The Pulse

South Asia’s Peace Heroes

Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi share the Nobel Peace Prize.

South Asia’s Peace Heroes
Credit: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (L) and Darren Staples

What a day for South Asia. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded this year’s Peace Prize to Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s Kailash Satyarthi, both passionate advocates for children’s rights. The Nobel Committee’s decisions highlight a focus on the role of social advocacy and social impact on poverty, children’s education, and empowerment of women and girls in South Asia. Malala Yousufzai is recognized around the world for standing up to the Taliban, who shot her in the face for her outspoken support of girls’ education; Kailash Satyarthi is known in India for his decades-long dedication to ending child labor.

It’s clear that the Nobel Committee views the hard work of education and children’s rights as vital components in making South Asia a more peaceful place. In the announcement of this year’s award, Nobel Committee chair Thorbjorn Jagland noted that, “The Nobel 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.” The Nobel Committee’s message here is lost on no one—particularly at a moment when cross-border firing has erupted again along the India-Pakistan border. But it’s also the case that the vibrant civil societies, home to rights activists, in India and in Pakistan can hardly be faulted for the unresolved conflict between their two countries.

In fact, there’s been a long history of India-Pakistan civil society collaboration to try to overcome tensions in the region, be it the recent Aman ki Aasha (Hopes of Peace) effort, the journalism exchanges, efforts by artists and theater groups to cross borders, or the border vigils on both sides led annually by journalist activists, to name just a few. There was even a period in the mid–2000s when it seemed as if cricket diplomacy might have a lasting effect, only to be disrupted by the Mumbai attacks in 2008. While cricket diplomacy is getting underway again, hopes are not as high as they were before Mumbai.

Indian and Pakistani business associations have also joined together in a common effort to promote cross-border trade as a step toward reducing the enmity between India and Pakistan. Numerous trade fairs, bringing Indian businesses to Pakistan, andPakistani businesses to India, have been mounted over the past few years by the leading chambers of commerce on both sides. Talk with any of the business chambers from either country, and they’ll all say the same thing: both Indian and Pakistani business stands to gain from increased cross-border trade. There’s no disagreement on the need for a common effort.

So the Nobel Committee’s message isn’t for those already seized with the importance of normalizing India-Pakistan relations—because the constituencies exist, and have been trying for years. We should be very clear about who it is for, however. It’s for those who would prevent better ties from ever developing between India and Pakistan, and who work to disrupt peace efforts when they are underway. It’s for known terrorists like al Qaeda and the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, and myriad others. These groups, despite UN sanctions and sanctions under applicable U.S. laws, remain at large in Pakistan, and particularly in the case of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed, who regularly holds public rallies against India and the United States. It’s these groups whose continued existence creates the ever-present threat of another attack on India, casting a shadow over every effort to try to make peace.

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Alyssa Ayres is Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. She blogs at Asia Unbound. This post appears courtesy of and Forbes Asia.