Why Malala did not get the Nobel

Vikram SoodThe Nobel Peace Prize is not so much about achievement or ideals of peace, but is also about making a political statement.Thus it is about timing and is unlike other Nobel acknowledgements for physics, chemistry or literature. 

Mahatma Gandhi, the world’s foremost apostle of peace, was never awarded this prize and many believe there was not a man more worthy of this acknowledgement.

To others it would have been highly imprudent to honour this ‘naked fakir’ and create a role model for other colonies soon after the Second War and the start of the Cold War. The Quakers got the prize in 1947 and there was no prize in 1948. A war weary world could not find a worthy recipient that year. 

Overlooked: Malala’s achievement need not be measured in terms of the award she did not get but in the awakening she can continue to create. Pic/AFP

The political context to the peace prize is not meant to undermine in any way the role of two great personalities on the world stage but consider the timing. HH Dalai Lama was awarded this prize in 1989, a few months after Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in June that year. Aung San Suu Kyi who led the movement against the Myanmar junta from 1988, received the award in 1991 for ‘her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights’.

Both these awards were timed to exert pressure on the two regimes. It is another matter that the Chinese regime has not changed its attitude towards Tibetans, if anything has hardened over time. The Myanmar Generals took more than a decade to relent to Suu Kyi. The former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was given this award in 1990 soon after the break-up of the Soviet Union ‘for his leading role in the peace process which today characterises important parts of the international community’. This was a reward to Mikhail.

So what about young Malala Yousafzai? Many of my Pakistani friends were campaigning for her. For them and others in Pakistan and indeed on the subcontinent, Malala signified a new hope. They saw the possibility of a prize as recognition of her dreams and their hopes for a liberal Pakistan. But for some cynics, who would rather call themselves realists, this award was not going to happen.

Look at the timing -- it is just short of the Year of the Pullout. A Nobel Peace Prize to a young Pushtun girl from SWAT would inflame passions as the bigoted Taliban would surely resort to renewed violence against women and young girls, attack the education system or anyone or anything else they consider opposed to their obscurantist beliefs and violent tactics.

So if 10 or 20 Pakistani students, teachers, women or girls or God knows how many more were killed by these self-appointed soldiers of Islam in retaliation, how was the state expected to respond, beleaguered as it is with other forms of countrywide terror. It was in March this year that suspected Taliban shot and crippled 11-year-old Atiya Arshad in a Karachi school but she is not an international heroine. The anger would also be directed against the ‘foreign forces’ which is something that is surely not required, especially in 2014. Nobody wants additional problems at this stage.

Besides, it is not just that Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Party that has a bizarre attitude towards the Taliban, terror and democracy. The Nawaz Sharif government has its own pressures and inclinations. It was Nawaz who ensured passage of the Islamic Qisas and Diyat Law in 1997 and this was about blood money and retribution.

It was possible to release General Musharraf on bail despite charges of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Bugti,but he was immediately locked up for the attack on Lal Masjid,a mosque whose activities and congregation have come to epitomise the growing radicalism in Pakistani society. At one level, a country that has difficulty acknowledging its Nobel Laureates like Dr Abdus Salam would surely have had similar problems with Malala, on grounds of religious beliefs, must seriously introspect about its future. Most of all, Pakistan will have to find a way to stop the seemingly unstoppable Taliban instead of wanting to negotiate with retrogression.

At another level, Malala’s achievement need not be measured in terms of the award she did not get but in the awakening she can continue to create. For this, she and her kind, all over, need more than just periodic rewards. Sure these help, but what the Malalas of the world need is sustained support from the rest of us because the battle ahead is long and hard and will not bewon by a few medals but could be lost to a few or more bigots.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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