AFTER five days at the Human Security Forum in Caux (Switzerland), the news from Karachi left me stunned — more than 100 people killed in five days!

The bitterness expressed by those directly hit was unnerving. There was a report from my colleague in Dawn, Nizamuddin Siddiqui, about the travails of families trapped in their homes as bullets rained round them. There was also a plaintive email from a friend in Qasba appealing for help.

Abdul Waheed Khan runs a school in his locality where mainly Pushto-speaking children are helped to transition to Urdu. Waheed describes himself as a disciple of the iconic founder of the Orangi Pilot Project, Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan.

Here was Karachi once again being torn up by hidden hands because the leaders who claim to represent the people were busy levelling recriminations at one another in their quest for power. Will these wounds ever heal? That was the first thought that came to my mind. How?

And I thought of Caux, which is a small town located in the Alps on the shores of the picturesque Lake Geneva. It has become synonymous with peace and reconciliation having been the venue of numerous conferences hosted by the Initiatives of Change every year since 1946.

The Mountain House in Caux has provided space for numerous dialogues and encounters that bring together as many as 2,000 participants of varied backgrounds every summer. Many of these meetings have significantly set the peace ball rolling, the most notable being the Franco-German peace process that came in the wake of the Second World War.

Located at a distance from the hub of civilisation, Caux has magic that facilitates quiet reflection. Unfortunately, it is just this we have stopped undertaking in our age of communication when 24/7 television, cellphones and Blackberries give us no time to think. We only have knee-jerk reactions.

Caux’s concept of human security is very realistic and is not based on building defences and stocking arms. Its strategy is to seek to construct a society that strives for just governance, intercultural dialogues, sustainable living and inclusive economics while working to heal the bitter memories of the past.

Launched in 2008 by Mohammad Sahnoun, one-time adviser to then UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, the human security forum has a pro-people approach and its sessions hold one lesson or another for its multicultural participants. Caux should provide food for thought for those in whose hands lies the destiny of Karachi. This battered city is so badly factionalised and the wounds run so deep that one can only wonder how they will ever heal. Karachi lacks the leaders of vision needed to bridge the great divide.

In this situation it is time for civil society to act. True, the concerned citizens of the city have expressed their consternation at the violence that grips Karachi. But getting all the political parties together in a conference to vent their spleen and put pressure on those believed to be instigating the killings is not enough.

What Karachi needs are leaders at the grass-root level. It is time communities in various neighbourhoods, especially the strife-torn areas, informally created peace committees to bring together elders and youths of all backgrounds with a one-point peace agenda. Women must be included as they are the worst affected by violence. When the firing stops, as it does after a few days during a bout of violence, committees of every area must investigate who the killers were and devise ways to ensure that violence is stemmed. Some basic rule to be observed: no revenge killings, no blame game.

If the peace committees make themselves credible — that can be ensured by a multiethnic composition and showing compassion — they can become effective. It is inconceivable that there are no honest and well-meaning people left in our corrupted and perverted law-enforcement agencies who can be relied upon to help. The people of Karachi have been so brutalised and traumatised that they have even forgotten to react naturally to various situations they encounter. They are losing their humanism.

Normally in such crises the first step is taken by political leaders who also have greater authority and resources. But in our case this seems unlikely. They lack the capacity and will to bring about peace and reconciliation.

At Caux one session was devoted to a ‘leadership that builds community’. The speakers who spoke from personal experience emphasised the value of inclusivity, integrity, truth and, above all, the willingness and intellectual honesty to understand the point of view of the ‘other’. Thus alone can leaders win public confidence and show the creativity and courage to devise peace-building solutions that may put their popularity at risk in their own community. But that is how statesmen are born.

At Caux were people from Africa and the commissioner for victims and survivors in Northern Ireland who recounted the experience of their countries that had been torn by violence and war. The situation began to improve, sometimes with outside help, only when people said enough is enough.

It is time the people of Karachi say what Didacienne Mukahabeshimana said when as a Rwandan schoolgirl she went to a ground to witness the execution of some men charged with murder. This was at the height of the Rwandan genocide. Something broke within her. “Stop, stop! Don’t kill them!” she had screamed. The men were killed but thereafter many took up this cry and peace came to Rwanda.


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