"I wanted to tell the world that I am a Pakhtun, I am a Muslim, I am a Pakistani but I am not a terrorist. I want to tell the people that what they hear about Muslims and Pakhtuns is not true" - Khurshid Khan, Deputy Attorney General, Pakistan
Last year I couldn't go to Lucknow, which was quite disappointing. Not only were the bi-annual celebrations of Hazrat Gunj being held, but the renowned poet Khushbir Singh Shaad had invited me to the Aalami Mushaira on behalf of the Uttar Pardesh government. But the Indian High Commission in Islamabad returned my passport without stamping a visa. I was quite upset at losing this opportunity to mingle and exchange ideas with intellectuals there.
The restrictions between India and Pakistan have not kept the melodious voices of Lata, Rafi and Mukesh, Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali and Nusrat Ali Fateh Ali Khan from serenading music lovers across the border. Then why do poets have to face restrictions? There should be no obstacle in the intellectual exchange between the two countries.
Fortunately I got another opportunity sooner than expected, after the visit of 22-member delegation of the Mumbai Press Club to Pakistan at the invitation of the Karachi Press Club. An MoU signed during this visit agreed that the two press clubs would be twin establishments, and that a delegation of the Karachi Press Club would visit India. Indian friends sent the invites soon after returning to India, a process supported by the Maharashtra and Central governments. The president of the Karachi Press Club Tahir Hasan Khan took the delegates' passports to Islamabad and got the visas issued two days before our departure for India.
Besides Tahir and myself, the Pakistani delegation comprised journalists Saeed Sarbazi, Faisal Sayani, Siraj Ahmed, Saeed Qureshi, Shamim Bano, Abdul Qudoos, Akbar Ali, Zulfiqar Ali, Mahesh Kumar, Farhan Afindi, as well as Piler director Karamat Ali whose organisation had facilitated the Mumbai Press Club visit to Pakistan.
At the last minute we learnt that our return seats were not confirmed. The intervention of high officials and some string pulling resolved that issue. Interestingly, when we boarded the plane on the morning of May 21, we found half of the seats vacant. Apparently travel agents block seats and create an artificial crisis.
At Mumbai's Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport there was a special immigration counter at the airport especially for us. We emerged to find renowned journalist Jatin Desai, the Press Club of Mumbai's Chairman Prakash Akolkar, and other journalists Gurbir Singh, Om Prakash Tiwari, Meena Menon and Mritunjay Bose waiting for us with a musical band in tow. We got a traditional welcome, with flower garlands and our foreheads marked with the traditional tilak.
Pakistani and Indian delegates then together headed towards the State guesthouse where we were to stay, in a posh part of Bandara inhabited by many influential people, including actors and the politician, founder and chief of the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray.
As state guests we were provided a lot of security and didn't get to see a lot of places that ordinary visitors have access to. We realized to our dismay that being VIPs isn't all it seems cut out to be - VIPs are deprived of enjoying life to the fullest, they can't explore the streets and bazaars, meet common people and actually experience and enjoy an area properly. We were no longer envious of VIPs and their constrained lives.
But from what little we saw, the people of Mumbai appeared happy. As our convoy escorted by security personnel swept past, sirens blaring, people by the roadside would look up somewhat surprised. We were pleasantly surprised to see young girls riding on scooters and people standing in queues, a great accomplishment in this part of the world.
The people of India lead simple lives. I observed that many refrained from using air conditioners even in the most important places in order to conserve energy.
During this visit a minister was appointed to look after us. On the first day of our visit, we had dinner at the Blue Sea restaurant in Worli Beach. This was an amazing experience. Not only was the food great, they played the ghazals of musical greats like Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh. The minister himself sang for us, and then asked personnel from his security to also sing! I was invited to recite one of my poems.
