Can Pakistan learn from Belgium?

Published: May 4, 2013
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Is Pakistan the only country in the world that is facing sectarian violence in today’s world? PHOTO: AFP

Is Pakistan the only country in the world that is facing sectarian violence in today’s world? Can we expect Pakistan to overcome it in the coming years? With a huge population, widespread poverty and various non-state actors, it may take Pakistan many years to fight this menace but it is not impossible to take this challenge head-on.

We have the example of Belgium before us, which resolved this problem successfully.

Belgium – a small but ethnically diverse country in the heart of Europe consisting of French, German and Dutch-speaking population – took over four centuries to learn the lesson of peaceful coexistence.

With a population of just 11 million and a small land mass, Belgium is 26 times smaller than Pakistan. Its deputy head of mission in Pakistan, Dr Stephane Mund, recently delivered a lecture at Area Study Centre for Europe at the University of Karachi.

In his address, he said that his country has triumphed over not only sectarian conflicts that existed between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, but also over recent ethnic and language issues.

“Until recently, we had ethnic and language issues but we decided to listen to each other,” said Mund.

“Difference of opinion does not mean that you kill each other. We learnt that only dialogue can resolve issues.”

Belgium was the battleground of Europe for centuries as it had no natural protection from its big neighbouring countries. For centuries, armies of almost every big power of Europe have fought on its land for resources and power.

Being a small country, it always relied on active trade with its neighbours – something which contributed to its economic growth.

Today, it is among the top 10 trading nations of the world with most of its trade occurring with its neighbouring countries. Here is another lesson for Pakistan: whatever differences you have with your neighbours, keep your lines of trade open with them.

There are no two opinions that Europe took centuries to overcome sectarian violence but at least it systematically tried to achieve peace.

Regardless of the bloody history of Western Europe, the fact of the matter is that it has not witnessed a war in the last six decades – when it decided to end wars and violence in the continent after World War II.

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Farhan Zaheer

Farhan Zaheer

A reporter on the business desk of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.