By Bilal Zubedi
For Szabist students in Karachi, March 18, 2011 marked a new dawn in relations between India and Pakistan. That was a day when in the eyes of many, the possibility grew of making amends in this "complicated" relationship marked by its fair share of bitterness and fights.
The Pakistani students and their distinguished guests from India who gathered on that fine day talked about the need for peace and good neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan. Not all the students may have been convinced about this when they arrived at the hall, but by the time the discussion ended nearly two hours later, everyone agreed that this is the only road to progress in the region.
The Indian visitors who addressed the jam-packed hall bore messages of peace and friendship. They made it clear that they were open to discussing any and all matters of concern to both countries. The mood of the gathering was rather festive and aimed at open-minded interaction, bolstered by a realisation about the similarities between the people of both countries. Perhaps because of this mood, contentious issues like Kashmir, the water dispute or the deployment of Indian forces on the Pakistan-India border were conspicuous by their absence. There appeared to be a tacit understanding that these are political issues between the two states, while the people feel no qualms in embracing each other.
The visitors urged the students, the young adults of Pakistan, to participate and carry the torch of change along with them. The discussion commenced with Pakistani political analyst and columnist Muqtida Mansoor advocating the path of peace and cooperation for Pakistan and India, countries with a common culture and history. Karachi-based poet Tauqeer Chughtai then recited his poem on visa restrictions, a situation he likened to "a forlorn lover unable to meet her/his beloved".
"This is the age of internet," commented peace activist Mazher Hussain from Hyderabad, Deccan who has spearheaded several Indo-Pak peace initiatives. As such, he feels, there is no longer an excuse for Pakistanis and Indians not to communicate and join hands in erasing barriers and differences. Miscreants exist on both sides of the border and dealing with them is a collective responsibility, he added. To keep our homes safe and not allow things to take on an ugly shape is in our joint interests.
Journalist Jatin Desai from Mumbai (who has been particularly active on the issue of detained fishermen on both sides) stressed the need for discussion of all issues because a peace delegation cannot ignore areas of conflict, which would make both sides think of this act of friendship as a mere formality. Every concern should be brought on to the table.
One of India's leading economists, Dr. Bhalchandra Mungekar, Congress member of the Rajya Sabha (Senate) and former vice-chancellor of University of Mumbai and a member of Planning Commission of India reminded the rapt audience that literature can bring together the two people, be it religious or otherwise. The region has similar literary traditions as part of their shared history and the interaction and influence of various corners of South Asia spread over the entire region has been proof of cultural contact that kept diversity in unity.
"How could this historical fact not be true now?" he asked. Realising its significance is a necessity to bring people under a common umbrella of peace.
Bringing the people together and increasing communication and interaction between them was the focal point of the discussion with the fiery Shahid Siddiqui from New Delhi, editor of the leading Urdu daily Nai Duniya and a former parliamentarian. He spoke of his delegation's responsibility, coupled with that of the audience present that day, to erase the existing misconceptions about each other in the hearts and minds of people on both sides of the border. "No one can get votes in India now by hurling abuses at Pakistan," he said.
Several hands shot up when comments were invited. Many expressed their views on the need to ease travel between both countries and to end hatred in the hearts and minds of the people. When Shahid Siddiqui responded asking the students to reject the army's dogma and become democratic, some interjected demanding the decision be left to the Pakistani people. He was loudly applauded when he spoke of the importance of pressure from civil society and declared Kashmir an issue that needs to be discussed, on which both sides needed to compromise.
Afterwards, the students and visitors broke into informal groups discussing their common interests and cultures, and sharing contact details. It seemed to become one large party, long-separated friends coming together to rejoice. Invitations and promises to visit each other flew from one corner to another, supported by Dr. Mungekar's decision to write to the Indian Prime Minister about the matter, upon his return.
Ultimately, South Asians finding it difficult to part even on an empty stomach provided ample proof of their amicable dispositions towards each other.
Perhaps it all comes down to people and their perceptions. This is what makes more such interactions necessary, in order to rid people of their biases. A prejudice-free outlook towards this gradually growing friendship between India and Pakistan may not take root right away, but the attempt is worth a try.
Pakistan and India have tried hostility for decades and the results are fairly obvious. It is time to try a new strategy of cultural cooperation and peace with people at its centre.
Bilal Zubedi, a student at
SZABIST, moderated the seminar featuring the Indian peace
delegation. He is the author of 'On the Road to Awareness'. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
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