Two years after Aman ki Asha was launched on January 1, 2010, what has this initiative of two media giants, The Times of India and the Jang Group of Pakistan, really achieved?
It is a measure of Aman ki Asha's success that not only has the concept found resonance in every heart, its very name, which translates as 'hope for peace', has found acceptance in common parlance. "That's very 'aman ki asha', you'll sometimes hear people say," observes a young Aman ki Asha (AKA) enthusiast. "You know a concept has arrived when people start using it as an adjective!"
Do the initiative's achievements lie in the many programmes and events it has organised over the past couple of years in both countries, or in having inspired many others at many different platforms, assuming a life of its own, gathering momentum and accelerating the peace process? Has the campaign created an awareness that peace and prosperity are two sides of the same coin, and that the people of our two countries must break free from the animosity and bitterness of the past and herald a new era of friendship and economic collaboration?.
We believe that the answer to all these questions is a resounding yes. Aman ki Asha has been the most significant movement for peace that we have seen so far. This is not only because it is a movement led by the biggest media groups on Pakistan and India, but because it has been so spontaneously adopted by the civil society as well as the business communities of the two countries.
The AKA activities have ranged from serious closed-door discussions on critical issues (Kashmir, intelligence sharing, security concerns, water, media) to crowd-pulling musical and literary shows (mushairas, qawwalis, folk songs, ghazals) and the involvement of children in both countries (thousands of peace hankies, culminating at an exchange at Wagah Border). The biggest AKA event so far was the hugely successful economic conference in Delhi in 2010, and the most uplifting of Aman ki Asha's initiatives is undoubtedly its ongoing Heart to Heart project, undertaken in collaboration with Rotary International, that facilitates life-saving surgeries for hundreds of needy Indian and Pakistani children and plans to establish up to 30 eye hospitals for the under-privileged in Pakistan.
Additionally, not all the programmes invoking Aman ki Asha have been initiated by the campaign itself. It is a measure of AKA's success that it has inspired people across India and Pakistan to proactively work for peace.
After hearing the catchy 'anthem' broadcast on television, an IIT student in Mumbai decided he had to do his bit. "The song highlighted the striking similarity between the people of India and Pakistan and inspired me to stand and be counted in the quest to bring together the people of India and Pakistan. We, the young citizens of the country, should be the torch-bearers of this effort," he wrote later, explaining the concept behind Ummeed-e-Milaap, a project meant "to unite the students of India and Pakistan".
A prominent school in Pakistan decided to promote Aman ki Asha's message of peace by making it part of its curriculum. Teachers spoke to students in their classes, from kindergarten to the secondary level (ages 4-15 years) "to spread the message of love, peace and unity in the young hearts. It was simply amazing to see students display their thoughts and feelings in the form of artwork, write-ups, messages etc," wrote the administrators later.
Beyond India and Pakistan, in Canada, inspired by Aman ki Asha, a young Indian-origin peace activist decided to organise a Pray for Peace Between India and Pakistan Day.
The initiative drew support from all over the globe and involved thousands of people, including the prominent actor Nandita Das, silently spending a few moments on the given day, Dec 18, 2011 focusing their energies and prayers on peace between the two countries.
If on one level there are these expressions of support for peace and good relations between India and Pakistan, on another level moves are being made that have been directly facilitated by Aman ki Asha, like improving ties between the businesses and trading communities of India and Pakistan. Is Pakistan's agreeing to grant India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status part of the trajectory that began with the Economic and Business Conference in Delhi in May 2010?
The event, co-hosted by the CII, was a glittering affair participated by hundreds of top Indian and Pakistani businessmen and women. India's Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee addressed the inaugural session. Describing the people of India and Pakistan as 'brothers and sisters' he said that, "A more economically integrated and rapidly developing region could generate a peace dividend. Extended trade relationships would reduce potential for conflict by creating strong constituencies for peace."
The business leaders who addressed the conference shared inspiring personal stories, poetry, experiences, and their personal interests in promoting trade and investment ties between the two countries. Pakistan's High Commissioner, Shahid Malik, who had intended to stay for just a short time, ended up attending the entire conference. In post conference remarks he described the conference as the most energizing such event he had attended and said that it would go a long way towards confidence building between the two countries.
The joint declaration at the end of the Economic Conference reflected this optimism. It also outlined six sectors as having the greatest potential for cooperation - health, education and skills training, information technology, energy, agriculture and textiles. Committees comprising CEOs of mainstream companies of these sectors from both countries have been formed to take cooperation in each sector forward.
The second AKA Indo-Pak economic Conference 'The Power of the Sub Continent' is scheduled to be held in Lahore in February 2012. It speaks volumes for the success of the campaign that CII, whose members contribute over 70% to India's GDP, has suggested that it will partner all AKA events intended to further economic collaboration between India and Pakistan. Its counterpart in Pakistan, the Pakistan Business Council, has also extended support.
"Aman ki Asha has given the governments the confidence to take concrete steps towards encouraging trade and business ties," says one executive. "And it has given a platform to the business community."
The forthcoming Lahore conference is garnering an overwhelmingly positive response. If India's Finance Minister addressed the May 2010 conference, Pakistan's Finance and Foreign Ministers are all set to address the Lahore gathering. The Governor and Chief Minister of Punjab have agreed to play host to the delegates. Some of the top business leaders and icons of the corporate world will address the conference, as will ambassadors of several countries.
Aman ki Asha has not only captured the imagination of the people of the two countries, it has garnered much support from the international community as well. The ambassadors of France and Germany made a presentation at an AKA strategic conference about the history of their conflict, how their countries made peace, the dividends of peace and learning for India and Pakistan. The Commonwealth Business Forum invited Jang group and Times of India to make a presentation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetinng at Perth. The International Newsmedia Marketing Association conferred its most prestigious award "Best in Class' at its annual function in New York to Aman ki Asha, describing it as a 'game changer'. Independent surveys in India and Pakistan have shown that the AKA campaign has brought about a sea change in perceptions about each other in both countries; every positive perception has improved and every negative perception has decreased. So perhaps a measure of Aman ki Asha's success is not just what this initiative has done, but what it has facilitated.
Aman ki Asha has become the voice of the people of both countries. It has become the platform that has given impetus to the ongoing process of economic collaboration between India and Pakistan. And, hopefully, it has given confidence to both the governments to negotiate with the assurance that comes from knowing that the overwhelming majority of the people of both countries desire peace.
Sunday, January 01, 2012
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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