"When you fly from Lahore to Delhi, as I did last February as part of the Aman Ki Asha initiative, you realize how close these two places are. It's a 30 minute flight that has barely taken off before it lands again. You're in this other country and yet it's ridiculously hard to get there.
"Aman Ki Asha is about bridging what is a tiny, tiny geographical distance but a huge political distance. I went to Delhi in February last year, where we did a collaborative Aman Ki Asha panel with Indian film directors. During my trip, I met people from the Times of India, editors, journalists, gave TV interviews.
"In the late 1980s, I went with my high school as part of a sports team to play in Delhi. That was an amazing, fun experience -- to go to a place that was right next-door. We were supposed to stay home after nightfall, but we broke curfew and went gallivanting around Delhi.
"The next time I went was in 2007 as part of the book tour for The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I visited Delhi and Bombay then, and enjoyed the trip - it was before the 2008 Mumbai attacks and things were relatively calm and friendly between India and Pakistan.
"The one very real issue about the divide between India and Pakistan is the Kashmir issue. That aside, it seems to be a largely manufactured divide. Yes, we are two separate countries. I'm a Pakistani. I don't think myself as an Indian. If Pakistan plays India in cricket, I'll hope the Pakistani team thrashes India. But that doesn't mean that our countries have to live in an ongoing state of cold war.
"Whenever I have an opportunity to write about Kashmir I put forward the point that what's going on in Indian-controlled Kashmir is reprehensible, but India and Pakistan need to find peace. You can say that and not stigmatise India and its people or say that it's an enemy nation. That's as foolish for us to say as for someone to say about that about us.
"We have many cultural similarities, many linguistic and ethnic groups -- both India and Pakistan are diverse countries. We should find a way to arrive at a compromise about Kashmir and learn to live together as neighbours. If France and Germany can do it, surely India and Pakistan can?
On Aman Ki Asha
"These things (Aman ki Asha events) should happen at the media, people-to-people, cultural and at every level. There should be an easier visa process, relaxation of police registration, distribution of novels by Pakistani authors in India and Indian films being released in Pakistan. Aman ki Asha is part of that. Obviously, this should happen at the government level, but sometimes governments need cover and political space in which they can insert their policies. When you have two groups sponsoring an initiative, it makes it easier for politicians to take steps in the direction of peace.
"What's interesting about Aman ki Asha is that The Times of India is not a particularly liberal but seen as a right of centre media group. On the Pakistani side, the Jang Group is also perceived as being right of centre. It's not like we have two left-wing, peace-loving media groups. When you have two media groups that are seen as being centre of the right, you might not have expected them to come up with this initiative. But sometimes it is more powerful when you have hawkish voices arguing for peace.
The Way Forward
"The visa process is so difficult -- but once you land in Delhi, there's a taxi driver or hotel driver, and you can speak to him in Hindi for him, Urdu for us. You drive around, talk to people and meet them. It is shocking how at home one can feel in this place. This is something that both Indians and Pakistanis experience. For someone from Lahore it's like a small cultural leap, far more than it would be if one went to Kabul because I don't speak Pashto or Dari.
"For me, the amazing experience was that I was in a country that felt like home but at the same time I felt like a kind of criminal -- that being Pakistani I'm the enemy and a suspect. That's a strange feeling, to feel at home and yet feel a criminal. The promise is in the fact that one can feel very much at home and the challenge is to eliminate the notion that we are criminal suspects. We have to get rid of this notion that Pakistan wants to undermine India and vice versa. Psychologically I certainly feel that was a bomb blast while I was in Delhi, I'd be very nervous there.
"We need to end the deadlock and the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved. It would become easier if we don't feel like criminals there or Indians feel like criminals here."
As related to Karachi-based journalist Huma Imtiaz (email@example.com)
Saturday, January 01, 2011
Congratulating Nawaz Sharif on the electoral win of his political party, Aman ki Asha's plea to both governments continues to be: "Stay the course". Let the people re .....more
JATTI UMRA: As Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) emerged as the largest
party in the recently held elections in Pak .....more
Imagine the heavenly smell of stable peace
"Pakistan and India must focus on culture exchange initiatives, especially for the youth, who play an instrumen .....more
A peace museum celebrating divided Punjab's shared architectural, cultural and culinary heritage is coming up at Attari near the India-Pakis .....more
The murderous attacks on an Indian prisoner in Pakistan and a Pakistani prisoner in India highlight the urgency of developing long term, humane policies to protect th .....more
On April 20, peace activist and educationist Ashfaq Fateh, 41, passed away in hospital after doctors unsuccessfully operated on a liver tumo .....more
Page 1 of 174
The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
We probably didn't need to do this Special Report. Newspaper stories don't matter when it comes to Indians in Pakistani jails and vice versa. In fact, 'vice versa' sums it up. We do to them what they do to us.
Except when the two countries decide to begin talking, yet again! This time a little before the foreign secretary level talks, some Pakistani prisoners were released by India (and vice versa must have happened) and some more were release....read more
For the past 2 years the Jang Group and Geo have been working on a project of great national interest; one that we hope will help usher in an era of peace and prosperity in the country and indeed, in the region. And one that hopefully all Pakistanis can be proud of. more
The Jang Group has entered into an agreement with the Times of India Group, the largest media group of India, to campaign for peace betw