By Alan Burke
MARBLEHEAD — The quarrel between India and Pakistan has long been one of the hottest disputes on the planet. Over the past half-century, both have been frequently at sword's point and twice at war.
Today, with terrorism and nuclear weapons in the mix, the rivalry is increasingly worrisome. It's an argument bitter enough to make some throw up their hands and walk away.
But not Bob McNulty.
The director of programs at the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University, McNulty believes that both business and ethics can be a springboard into a world of peace. To prove it, the Marbleheader hosted a symposium two years ago at Bentley including academics from Israel and Palestine.
This week, he repeated the effort with four professors, two from India and two from Pakistan. The difficult business of finding peace cannot be left to politicians or generals, he said.
"There is enormous conflict between India and Pakistan," he said. "But I firmly believe eventually it can be resolved."
Even better, after a few days, so did his guests.
"I was quite skeptical," said Hashir Irshad, assistant professor of finance at FAST National University in Islamabad, Pakistan. "Then, in meeting these wonderful people from across the border ... I got convinced."
He added, "In the last four, five, six days we have yet to find a thing on which we disagree."
Jerome Joseph of the Indian Institute of Management was quick to note that their two governments are currently talking rather than fighting. He was eager as well to promote a program of business expansion meant to increase cross-border ties and provide jobs for those who might be lured into violent activities.
India is one of the world's fastest-growing economies, noted Huma Baqai, of the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, Pakistan. Cooperation with the neighbors is becoming increasingly important.
"India wants to use Pakistan as a trade route," she said, a way to send things like oil from north to south.
None of McNulty's guests, however, was oblivious to the problems.
The Pakistanis reacted at once to the suggestion that their country's recent decision to imprison Shakeel Afridi for helping the United States track down and kill Osama bin Laden raised questions about their reliability.
Afridi, sentenced to a long prison term, is seen by some as a collaborator, Irshad said.
Baqai said that the discovery of bin Laden in her country has raised very provocative questions among Pakistanis as well — "questions that have never been asked before."
Both Baqai and Irshad said that terrorists are hated in Pakistan.
"There is no popular support for them," Irshad said. "We've lost more soldiers in terrorist attacks than the United States and NATO have lost in Afghanistan."
Baqai also noted the many deaths, including collateral damage, from U.S. drone strikes aimed at terrorists.
Their Indian colleagues showed understanding regarding the Mumbai massacre in 2008, which was directed by terrorists in Pakistan.
"At least," said Simrit Kaur of the University of Delhi, "the educated Indian knows terrorism has no face, no religion. ... The terrorist could be on either side of the border."
"We cannot let one incident hold the two nations to ransom," Joseph said.
McNulty hopes to continue such initiatives, as part of a peacemaking initiative called Pax Populi, which means "the peace of the people."
People need to "develop a sense of respect or trust," he said — and that's not mere happy talk. The region is important to American security as well, he said.
India and Pakistan are a long way from America, however. And McNulty's guests seemed touched and perhaps a bit inspired just to know that settling their long-standing difficulties mattered so much to someone half a world away.