Article: A Caravan of Peace
by Afzal Rahim Yousafzai
The one who has witnessed violence appreciates the value of peace. This is my story. I belong to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the northwestern region of Pakistan. Our region has been affected by the worst spate of violence since 2001. From suicide bombings to unmanned drone attacks in tribal areas, we are at the centre stage of global attention due to proximity with Afghanistan. While Pakhtuns were getting killed, they were also being suspected of perpetrating the violence.
On the first day of January 2010, as I woke up, I came across a full page advertisement in the The News International (a very renowned newspaper in Pakistan). It gave me goosebumps! I left what I was doing and switched on my computer to check for the website of Aman ki Asha (Hope for Peace). I got through its Facebook page and began reading comments and feedback that were posted on it. It felt like the beginning of a new phase in my life. Toward something that I had always been pining and praying for … PEACE!
I am fond of connecting with new people from across the globe, being friends with them, learning about their lives and culture. The social media has been a great medium enabling me to do so. It has helped me connect with people from across the border and work to promote peace between India and Pakistan. For the past six years, I have used my social media connections to make friends in India. I dream of a strong political, social, cultural and economic bond between the SAARC nations. If France & Germany with all their bitterness can become a part of the European Union (EU) why can’t India & Pakistan take a step forward to a SAARC Union? Earlier, I did not have any friend from India. Then I befriended Mohit Mehta and we started discussing ideas to promote peace between the two countries. We were able to discover common ground on many issues. This gave a kick start to my building ever lasting friendships with Indians. Mohit introduced me to his college buddy and neighbor Harpreet Singh. I was also fortunate to be introduced to Pramod Sharma who organizes peace festival every year in India where youth from across the globe get the opportunity to participate.
I tried to attend the Global Youth Peace Festival for three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013 along with other delegates from Pakistan, but I unfortunately could not procure a visa. However, I did not lose hope and applied for the fourth time. I was selected to be a part of the Global Youth Peace Festival in the year 2014. On the day before the conference was to commence on September 27, our delegation was granted visa by the high commission of India in Pakistan. I was so excited to visit India that on the very night, I packed my luggage and left for the Wagah border from Peshawar. The thrill of crossing the border and left me all crazy and excited! I again participated in the Aman ki Asha Committee of the Model UN at Nagpur from June 2 to June 11, 2016
I have been lucky to visit India quite a few times. The gush of emotions one experiences while crossing the border is beyond any explanation. The love extended by people on the other side of the border is remarkable. I felt I was home. There is a welcoming warmth, hospitality and a bond of love that unites citizens on both sides. It is an inexplicable feeling! My each visit to India has me given me fond memories.
Many of my Indian friends like Ms. Astinder Kaur (I feel as close to her as I would to any of my blood relative), Ms. Laleh Busheri (an enthusiastic lady full of life, working selflessly for humanity), Mr. Pramod Sharma (without whose efforts all the wonderful organization of the conference would be difficult to imagine) and many others have found a special place in my heart, in my thoughts and prayers. When I think of my Indian friends who have joined and supported me on my peace journey, I am reminded of the following lines …
Main Akela hi Chala Tha Janib-e-Manzil Magar
Log Saath Aate Gaye Aur Karwa Banta Gaya…
(I started alone towards my destination…People came together and became caravan)
We, Indians and Pakistanis, share many commonalities in terms of lifestyle and our love for food. We are separated only by a piece of land. So much about us is similar. If both the nations come and strive together in agriculture, trade, education, science, sports, information technology and other areas, we can in fact become global leaders and influencers. Why are we fighting each other? Our enemies are unemployment, illiteracy, poverty and other grave threats that haunt the world. Cooperation on every front can lead us to growing in unison, saving billions of dollars that we right now end up spending on arms and ammunitions to guard ourselves against the ‘other’. To me this so called ‘rivalry’ between India and Pakistan seems hyped by the media. We need to understand each other and stop living in the past. Communication is the key to resolve tensions between the two countries. I believe that the media has a significant role to play in promoting peace as better and open communication channels can facilitate acceptance for each other. If employed positively, social media can be a great tool to bridge the rift.
Let us get ourselves out of this ‘me-better-than-you game. It is time we stop wearing wounds as badges of honor, or as reminders of retribution. The process of healing has to begin somewhere. Now is the time and this is the place! Thinking of each other as enemies will hinder us from moving forward. Let us stop inflicting pain on each other. ‘Forgive and Forget’, ‘Accept & Embrace’ … let this be the new motto for peaceful living between India and Pakistan as also South Asia.
Wishing every Indian & Pakistani a very Happy Independence Day 2016!
This article has been edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (Vadodara, India)
Afzal Rahim is a Peace Ambassador from Swabi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan. He is currently pursuing a higher education degree in media after completing his MBA from Islamabad (Pakistan). He has over eight years of work experience in Human Resource Development having worked in the hospitality, consultancy & development sector. You can follow him @afzalrahim_pk