Couples counseling for India and Pakistan

June 30th, 2009

Deepak Chopra and Salman Ahmad

Monday, June 29, 2009

Suspicions over a cooked election in Iran have brought a glimmer of hope for real reform. It takes glimmers in the long, fractious fights that hold societies in thrall. Can we find one in the toxic fight that has plagued India-Pakistan relations for six decades? We’ve already had a Camp David moment. When the two heads of state met to shake hands in mid-June, Manmohan Singh of India and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan obeyed some new forces. One was the force of economics, which has cut both ways. Economics promises to make India a prosperous player on the world scene. With money has come the expectation of rational behavior, and India can see rationally that a stable, nonaggressive Pakistan is the kind of neighbor it wants to have. The other side of economics is the downturn. The mini-Cold War that has raged between the two countries keeps draining much needed resources that neither side can afford to squander.

The second new force is social, and it has arisen since the terrorist attack in Mumbai last November. The fact that the Indian populace did not call for reprisals against Pakistan, combined with Pakistan’s seemingly genuine efforts to crack down on terrorist camps, had an unexpected result. The xenophobes and zealots on the right lost the recent Indian election, and now the ruling Congress party has seen a peace benefit in real-time politics.

Now what?

Both countries need to test if a deeper shift in consciousness has taken place. Family feuds make for the bitterest wars. Behind the facade of nationalism, Delhi and Islamabad have been acting like battling exes in a never-ending divorce dispute.

It’s on this human basis that peace could make progress. The point isn’t how to slice up Kashmir or stop brandishing useless nuclear bombs. Until the divorced parties stop demonizing each other, both sides will cling to the one thing that all family feuds are based on: feeling right. India and Pakistan mutually feel justified in calling the other side wrong, and their emotional stance has ossified for 60 years.

May we offer some suggestions as a form of couples counseling?

First, the two countries need to recognize their commonality. Both were born on the same day in 1947, share the same ethnic and many of the same tribal backgrounds. India has a massive Muslim population, and on both sides of the border millions more identify as Punjabis. Their young people go to the same rock concerts and download the same songs, while their grandparents tell the same folk tales around the fire and relive the same myths.

With this commonality in mind, we propose a new paradigm for moving toward peaceful relations:

1. Increase people-to-people exchanges.
2. Use the arts and culture in building new cultural bridges.
3. Adopt a proactive realignment in loans to serve all the people, not just the privileged few.
4. Make the public feel safer by a joint agreement renouncing nuclear weapons and massive standing armies on each other’s border.
5. Agree to isolate violent extremists of all shapes and stripes, whether Hindu or Muslim.
6. Resolve the Kashmir conflict through international intermediaries.

India’s current national leadership can help immeasurably in strengthening the region by playing an astute and farsighted role in normalizing relations. An older generation couldn’t conceive of India without Pakistan as a blood enemy and vice versa. But the younger generation wants to be free of such rigid conditioning. With 60% of Pakistan’s population under 24 and India’s young people being globalized via the Internet, the race between and the politics of hatred looms large.

Given the right signals, beleaguered Pakistanis and Indians will recognize and embrace a sincere, open approach toward conflict resolution. This may take a leap of faith on both sides, but the time is ripe. Iran isn’t unique. Change is in the air everywhere.

Deepak Chopra is the author of over 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his most recent novel, “Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment,” available now at

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