By Kamran Rehmat
My father, Rehmat Ullah Khan, was born in District Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, India. He came to Pakistan on the last train, a boy of 14, orphaned by the worst carnage known to modern history. His father and more than a dozen close relatives were killed in the communal frenzy that followed the partition of India in 1947.
My father barely survived the horror, with an attempt made by one frenzied individual to set him alight in a room full of haystack, which was then locked. Fortunately, he managed to escape from a broken window.
What kind of memory and thought-process would that leave a young boy with?
And yet, remarkably, he chose not to pass on the burden of acrimonious history to his children, when it would have been perfectly understandable to do so. He put down the greatest genocide in an exodus that claimed the lives of his father and family to a mad frenzy. It was the consequence, he explained, of the worst face humanity could present in circumstances beyond its control.
I have never in my life seen a more forgiving man. While serving in Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was posted to New Delhi in the late eighties, returning for the first time to the land of his birth. However, both India and Pakistan stymied his attempts to re-visit his birthplace or his father's grave, because each respectively deemed him as going into or coming from the "enemy" country.
Many on both sides of the divide suffered the pangs of partition but long after the wanton bloodshed, I still shudder at the grave miscarriage of justice where a son was not allowed an opportunity to visit his father's grave either by the country of his birth or the one he embraced as his own. And yet he never allowed this injustice to embitter him, or affect his family.
He died in 1998, leaving us with his remarkable vision as a man of peace. His large-hearted response to the great injustice he suffered changed my perception of life and particularly, with regards to what path I would choose to take with regards to India, Pakistan, the hyphenated India-Pakistan and what my children would learn from me.
I decided to uphold my father's legacy, regardless of the odds. I began with a simple step. It was giving my firstborn, a name, which originated in India: Suhani, meaning pleasant - pleasant enough to win hearts, that is.
It was a conscious decision, premised in a tribute to all those people, wherever they may be on this planet, who have gamely - in the face of huge odds - fought for peace between India and Pakistan. If charity begins at home, so does goodwill.
I'm struck by what a gesture even as small as this has done: our little Suhani is the apple of all eyes, including Indian friends, who adore her even more after getting to the dnouement. It has taught me one of the most important lessons in life: love begets love.
Cause to die for
In the summer of 2005, when I was Assistant Editor at The News, we initiated a campaign for the release of Pakistani prisoners of war languishing in Indian jails, in some cases, for over three decades. I argued that we should not confine the campaign to only Pakistani prisoners but also raise a voice for Indian PoWs in Pakistan.
I insisted it was only fair that the humanitarian consideration at the heart of our campaign should be extended to those Indian nationals, who had similarly suffered the brutality of war and its aftermath. Initially, my advice was ignored in the strong patriotic current that came to dominate the editorial approach but I continued to push for the inclusion of Indian prisoners.
When the lopsided campaign failed to take off, I reminded my editor and the reporter that even if they were only concerned about our compatriots, it would still make sense to highlight the predicament of Indian prisoners since the issue would likely cause a greater storm in India and therefore, gather the momentum needed to propel the issue to the centre-stage.
Finally, they relented. As expected, the issue created a commotion in India forcing New Delhi to take it up with Islamabad, which already feeling the heat of our campaign, was similarly compelled to follow suit.
As a result, the issue of prisoners' release was hurriedly put on top of the agenda of the foreign secretary-level talks that were due at the time.
F for 'freedom'
The two sides came to an agreement that resulted in freeing more than six hundred prisoners, one third of them Indian. The sense of fulfilment at seeing these bruised souls emerge from prison as free citizens cannot be described in words.
I cannot possibly say it was a personal achievement since I had no power to change things, but I will bet my last rupee on the power of compassion as the ultimate weapon to change the equation - and sometimes, the course of history.
Life has been worth living for this one humble endeavour alone - and I owe it all to my father, an ordinary man with extraordinary power of forgiveness and compassion. He left us on Dec 6, 1998, thirteen years ago, changing my world forever, leaving me with a void so deep the heart still aches.
Still, whenever I look at Suhani, it reminds me that hope springs eternal in India, Pakistan and the world. In this, I hope we all find a connect.
The writer is Editor, Dateline Islamabad and a former editor The News. He can be reached at email@example.com
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
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Page 14 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