Project Pakistan USA, a project of Dr. Mona Kazim Shah, organized a symposium on “War is Not an Option,” at the Naveen Jindal School of ManagementDallas, Texas recently.

Project Pakistan campaigns for human rights issues, runs philanthropic projects, radio shows with space for open mics, and works to encourage dialogue to resolve conflicts and promote South Asian art and culture in the USA.

The focus of the symposium was to bring youth from Pakistan, Kashmir and India together for peace talks and healthy dialogue to take their voices further.

The discussions highlighted the problems faced by India, Pakistan and Kashmir and possible solutions. The four panelists included pro-peace, pro-dialogue journalists, academicians, activists, artists with experience in this area and some have even paid a price for their beliefs.

The panelists were Beena Sarwar a journalist, artist and documentary filmmaker and Raza Ahmad Rumi a journalist and policy analyst from Pakistan; Dr. Amie Maciszewski, an international musician, and Amitabh Pal Managing Editor of The Progressive, the author of "Islam Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today” from India; and Dr. Nyla Ali Khan from the University of Oklahoma from Kashmir.

Dr. Amie Maciszewski started the proceedings by playing “Raag Pahari” on the sitar giving a touch of Kashmir to the audience. For her, Kashmir is a borderland that has been enriched by intercultural encounter, dialogue, and collaboration. She believes that Symposia like this are important for dialogue, collaboration, and ultimately mutual enrichment.

Dr Nyla spoke about Kashmir and the haunting the Valley for numerous years. She believes the younger generation of Kashmiris has witnessed valley’s militarization and grown up traumatized; yet they have tremendous potential which she hopes the right opportunities when available in academia and the government and private sector will encourage their growth. Dr. Nyla highlighted the basic reason of turmoil in the peace process saying, “The most negative thought that would hinder any progress toward a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue is the perpetuation of a politics that emphasizes, reinforces, or creates cultural myopia and mono-cultural identities, which in a society as diverse as ours, would be the bane of our existence. This damaging short-sightedness results in intolerance, arbitrary justice, tyranny, and ignorance. The contemporary political discourse in the state, particularly the Kashmir Valley, doesn’t have to be limited to the framework of the two-nation theory. Nor should dissatisfaction with the policies of the Governments of India and Pakistan vis-à-vis Kashmir encourage the glorification of reactionary politics.”

Dr. Nyla suggested that both India and Pakistan should realize that translating the political and social vision into reality requires an effective administrative set-up and vibrant educational institutions (not just intellectualizing), to produce dynamic citizens while remaining aware of the exigencies of the present. She feels that politician’s unable to understand that the changing nature of the struggle need, to look at it with a new vision and pioneering spirit to prevent being marginalized.

A political movement with insufficient attention to people’s welfare, good governance, and rebuilding democratic institutions ends up leaving irreparable destruction in its wake. Also any insurgency or militant nationalist movement that lacks such a vision is bound to falter.

Elections and establishment of a government are not the ends in themselves but are means to nation-building and societal reconstruction. Religious-political rhetoric remains rhetorical without a stable representative government. A resolution to the Kashmir imbroglio promising peace, prosperity, and progress requires unprecedented political will from leaders, policy makers, and civil society on both sides of the Line of Control. The only solution to Kashmir crises that ever came up was when General Pervez Musharraf presented his four points agenda. They were doable and would have resolved the issues.

Dr. Nyla is a strong believer that war is not an option rather firm and practical action needs to be taken to resolve the crises. Since India and Pakistan were founded on the idea of religious difference, the agendas of fundamentalist groups now rule over the Indian subcontinent.

According to her, the border carved at the time of Partition has led to further brutality in the form of riots, pogroms, and organized historical distortions and cultural deletions with which the histories of independent India and Pakistan are replete. War leads to economic exploitation, death and destruction of resources and terrible atrocities on women and children, and innocent civilians bear the brunt of the arrogance of nation-states through exodus of communities and refugee issue. The current plight of Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria speaks volumes about the irreparable damage caused by war.

