Peace Exhibition and Discussion on “Revitalizing Indo-Pak Peace Building Efforts” in Delhi
Aaghaz-e-Dosti is an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative that aims to strengthen the process of peace building between the two neighbours that have much more in common than the differences that separate them. Aaghaz-e-Dosti strives to work in the area of citizen diplomacy to facilitate peace education in the public sphere.
On February 16, 2017, Aaghaz-e-Dosti in collaboration with India International Centre organized a Peace Exhibition and a discussion on the theme- Revitalising Indo-Pak Peace Building Efforts. We were honoured to have a distinguished panel of speakers, comprising of personalities with unmatched experience on the subject in question. The panelists included- Former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr. TCA Raghavan, Major General (Retd.) of the Indian Army and Convener (India Pakistan Peace Process), Mr. Ashok K. Mehta, Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) of the Indian Air Force, Mr. Kapil Kak, and Senior Journalist and Former President of the Press Club of India, Mr. Rahul Jalali. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Medha Bisht, faculty, Department of International Relations, South Asian University.
The programme began with the inauguration of the Peace Exhibition by the Director, India International Centre (IIC), Air Marshal (Retd.) Naresh Verma. Peace Exhibition displayed the many paintings, greeting cards, letters and peace messages of school students from India and Pakistan. It was more than mere pieces of papers displayed together at one place, it represented much more. It was the reflection of a gesture, a desire for peace, friendship and neighbourly bonds.
In his address to the gathering, Mr. Verma highlighted the significance of peacebuilding efforts and the need to strengthen the process of peace to further progress in the two countries. He lamented that despite an existing acknowledgement of commonalities and a genuine desire for peace, the two neighbours remain short of being friends due to an uncanny reluctance at some levels. He referred to the hostile relations between France and Germany in the early 20th century, which were finally improved after years of peace negotiations. He wondered why couldn’t India and Pakistan shed all inhibitions and hostilities toward each other.
Speaking of the desire for the idea of a South Asian Union/ Federation, he shared that this idea may or may not be feasible at the ground level, but now showed hope as an idea, which had been unthinkable for a long time. Expressing hope in the efforts of Aaghaz-E-Dosti towards peace, he wished that the initiative grows further and evolves into ‘Gulshan-E-Dosti’ someday.
Taking the event forward, Devika Mittal, National Convener of the initiative spoke about the various activities Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been undertaking in its endeavor towards peace and in doing away with various prejudices that hamper the peace process between India and Pakistan. She talked of Aman Chaupal, Classroom Connect Programme between the two nations, Annual Peace Calendar Launch and various talks and discussions the initiative organizes in its efforts towards providing a platform for the people to engage with those on the other side of the fence.
The discussion began with Dr. Bisht highlighting the importance of the small, seemingly insignificant efforts for peace by the citizens on both sides of the divide with the maxim- ‘little drops make the mighty ocean’.
The first panelist, Dr. TCA Raghavan began by congratulating Aaghaz-E-Dosti on its efforts and the spirit of contrarian thinking in the times when the mainstream narrative is largely dominated by a single narrative of intolerance and hatred. Giving the example of Ram Manohar Lohia and his socialist engagements, he pointed out that the Indo-Pak issues have dominated the principal political space and leadership since independence and such engagements continue even today. He spoke of the origins of the idea of citizens for peace, which emanated as a result of increased politicization of society, beginning especially from late 1980s and 1990s. Describing it as the tipping point in the relations between the two neighbours, he said it was at that time, the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy emerged, that saw the engagement of top political and bureaucratic brass, example- Nirmal Kumar Mukarji, last member of the India Civil Service to serve, to strengthen the peace process.
He also spoke of the importance of the virtual space that to a large extent has rendered meaningless the various barriers to culture and literature of the two countries that come to exist time and again. Presenting examples of increased engagements between the two neighbours via multilateral mediums like cricket, travel for friends’ marriages etc. he reiterated that these work slowly but have a cumulative impact in mending the strained bonds between the two neighbours.
The next panelist was Mr. Ashok K. Mehta. Calling himself a great believer and supporter of improved Indo-Pak relations, he congratulated Aaghaz-E-Dosti for its work. Reiterating the significance of engagement between the two neighbours, he stated that often the problem is that the two countries and their people do not understand what the problem really is. In such a scenario he highlighted the importance of an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue”, however harsh the situations are. Highlighting the important role diplomacy plays, he showed confidence in the belief that Track II diplomacy must continue, when there is a rupture in Track I diplomatic efforts. He held that there is no dearth of ideas on improving the engagements between the two nations; the problem exists with respect to the implementation part of the process.
Lamenting that the mood for reconciliation between the two neighbours dwindled after the Pathankot base attack, Uri attack and the retaliatory Surgical Strikes from India, he said that often with respect to the resumption of dialogue, the ultimate question is “how to break the ice”? In the end, to those involved in the peace efforts between the two neighbours, he had the message- “Bada Lamba Safar Hai, Par Chalte Rehna Hai”.
