4th Indo-Pak Peace Calendar Launched in Islamabad (Pakistan)
Islamabad: On January 28, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a joint Indo-Pak Friendship initiative, launched its 4th Indo-Pak Peace Calendar in Islamabad Pakistan with support of Pakistan – US Alumni Network (PUAN). The launch preceded a discussion on ‘Sharing of Hopes for Peaceful and Friendly Co-existence’ with academicians and eminent speakers including Dr. Zahid Shahab (Associate Professor NUST), Dr. Saeed Rid (Professor QAU), and Ms. Sidra Saeed (IVLP Alumni PUAN). The discussion was moderated by Daniyal Hassan (Youth Director Pakistan US Alumni Network). The launch in Islamabad witnessed a huge gathering of about 150 persons from different backgrounds and walks of life had participated. The distinguished panel spoke on different issues concerning indopak.
Every year, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, launches an Indo-Pak peace calendar in India and Pakistan. This calendar includes selected paintings of students from India and Pakistan. This calendar also includes messages from renowned personalities working on the peace from both the countries. The importance of the calendar is that it is a collection of shared dreams and hopes for friendship which we will be reminded of everyday.
Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN), supporter for the calendar launch, is an association of U.S. exchange alumni, who went on U.S. government cultural exchange programs or benefitted under in-country scholarship programs, committed to making meaningful contributions to Pakistan though community service, conferences, mentoring future generations, and reaching out to inspire and recruit new exchange participants.
Dr. Zahid Shahab spoke about a study on comparative analysis of history books that he had conducted with support from Dalai Lama Foundation. In his study, he had introduced a new dimension i.e. the role of a teacher. He said during the discussion that ‘it takes teacher to interpret what is written in the history textbooks’. He recalled his visit to Chennai, asking a school teacher (who taught a diverse faith group of students) about the reaction of students when two nations theory is taught? The teacher remarked that many Hindu students had come to her asking ‘if Pakistan has been created for Muslims, why are they still living here? And there comes my responsibility as a teacher to restate the facts.’ He also recollected reminiscences from his visit to WISCOM forum in 2004, where the interaction of Pakistanis and Indians resulted into continuous exchange of inappropriate remarks over who won which war? ‘These things must change’ – he said. Talking about the biased curriculum, Dr. Zahid Shahab said that the state has an influential role in building mindsets and perceptions. India and Pakistan are divided on the basis of religio-politics. The state not only has monopoly, to a great extent, on the use of violence but also on the creation of perception. With textbooks, full of historical distortions, only educated people can figure ways to build positive mindset and perceptions. It is not only education, but also the quality of education, the skills of critical thinking that is vital in promulgating peace. He stressed that ‘peace demands creativity’ and we need to be creative in bringing peace.
Dr. Saeed Rid said that in 1997 – 1999, composite dialogues framework started had started between India and Pakistan that took back seat after Kargil. Mid 2000s again marked era of intensive negotiations but then Mumbai attacks came in and now again in 2016 we were set to hold comprehensive bilateral dialogue and Pathankot happened. Fortunately, the reaction of the governments of both the countries is different at this point than in the past. Behind all the cooperation and understanding after the attack, there is a stronger backing from the civil society i.e. the people to people relations. He referred to his PhD study on interactive p2p contact between India and Pakistan in which his case study were PIPFPD and AKA. He said that in today’s times, our institutions are more prone to paradigms like interstate relations, strategic studies etc. and p2p contacts are considered meaningless or perhaps less important. He said that prolonged conflict creates prejudices and dehumanizes relations. Because of continuity of conflict, there is a gap: we cannot see & meet each other as a result of which prejudices and stereotypes are created and become ingrained. He pointed out that between India and Pakistan p2p contacts have helped get major breakthrough and in creating an alternate peace narrative on different issues: Kashmir, the 1999 Lahore declaration, CBMs, joint conventions, peace troops, Kargil war, parliament attacks, samjhota express attack, and LoC violations. When the negotiations broke on one point, peace activists cooperated from both sides in revitalizing the process. Peace activist developed for the countries, a catalogue, of what should be discussed by the leaders. Despite the deadlock, they kept talking to each other. After Pathankot, there was a pressure on Modi government to completely abandon the peace process but the pressure from peace groups weighted heavier which is why there is more cooperation on both sides and the understanding that terrorists cannot be allowed to derail peace process. P2p contacts have and are ultimately influencing the process.
Sidra Saeed shared her memories of having interacted with Indians at Tedx event in Secunderabad. Recalling her interaction, she says that ‘being in India was being at home away from home’. When I applied and got selected for the Ted event in an enemy country, the feelings were strange. It followed the tiring and difficult visa process. Adding to this was the long travel from Islamabad-Dubai-Mumbai. My final destination was Hyderabad but I couldn’t take a direct flight because of immigration formalities. My fatigue and agony was compensated, when I interacted with the first Indian on plane. He asked me so many (ignorant) questions about Pakistan. I asked no lesser similar i.e. when we both realized that letting media be our only source of information, we have developed a very negative frame of mind about each other. I interacted with young people at the event, and to my surprise many of them had this extreme urge to visit Pakistan. Sidra asserted that in the current dynamics, Pakistan is a security state with unstable politics and peace for the region is becoming more necessary than ever. Ultimate peace between India and Pakistan, and in the region, lies in talking about issues from Afghanistan, Iran, Kashmir, to China.
Moderator of the discussion, Daniyal Hassan, shared about his visit to India in September 2013 for attending MUN at Delhi University. He said that India and Pakistan have come across many conflictual fronts from the beginning till today but despite everything the ‘Dosti bus service’ is the biggest success story which never got suspended on any grounds. For sure, there have been difficulties and protests, but the bus service never stopped and operates on very subsidized fares.
In response a question about why Kashmir remains at the backstage with all peace talks and peace process, Dr. Saeed responded that the governments of Pakistan and India need to resolve the issue of Kashmir not as per the will of Pakistan, not even as per the will of India, but ONLY according to the desires of the Kashmiris on both sides of the border. Another student asked to how can the hegemonic ideology of hatred in the curriculum be countered? Dr. Zahid Shahab said that peace rhetoric is lacking. Peace rhetoric needs to be developed and for which everyone has to take individual responsibility.
Toward the end, Erin Molnar Mains, Assistant Cultural Attaché from the US Embassy in Islamabad, addressing the participants said that between India and Pakistan there is much more to share than what separates. She encouraged the participants to look for different exchange programs to the US stressing that the exchange programs are eye-opening experiences where youngsters not only interact with Americans but also people from different countries of the world including India, as a result of which, back home, they play very constructive roles in peace building.
All the speakers stressed on the positive use of social media as a borderless tool. They said that social media is divisive kind of tool, there is no person controlling it which is the primary reason people need to be trained in spreading positive vibes via internet.
So far, the peace calendar has been launched in New Delhi, Ayodha, Panipat in India and Lahore, and Toba Tek Singh in Pakistan. The calendar is also expected to be launched at Chandigarh, Lucknow, Amritsar, Karachi and some other places in Pakistan and India.