She believes a strong and prosperous India is a guarantee to peace in the region, along with a strong and prosperous Pakistan to strengthen that guarantee. The goal should be to find a solution to the deadlock which enables peace in the subcontinent, while maintaining the honor of everyone involved.

Amitabh Pal said, “Indians and Pakistanis deserve a better future than the fate their leaders have bestowed on them for more than half a century and both countries need to work toward that – stepby step. These generations are hopefully, not burdened by the weight of history that oppresses so many in India and Pakistan. We have to work toward persuading them because after we are gone, they are the ones who will be at the helm. Only if their minds are changed, can the future of the two countries be any different.”

Regarding his book ‘Islam means Peace’ he said, “The idea of Muslims being inherently violent goes against a lifetime of my observations. So, after the September 11 attacks, I felt a responsibility to correct the distorted picture that has emerged of Islam. My book provides a rebuttal to the general misperceptions of Islam by showing that the tradition of nonviolence within Islam has been rich. My journey of exploration starts with the source texts (the Holy Quran and the Hadiths) and the Messenger of the religion. I chronicle the religion’s history to refute the stereotype that it was spread largely by violence. And I give examples of the myriad peaceful movements in the Muslim world (such as the lawyers’ agitation against Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan) to show how nonviolence has been practiced in recent times. Obviously, the message of Islam has been highly distorted by Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk. My purpose is to show how this is not what Islam says, and to provide an alternative perspective that can be readily appreciated.”

Raza Rumi a journalist and an author of the book “Delhi by Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveler,” gave his views on how social media had impacted the relations between the south Asians. He believes after the Holocaust, partition of the subcontinent resulting migrations hold great significance, as both episodes were directly related to politics and religion. In present circumstances citizens of India and Pakistan are suffering from lack of basic necessities of life but there is no end to weapons and missile expansion and strengthening of military at the borders.

Speaking of the electronic and print media, including social media, he said these mediums have caused more damage to the cause of a peaceful solution finding than anything else. Whenever there are chances of something good coming out of talks, the old narrative of hate politics and war starts erupting and no one is able to focus on the positive steps.

According to Rumi, “The media is a powerful player now, even stronger than state actors. It has a vital role in shaping public opinion for peace-building. However, the disturbing corporatization of media means that you have to sell conflict for profits. This is why peace and diplomacy find less traction and more sensational stuff is witnessed with grave implications for future peace efforts.”India and Pakistan need to start trade to improve their economies to have a prosperous market.

Beena Sarwar spoke to the audience on a very positive note, “Politicians, business people and even common people are capable of bringing about change; youth does not have the baggage to carry on the animosity. Most want to live in peace with good relations. I believe that the change is happening, but it will take time.” She added, “I don’t see any way our region can progress unless there is peace between our two countries. The people of both countries want good relations. There are political hurdles and disagreements but that is no reason to prevent trade and travel. If USA and China can trade with each other and allow their people to meet, if the people of France and Germany who were bitter enemies once can live together, why can India and Pakistan not move towards better relations?”

The generation which has grown up with mutual hate rhetoric, is more sensible and realize that war is not the solution to this crises. Beena said, “There will always be some who will fall prey to the propaganda, but by and large, people are far smarter than the media give them credit for. People have found their own ways of communicating and bypassing the barriers to a great extent. The ‘religious quarters’ may say what they like but people know the difference between propaganda and news. The Pakistani public has never voted in the “religious parties” though they may pay lip service to them, maybe because these ‘religious quarters’ are quick to label anyone as lesser Muslims or anti-Islam.”

The symposium was on webcast a many people say the interactions live in Pakistan and India also, the audience were open and receptive to the speakers and their suggestions, and it can be said that overall the symposium was a success.

The Kashmir issue must be resolved and that can happen only when both India and Pakistan sit down and talk amicably. All these years Kashmir has suffered due to these two countries, its time the issue is resolved once and for all. In the recent UNGA session PM Nawaz Sharif presented four points to resolve the long standing issue peacefully but India has refused to pay heed to it. Such emotional out bursts will not help the humans of Kashmir nor is it going to help the current scenario of the region. Times, politics and strategies of this region have changed it has to be understood by the leaders before it is too late.