With Nobel Peace Prize, two rival nations united by a single message

By Katy Daigle ,AP

NEW DELHI — One is Muslim, the other Hindu. One a Pakistani, the other Indian. One a school girl just starting out in life, the other a man with decades of experience.

Despite their many differences, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai and 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi will be forever linked — co-winners of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, honored for risking their lives for the rights of children to education and to lives free of abuse. Their selection was widely acclaimed, their heroism undeniable.

But something more was at work here: In awarding the prize Friday, the Nobel Committee also sent a blunt message to the rival nations of India and Pakistan that if two of their citizens can work for a common goal, their governments too could do better in finding common ground.

The two nations have almost defined themselves by their staunch opposition to one another. They became enemies almost instantly upon gaining independence in 1947 from imperial Britain, and have since fought three full-scale wars over various issues, including competing claims to the Himalayan region of Kashmir that sits between them. Just this week, their troops have hurled mortar shells and firing guns at one another across the Kashmir border, with civilian casualties in double digits.

The Nobel Committee’s chairman, Thorbjoern Jagland, acknowledged his panel gave the prize to Yousafzai and Satyarthi partly to nudge the two countries together, though he cautioned that the impact of the award should not be overestimated.

“You can see that there is a lot of extremism coming from this part of the world. It is partly coming from the fact that young people don’t have a future. They don’t have education. They don’t have a job,” Jagland told The Associated Press. “We want to show that people in all religions can come together in a common cause.”

The Indian winner immediately spoke about the potential to bridge old divides.

About Malala, Satyarthi said: “I will invite her in a new fight for peace in our region.” He also said this year’s choice to award one person from each of the nuclear-armed neighbors in South Asia made “a great statement from the Nobel committee looking at the present scenarios between India and Pakistan.”

This would not be the first time the Peace Prize has apparently engaged in this kind of political engineering.

In 2009, the committee awarded Barack Obama after the U.S. president visited Middle Eastern nations estranged during the previous Bush administration. Fifteen years earlier, the award went to the trio of Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres after an apparent breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, though it never led to a deal.

And in 1996, the committee awarded Timorese Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, which many believe was critical in the peaceful cessation of East Timor from Indonesia in 2001.

“Often the committee tries to bring people in conflict together and see how they can build new bridges,” said Oslo-based Nobel historian Oeivind Stenersen.

It “tries to find people seeking new ways and solutions in difficult conflicts,” he said. This year’s choice “makes sense because the committee has been able to combine a lot of themes, including a brotherhood between India and Pakistan. They have done this in a very clever way.”