The discussion proceeded with the next panelist, Mr. Kapil Kak. He talked of importance of asking “what is the way forward in the relations between India and Pakistan?” Talking of the 2015 Pakistan visit of the present Indian Prime Minister on 25th of December, on the occasion of the birth anniversary of the Pakistani Prime Minister, he said it was a highly positive gesture. But this was followed by the 2016 Pathankot base attack. He asked in such a scenario, where a step forward is met with two steps back, should the peace efforts be stalled? He answered this by stating that in such strained times, the peace process becomes even more important and must be strengthened further. He asked the people on the two sides to be conscious of the fact that even if there are peace processes, there would be spoilers; they are a part and parcel of the same process. Putting the onus of being unable to put up a strong and sustained peace process, on both the nations, Mr. Kak highlighted the significance of the need of deep commitment from the side of the political leadership to move forward in its attempts to mend the relations between the two neighbours. Highlighting the initiatives taken during Atal Bihari Vajpayees’s time, he said such efforts are needed to be revitalized. More of socio-economic Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are the need of the hour for the two vital neighbours.
Talking of the various uncertainties at the global level, he expressed concern with the new emerging Security challenges. In such uncertain times, he said immense importance is needed to be given to the idea of regional connectivity, which he saw as the common destiny of the South Asian region. He lamented at the failure of the two nations in dealing with the Kashmir question that has aggravated the already grave situation in Kashmir, with the children as young as seven years of age, seen participating in the protests and stone pelting against the Indian Armed Forces. He highlighted the need to tend to the aspirations of the young Kashmiris to assuage any fears of alienation. For this, he said it was important to deal with political questions politically rather than by using the security forces.
In the end, he talked of the significance of efforts civil society organisations, like Aaghaz-E-Dosti, that put pressure from within and from below for the political leadership to act and to initiate a dialogue.
Panelist Mr. Jalali began by what he felt was the major issue crippling the people to people peace process. He lamented that often these people to people initiatives, instead of acting as a pressure group for the two governments to talk and engage with each other, start to talk among themselves across the border, hence hardly bringing about any substantial ground level changes. This he said was their main weakness. It is here he held, lies the importance of Aaghaz-E-Dosti, a peace initiative of the young, by the young, who can set the agenda for the times to come.
He talked of the role the mainstream media has come to play in setting the agenda for the two countries. The unnecessary sensationalisation of news, he held was dangerous as the general public on both the sides gets influenced. Talking also of the social media, he said the dominant voice had come to be the ‘organized trolls’ that create an agenda of hate at both the places. Citing the Right Wing resurgence globally, he stated that today as the world had become more globalized, it also had turned more localized, and media too has not been left untouched by these global events. Mr. Jalali said that in such times, when initiatives like- Aaghaz-E-Dosti try and engage with schools, colleges, with the citizenry of the two countries at large, they play the role of building institutions. This he held was very important as the generation of today gets greatly affected by what is in the mainstream. Hence, he said it was the responsibility of such initiatives to take it up upon themselves as a mission to tweak the prevalent narrative for the better as far as the media is concerned. Mr. Jalali ended his speech by highlighting the significance of a new alternative thinking to emerge and sustain.
After the four panelists enriched the gathering with their views on the subject, gathered over years of unmatched experience, the discussion was summarized by the moderator for the day, Dr. Medha Bisht. She reiterated how reconciling the different narratives becomes difficult as these often get politicized in between. She highlighted the importance of a ‘grand strategy’ in dealing with the two neighbours, India and Pakistan. In this grand strategy, she said the engagement of multiple actors, including- the political leadership, armed forces, the civil society organisations and the awaam, of the two countries was important.
After the discussion the house was opened for the audience to ask their doubts and express their views. The mixed gathering had different views to share. While a gentleman from the audience expressed his desire for a ‘Common Television’ on the lines of initiatives, like the Indo-Pak Peace Bus, to bring to the people of the two countries the “right kind of feelings and emotions the awaam of the two countries share”, another gentleman expressed doubts over the engagements only at the level of the people, without any efforts from the political leadership, to bring about any substantial transformation in the relations between the two nations. To this point, another gentleman from the audience had a counter, who said- “Naummeedee Iss Kadar Badh Gayi Hai, ki Aarzoo ki Aarzoo Ho Gayi Hai”. A young gentleman from the audience expressed hope in the initiatives like Aaghaz-E-Dosti and emphasized that ‘peace is a process, not a goal’. A beautiful thought indeed, for a goal suffers from time boundations, but a process reflects a lifelong engagement and efforts.
Overall, a thoughtful and fruitful discussion that brought a plethora of crucial issues concerning India and Pakistan, the two vital neighbours who share much in common in terms of history, culture, languages, festivals, religions and much more, but have been marred by the agenda of hatred and intolerance, to the table. Highlighting that there are no easy answers or no single silver bullet that could iron out the differences that have been made to exacerbate to a great level, the panelists put forward the need and necessity of dialogue, engagement and an uninterrupted and uninterruptible peace process. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is a humble attempt in facilitating and being part of this peace process.
Report made by
Delhi Team Member