Ritu Jha –
In response to escalating tensions between India and Pakistan and the looming fear of war between the two nuclear-armed countries, many South Asians from the San Francisco Bay Area hosted a “Global StandOut for Peace in South Asia” on March 3, at the City Hall in San Ramon, California.
Besides the San Francisco Bay Area and some cities across the United States, the campaign also had events in Pakistan and India.
The tension ratcheted up in South Asia when on February 14 members of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) a Pakistan-based militant group attacked a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, killing 40. In response, on February 26 the Indian Air Force attacked and claimed to have destroyed militant camps in Pakistan.
Pakistan aircraft entered Indian territory, and an Indian aircraft which went in pursuit was down, leading to the capture of a pilot. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, returned the captured pilot to India calling it a “peace gesture.” But tensions still remain high.
Sabina Zafar, the first South Asian council member in the city of San Ramon, told indica, “Basically, Indians, Pakistani, Nepalese, Burmese, we are very much for peace. We want to make sure that this message goes across to the leadership and the army. We do not want war.”
As Zafar put it, “Nobody is going to be a winner.”
“We held hands and as a community, we live together, work together, and our children grow together, eat together. So why it is so difficult to take that back,” Zafar asked.
“But we all have families back home that will be affected. That is the concern,” she said.
Abhishek Chaurasiya of San Jose told indica, “Talking about tension, we have a lot of friends from Srinagar and Kashmir. They were about to [go there] last week but canceled. They don’t know what is going to happen. Some people talk about war, the whole point of this is that we are the same people. We work together and live and eat together. A lot of people are from Kashmir and Pakistan and they are saying they are super scared.”
Umair Muzaffar, who is from Pakistan and plays cricket with people from other South Asian countries each weekend, is in complete agreement.
“We are against violence and war,” he said. “If you go on social media it’s full of all kind of people and what they are thinking. But [here] we work together, make the world’s most advanced technologies together and have a decent life. Our children play together. They are not concerned about this. They are all friends hanging out.”
Professor Junaid Aziz of Stanford provided a different perspective.
He told indica that the conversation about a possible war is an ongoing topic for the last few weeks in campus groups while people outside have no problem with what is happening in India and Pakistan.
“The bad thing is that for the last 50 years. we all just have chosen to ignore all of that,” said Aziz. “I continued to play, I continued to eat together [with people from other South Asian countries], study together and go to school, but chose to ignore the big problem.”
According to him, many people believe that what Khan or Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, does does not matter.
“The goal here is to start making our leaders accountable and start getting answers. Until we don’t getting the answers it is never going to [end],” he said.
Himali Dixit described the conflict as an ideological war.
“We need to fight against this. It’s the understanding that the other is the emery and we need to dismantle false thing we have been taught. We have been taught to see people of the other nationality as an enemy,” Dixit said.
When told the present conflict started with a terrorist attack, she said, “We just need not be gullible but we need to not be misled easily. We are very easily manipulated by the politics of hatred. That is what we need to dismantle. We need to see what are the types of relationships we want to have and what types of the region we want to create,” she said.
Meanwhile, in Chicago a United for Peace delegation, consisting of about 20 community leaders of Indian and Pakistani origin, met with the consul generals of the two countries in Chicago and presented a joint resolution for peace, signed by hundreds of members from both communities.