The next day, at a seminar organised at the Mumbai Press Club, we discussed the Indian and Pakistani media's role in furthering the peace process between both countries. Journalists from both countries agreed that the role of the media was very important in strengthening peace in the region. The hostility and anger of the mass migration and bloody events after Partition is a thing of the past. Although issues like Kashmir, Sir Creek, Siachen, Wuller Barrage, 26/11 and Samjotha Express still ignite emotions in both countries, keeping a window open for people-to-people interaction and dialogue can only help to improve things in the future, perhaps enabling our countries to move towards some kind of resolution. If the media could stop referring to each other as "traditional enemies" during cricket matches, and show equal respect to soldiers of the other country who lose their lives during peacetime, then maybe we can achieve the goal of overcoming misconceptions on both sides and improving relations. At press club, Mumbai we met with Shalini Nair, Jyoti Sheler, Leela Solomon, Naresh Kamath,Harish Nabiar, Yogesh, Vinod, BN Kumar and other friends who visited Karachi last year along with Mumbai Presss Club Delegation. Mumbai Marathi Patarkar Sangh also hosted a traditional reception in honour of visiting journalists of Pakistan.
Patarkar Bhavan and The Press Club of Mumbai are located opposite Azad Maidan and the Mumbai Municipal Corporation. On one side is Mumbai's oldest railway station, said to be the basis of the railway system of the Subcontinent. We visited the Dargah of Haji Ali, the Gateway of India, Taj Hotel, Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai Stock Exchange, Mumbai University, Film City (where numerous Bollywood films have been made), the national Gallery of Modern Art. We also had the honour to meet Maharashtra's Minister Prithivi Raj Chavan and other state ministers.
The Times of India invited the Pakistani delegate to their office under the banner of Aman ki Asha, to meet TOI editorial director Jaideep Bose along with other senior editoriall staff.
We also got to meet and talk to Bollywood star Aamir Khan, whose first question was about how politics is faring in Pakistan.
After five days in Mumbai, we left for Pune via New Mumbai where Charu Satam took us for lunch. We were treated to the best of Maharashtra cuisine and gifted an expensive watch each. His wife, renowned writer, Shubha played hostess. The young, enigmatic mayor of New Mumbai Sagar Naik was also present, reminding us of former Karachi mayor, Mustafa Kamal. Mayor Saghar may be young, probably only 25, but he has a strong ambitious nature, and a mind that can achieve great things.
The distance between Mumbai and Pune is about the same as between Karachi and Hyderabad. Sanjay Nayar, who heads the NGO Sarhad, met us and took us for dinner where we were entertained by Kishore Kumar's songs. We were presented with the traditional headgear, the tilak walli pugri.
The next day we visited the historic Baba Guru Nanak Darbar. Several Sikhs became emotional when Pakistan was mentioned. They talked about Rawalpindi, asking us about streets where their families had lived or how someone's mother couldn't go to Pakistan because she couldn't get a visa. We also visited the historical Agha Khan palace where Mahatma Gandhi's ashes are kept.
Our visit to local newspaper offices included Kaiseri, established by Bal Tillak during the war for independence, when it was a powerful tool against the British. We saw historical pictures of various trials of treason and read about Bal Tilak's imprisonment. Bal Tilak was a companion of Mohammad Ali Jinnah before the Pakistan movement.
That night we went to a dinner hosted by the H. G. M. Azam Education Trust and met affluent members of the Muslim community. Muslims, Sikh and Hindus alike play important roles in the progress and prosperity of Pune. Despite the different ethnic and religious backgrounds of the population of Pune, they live together like brothers.
The next day we left for Mumbai airport where our friends from the Mumbai Press Club came to see us off. There were tearful farewells, many promises to meet again and mental resolves to push the peace process forward and make it succeed.
Our visit gave us hope that hurdles in the path of peace will soon be overcome. Indians we met expressed their wishes for the visa restrictions to be done away with and the process made easier, for trade routes to be opened and for the cricket teams of both countries to play more matches together.
As we headed towards the terminal building, a Bohri gentleman from Pakistan approached us. He had travelled to India with us on the same plane and had seen the warm welcome we received, which made him extremely happy. "If our country can be freed of terrorism, we are rich in resources and we can compete with any other country in the world in trade," he said.
We all fervently echoed his hope for the success of this mission of journalists to smooth relations between the two countries.
The writer is a senior journalist and poet, and Editor Internet, Jang Group. Translation from Urdu: Lubna J. Naqvi.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
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Page 169 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