Most of the talks and intellectual debates across the globe in public spheres – particularly on electronic media – rely upon widely held perceptions. But the problem with this kind of discussions is both big and dangerous, because they do not confirm the existing fundamentals of reality. This self-invented disconnectivity between the perception and reality in modern times, helps states in blaming and defaming rival states for being the cause of the mess that is disturbing human society.  There are certain countries which have been portrayed as the epitome of moral bankruptcy, and some are presented as intellectually drained, politically unstable, socially rigid, and economically backward. But a deep examination with a holistic approach compels us not to agree with the popular intellectual discourse.

In certain context states, things are planned, designed and done by the states themselves but a perception is created for defaming other states. In case of South Asia, this trend is a smart and frequently used political strategy. It actually indicates the region’s bad politics. Really bad. The rest of the world is, by no means, an exception in this dirty business, however.

The irony is that now friends and enemies are being made by creating certain myths to secure the vested political interests of the few. This trend of creating friends and enemies exists within the states as well as at the broader political level, where states interact with one another.

In our own case, in South Asia, things are not quite different. Pakistan, Afghanistan and India; sometimes friends, but mostly, angry kids. In India, Pakistan is presented as a rogue state that creates and uses terrorists to destroy the peace of the world. In Pakistan, India is considered as a high-headed neighbor responsible for all the terrorist activities that takes place within the premises of Pakistan. Afghanistan, for India, is a victim state that is probably still stuck somewhere in the 19th century. For Pakistan, most of the times, terrorists come from Afghanistan, kill our kids, and go back to their safe haven. Both Pakistan and India, in general, believe Afghanistan is intellectually, socially, and politically not a part of the 21st century modern world.

A few days ago, University of Peshawar, in collaboration with Hanns Siedal Foundation, hosted an International Summer School at Bara Gali, Abbottabad. 25 students from different universities of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Oman took part in this summer school. The theme of this summer school was, “Governance, Conflict, & Peace Building”.

At the outset, I, from the core of my heart, congratulate Prof. Dr. Abdul Rauf (program Organizer) and his dedicated and untiring team for successfully organizing this summer school.  Also, I would like to acknowledge the efforts and work of Mr .Omer Ali (Hanns Siedal Foundation) for making this event successful.

In this brief piece I intend to share my own experience of this 3rd International summer school with the reader. My intention, as was of the summer school, is to open up a new debate to explore new things, ideas and find out new ways to bring sustainable peace in the region. 

Here we go:

As Indian students, may be due to certain political reasons, were not a part of this activity, so the main focus of my discussion shall remain on the interaction of Pak-Afghan students.

Pakistan and Afghanistan: two uncomfortable, uneasy, largely unpredictable yet inseparable neighbors. Most of the time, they’re brothers on paper, and angry kids on the border. Both emphasize on morality but believe in amoral politics.  And, both are victims of foreign oppression – physical or non-physical.  Both are most of the times in a state of denial. Unfortunately.

The sad reality is that in Pakistan and particularly in Punjab, Pakhtoons – whether they are within or outside of the border – are portrayed as bad and uncivil as Pakistanis in general are in the world.

One of the purposes of the summer school, that was narrow in its scope, was to familiarize students from Punjab and Islamabad to the students, and most importantly the culture, of KPK.  I, being a representative of Punjab, was able to explore and learn so many new and very interesting things about Pakhtoons, their traditions and particularly about their delicious food. I interacted with different people during my stay in KPK and I found them very different from what I generally thought of them. They are like us. They love Pakistan. Their love for Pakistan is, in my observation, more powerful and deep than us. I acknowledge their hospitality and patriotism.  I could also observe the pain they have been experiencing since long. Unfortunately.

Second, it was great to be with the Afghan students. There were people from the media, academia, and politics present there. We discussed a lot of things. And we uncovered so many dirty realities and politically created lies. Well established lies.

Politics in Pakistan and Afghanistan is dirty, and so are the politicians.  We can wash dirty hands with muddy water but cannot clean them completely. Whether we accept it or not, is upto us.

My friends Sulaiman and Raha from Aghanistan have the same idea about South Asian politics as mine. We, very interestingly, want an EU-style South Asia. We want to shake the foundations of all well-designed lies and notorious past.

 This galaxy of budding scholars and intellectuals who are supposed to be the would-be policy makers for their respective states, are like fresh and clean water that should be used to wash our muddy hands.

I personally learnt a lot of things about Afghan society through this event. They are not as conservative as they are portrayed in our society.  They are very liberal and open minded people – in some ways more than us.

I do remember my friend, Raha, said to me; ‘Farah, love my country and I will love your country’. This is quite fair.

Finally, I urge our own universities to follow this initiative taken by University of Peshawar. We should have student exchange programs so that we might learn about each other. This will play an essential part in strengthening our democracy and national integration.

And, it strikes me at the end, I completely forgot to mention the names of Abidullah, Ishaq, Saddam Shah, and Sajid, who were with me almost all the time for 15 days. May God bless us all! 

(Note: In this complex modern world, programs like this summer school can only help countries like ours to build peace in the region).