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14 October, 2014

Nobel Prize as a message?

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Of the Nobel prizes, the one for peace has been the most controversial. It has always carried with it the irony of rewarding peace efforts with profits from dynamite.

This year’s prize, shared by Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, produced rich irony on its own. Some critics asked what contribution did the two make towards peace and understanding.

Malala, 17, is the youngest person to win the prize. She was nominated for the prize along with Pope Francis and US whistleblower Edward Snowden. If there were certain political calculations behind her choice it is neither unusual nor unprecedented.

Kailash Satyarthi, who has been working quietly for rescue and rehabilitation of child workers in India, was not a widely known figure in his own country. There were a few references to him and his work in the Indian media in the recent past but there was no mention that he was a contender for the prize. His choice therefore came as a surprise.

Unesco has noted that since war begins in the minds of men it is in their minds that defence of peace must be constructed. Freeing children from bondage and ensuring that they are educated are, in a real sense, activities amounting to construction of defence of peace. However, educationally advanced countries are also known to start wars. Therefore, the question whether the right kind of education is being imparted is relevant.

There was heavy irony in the announcement of the award even as Indian and Pakistani security personnel were engaged in the fiercest clashes in a decade along the border in Jammu and Kashmir, over which the two countries have fought four times in their 67 years as separate nations.

Thorbjoern Jagland, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said the committee “regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism”. Leaders of the two countries made feeble efforts to rise to the occasion.

While congratulating Malala Yousafzai, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, “She has made her countrymen proud. Her achievement is unparalleled and unequalled.” He did not dwell on the fact that, unable to return home because of extremist threats, she is now living and studying in Britain, where she had gone for medical treatment after the failed murder attempt by Taliban.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Satyarthi had devoted his life to a cause that is extremely relevant to humankind and the entire nation was proud of his momentous achievement. He congratulated Malala too, saying her life is a journey of immense grit and courage.

In the exchange of fire at 15 points along the international border and the Line of Control (LoC), about 30 civilian casualties were reported. Officials of the two sides feigned ignorance about each other’s motive. An Indian newspaper quoted the chief of the Border Security Force as saying, “We have inflicted heavy damage on them, but they keep firing. I do not understand why.” BBC quoted Major General Javed Khan of Pakistan as saying, “I just want to know the reason from the other side. We are not finding the answer.”

Political pundits offered familiar explanations. Pakistani experts related the border incidents to the elections in the states of Maharashtra and Haryana. They pointed out that Modi and his defence minister have been talking of change in times and imposing unaffordable costs. Indian analysts attributed the incidents to the Pakistan army’s effort to reassert its authority vis-à-vis the civilian government.

Since India called off the secretary-level talks in protest against the Pakistan envoy’s confabulation with Kashmiri secessionists, Islamabad has been trying hard to break out of the bilateral framework in which it had been confined by the Shimla Pact. It sees the border incidents as an opportunity to bring back into the picture the UN whose role was extinguished by India after the 1972 war.

There is scope to speculate that Modi and Sharif have a chance to win a Nobel for themselves through a patch-up, as Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (1973), Anwat Al Sadat and Menachem Begin (1978) and Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres (1994) did. However, they are caught in a high-stake game in which others are also involved. -- Gulf Today, October 14, 2014.

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