Logo SAVE - Sisters against violent extremism

28. Februar 2011

Mehru Jaffer ©Xenia Hausner

Mehru Jaffer

Talking Peace - India Pakistan

An article in India's Hard News by Mehru Jaffer

In the best spirit of its foreign policy of neutrality and small-state strategy, Austria has for decades been a haven for constructive dialogue between groups hostile to each other. Israelis and Palestinians are only one case in point.

Throughout the Cold War, Austria was a meeting place between the East and West and between those unable to talk to each other on their own turf.

However, the country took its role as peace-maker to new heights when Rudolf Hundstorfer, Federal Minister for Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection, hosted women from India and Pakistan who met in Vienna recently to thrash out ways that will transform the 64-year-old hostility between India and Pakistan into some harmony, in the hope of a more lasting peace in South Asia.

The idea to engage grassroots citizens, particularly women, in important matters of peace and security was born from concerns that there is no room for women at tables where peace is normally negotiated.

"Ideas of reconciliation, forgiveness and compromise are emotions not associated with negotiations at international dialogues today. This is because these emotions are not particularly masculine in the classical sense of the word and the unwritten rules of realpolitik continue to be based on masculine ideas of power and dominance," said Dr Edit Schlaffer, founder-chairperson of the Vienna-based Women Without Borders (WWB) and responsible for engaging her government in this unique peace initiative with a gender perspective.

After the November 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, one of her favourite cities in the world, Schlaffer had at first wrung her hands as to what her organisation could do to temper this climate of fear and violence in South Asia.

Leaving men to do what men are able to do best, Schlaffer refused to remain a mere observer. She consulted her colleagues in the Delhi-based Indian chapter of WWB to launch a new movement to build bridges between hostile groups, and to encourage angry and hurt people to get to know their enemy.

Under Schlaffer's initiative called Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), a delegation of Pakistani women was invited to Mumbai to meet Indian women for developing joint strategies for a new, action-oriented dialogue last November.

SAVE is the world's first female counter-terrorism platform that seeks to engage women in brokering an emotional response to the hard and frozen enemy position of the past."The determination is not to fall victim to the old trap of talk, talk, talk without action," Schlaffer said.

Together with lots of talk, which included a frank exchange of information regarding the reality on the ground and terrorism in both India and Pakistan, the Indian delegation had also led the congress of Indian and Pakistani women from the newly renovated Taj Mahal Hotel on a walk titled 'The Trail of Terror'.

The women collected at the Gateway of India where terrorists had ditched their rubber boats to enter Mumbai on November 26, 2008, and walked together to the Café Leopold, a lively hub for people from around the world. The terrorists had fired upon those present at the café that day. At Cama and Albless Hospital a young Pakistani widow, who lost her husband to a terrorist attack in the Swat Valley, stood face to face with Vinita Kamte, widow of the slain additional commissioner of police Ashok Kamte.

Kamte had taken on Ajmal Kasab, the only Pakistani terrorist to survive the 2008 siege of Mumbai, but at the cost of his own life.

The two young widows used this opportunity to share their grief and loss, and to overcome their fear of the often demonised other. Together they viewed the wall surrounding the hospital, still pockmarked with bullet holes.

This solidarity between women belonging to communities divided by politics and lack of information about each other is only a beginning. The ambitious plan is to continue meeting, talking and, above all, returning home to recite narratives that are an absolute alternative to hatred, violence and war - before meeting, talking and taking action all over again.

As mothers, teachers and community leaders, women often fail to realise their own power in identifying dissatisfaction and frustration, and to counteract negative sentiments with life-affirming dreams among the young and the impatient around them.

As the Vienna meeting came to a close, promises were made to make development a central pillar of the security structure. For it is very often poverty, exploitation, corruption and dominance by a ruthless elite that is responsible for fueling anger among majority populations around the world, which pave the way for religious and political fanaticism.

Before hurrying away to chalk out the next step on this essential dialogue, Schlaffer quoted Bertha von Suttner, the Austrian visionary and muse of Alfred Nobel, and the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905, "Those who want peace may not be silent."

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