sumud, against the occupation, against despair and emigration, against bare survival. In the case of women’s rights, you are trying to build your country in a way that aims at ending the occupation. When I fight what are called “honor killings”, it is not only a fight for humanity but also a fight against the occupation because you make your people and community stronger.

I believe that we have several strategies available to deepen and widen the practice of nonviolence in the worldwide Catholic community. All require our energy:

  • Living by example: working with Catholic communities on local and global issues of justice, inequality, discrimination, poverty and peace – and showing the many linkages between the different issues in an increasingly interconnected world. A practice of nonviolence can only be fostered by working together on real world problems.
  • To encourage joint working and living by example it is important for the church to increasingly involve lay people in the church organization. Conversely, it is helpful to have more clergy involved in directly dealing with real life problems.
  • To approach world problems nonviolently, it is important to work on peace/nonviolence education, including the ability of people to raise their voice in different forms and genres.
  • Essential for strengthening nonviolence in the Catholic community is working with women on issues important for protecting her human security and rights. It is also essential to promote women’s participation in society, including her participation in the church.
  • We should try to strengthen the dialogical capacity of the Catholic Church with regard to both ecumenical dialogues within the Christian church and dialogues across religious borders. Dialogues between religious communities are important for allowing a broad-based, global, nonviolent peace movement. While there are many institutional and dogmatic obstacles here, we can use the exemplary practice of the present pope to illustrate the need for inter-religious dialogue and living together.
  • It will be important for believers in the Church to make a direct connection between the example of Jesus’s life of suffering sumud and approaching nonviolently present-day world problems. Symbols referring to Jesus’s life of struggling nonviolently for a just peace are meaningful. Showing the life of the Virgin Mary and the life stories of saints in appealing forms and designs can help to illustrate a nonviolent lifestyle. Some spiritual traditions of the church are inspired by nonviolent approaches including indigenous traditions in newly established churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Last but not least, it is extremely important that the church itself gives a good example of nonviolence, including preventing the abuse of children in its own ranks.

Nonviolence, Peace

Nonviolence is power

by Fr. John Dear

Note: The following story was submitted to the Nonviolence and Just Peace conference in Rome in April 2016. Conference participants were invited to share short reflections on their own experiences of nonviolence and peacemaking.

First, my work for Gospel nonviolence began in 1982, while I was camping alone by the Sea of Galilee in Israel. I was twenty-one years old and about to enter the seminary. One day I visited the Chapel of the Beatitudes and was quite overwhelmed by their teachings. While pondering them, I saw Israeli jets swoop down over the Sea of Galilee, and drop their bombs a few miles away in Lebanon. Sixty-thousand people died during that summer war. I decided then and there to dedicate my life to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. Within months, I began a serious study of nonviolence, joined every peace group I could find, and started writing a book about professing a vow of nonviolence, as Gandhi did. Since then, I’ve written over 30 books on peace and nonviolence; traveled the war zones of the world, from Central America to Iraq and Afghanistan; organized countless demonstrations; been arrested over 75 times and spent nearly a year in jail; directed the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA; lectured on nonviolence probably to over a million people, and currently work with Ken Butigan on Campaign Nonviolence.

tnvl-cover-rgSecond, Gandhi and King insist that nonviolence is power, that it is stronger than all the world’s weapons combined, that it doesn’t use the means of violence to achieve noble ends, and that when it is tried, it always works. I see this more and more as I study the movements for social change. As I wrote in my recent book, The Nonviolent Life, I think nonviolence requires nonviolence to ourselves; nonviolence toward all people, all creatures, and all creation; and at the same time, active participation in the global grassroots movement of nonviolence, which can tackle any issue, according to Gandhi and King. Erica Chenoweth, in her recent book, Why Civil Resistance Works, has now proven statistically that nonviolence works when it’s tried. But for me, its greatest strength, of course, is that is it the way of Jesus. I completely agree with Gandhi and King that Jesus was perfectly nonviolent, that all his teachings are about nonviolence, that he forbids all violence, and that during his life, he built and mobilized a grassroots movement of nonviolence, which continues today. As I get older, I have become less involved in institutional church work and more involved in global grassroots movements of nonviolence, because I think this is what the nonviolent Jesus wants of me and all of us. I’m very moved too by Gandhi’s statement: “The Kingdom of God is nonviolence.” We are working to welcome the Kingdom of God as a new world without war, hunger, guns, greed, executions, torture, racism, sexism, nuclear weapons or environmental destruction, a new world of nonviolence.

Third, Catholics do not know anything about nonviolence. They do not know that Jesus was nonviolent. They all support violence and war. At best, they compartmentalize their spiritual lives from the world’s realities of war and violence. The Church has to reject the just war theory once and for all, and start teaching the nonviolence of Jesus and the methodology of nonviolence. In particular, priests and bishops need to be taught about Gospel nonviolence. This is the most important work we can do together, and why this Rome meeting is so important. This meeting has to be just a beginning. Ideally, I hope we can push Pope Francis to write an encyclical on the nonviolence of Jesus, the rejection of the just war theory, the church’s complete embrace of nonviolence, and the requirement of every Catholic to try to practice the nonviolence of Jesus. Because we are a hierarchical church, I suppose we need to push Rome toward the truth of Gospel nonviolence. We may never have a better chance than under Pope Francis. I hope we can ask for a second meeting, in a year or two. I certainly would be willing to help in any way.