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Touching Hearts, Changing Minds

The News
December 8, 2011

Peace is not simply the absence of conflict between two countries, but strong ties between their people, economies, and establishments. To develop peaceful ties between Pakistan and India, what’s needed is not only an uninterrupted dialogue between the two governments, but also people-to-people confidence building measures.

Aman ki Asha, a peace initiative, launched by the Times of India and the Jang Group of Pakistan on January 1, 2010, has a three-pronged approach towards promoting peace: providing a platform for open and honest discussion on all issues, advocating economic collaboration as the most important driver for peace, and promoting people to people contacts in healthcare, sports, trade, and so on. This is backed by an intensive media campaign that seeks to lobby both governments to make the requisite legislative changes to facilitate peace.

A significant difference between Aman ki Asha and other people-to-people initiatives is that Aman ki Asha is powered by the two largest media houses of India and Pakistan. The media, a significant player in the public and political domain, is the fourth estate, a champion of causes, a platform where opinions can be voiced in the pubic sphere. The media can galvanise public opinion and lobby governments. In South Asia, it has the power to reach 1.6 billion people, and to sustain a narrative amenable to peace.

The media has been the platform for many successful Indo-Pak collaborations focusing on music and entertainment. Aman ki Asha’s scope is more expansive and includes economics, policy, and people-to-people contacts.

This platform has brought together senior members of the armed forces and intelligence agencies to discuss possibilities for collaborative counterterrorism measures and intelligence sharing. Our last strategic seminar brought together the former Director General of RAW, Mr. A. S. Dulat, and the former head of the ISI, Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, along with Gen. Mahmood Durrani, the former National Security Advisor, and the former head of IB. At a previous strategic seminar, the former foreign minister, Mr. Khursid Mahmood Kasuri, revealed how a solution with regards to Kashmir had already been struck – it was simply a matter of getting the three parties to sign.

In April this year, we invited the ambassadors of France and Germany to make a presentation on how their countries have overcome the baggage of history and now exist as part of a borderless EU. For centuries, there existed deep enmity between the people and the governments of France and Germany. They regarded each other as the ‘inherited enemy.’ The German ambassador shared how his father had been a soldier during World War II, while French ambassador was a prisoner of war. Yet, within a generation, their countries have moved beyond that state of hostilities and ‘made war impossible’ as the ambassador put it.

Perhaps the greatest deterrence against war is war itself. The devastation that World War II unleashed was the biggest impetus for peace. However the road to peace between these countries has been paved by various people-to-people confidence building measures, including the twinning of cities, the creation of joint history books, and various student exchanges.

The Indo-Pak example is different. We are not inherited enemies. We are inherited neighbours, joint inheritors of the Gandhara, Indus Valley and other ancient civilizations. Whenever Indians and Pakistanis come together, there is fraternity, friendliness and a celebration of shared values, culture and tastes. The enmity is between our establishments, not amongst ourselves.

This disconnect is evident at every Aman ki Asha event. The single greatest hurdle is always a bureaucratic and political one — obtaining visas. Every time people come together, there is camaraderie and goodwill. At the last Aman ki Asha event, all members of the Pakistani delegation traced their roots back to India, while all the Indians traced their roots back to Pakistan.

This was at one of a series of cross-border CEO forums organised by Aman ki Asha, taking forward a joint declaration drafted at the end of a major economic conference in Delhi in May 2010. Six committees with Pakistani and Indian chapters were created in the sectors with the greatest potential for collaboration, to work towards promoting bilateral trade and investment and formulate policy recommendations that will facilitate increased trade.

Earlier this year, members of Aman ki Asha Committees, influential business leaders in their own right, met with the Commerce secretary of Pakistan, Mr. Zafar Mehmood, and put forward a series of policy recommendations to facilitate trade between the two countries.

We are now starting to see some of the fruits of greater economic collaboration as the two countries begin to work towards increasing bilateral trade and investment. The positive list is being replaced by a negative list, there is talk of increasing levels of trade from 2.7 billion to 6 billion, starting up banks, etc. Increased trade and investment will drive the peace process; CEO forums and Indo-Pak business meets lend impetus to Aman ki Asha.

But perhaps the heart of the movement is another Aman ki Asha project, launched in March this year in collaboration with the Rotary Clubs of India and Pakistan, Heart to Heart, sending 200 underprivileged children from Pakistan to India to undergo heart surgery at no cost to them. The Rotary Club of India has sponsored the project as a goodwill gesture, an extraordinary people-to-people confidence building measure.

By touching hearts, we change minds. The results of the independent surveys prior carried out to the launch of Aman ki Asha and again on its first anniversary, have been positive beyond expectations. In Pakistan, the brand recall of Aman ki Asha was 92%, whereas prior peace campaigns levelled out at about 4%. Negative perceptions of each other had decreased and positive perceptions improved. Some 87% of Pakistanis and 75% of Indians felt that Aman ki Asha helped create greater awareness about the core issues between the two countries. The terror perception had dropped from 75% to 42%. Most significantly, two thirds of respondents believed that peace was attainable within their lifetime, up 35% from the previous year.

Aman ki Asha aims to move beyond the realm of talk and candlelight vigils and to strive towards substantive gains: business deals, collaborative partnerships, life saving surgeries. When we collaborate with one another, do business together, and heal each other, we will no longer want or be able to fight each other. By building confidence between the peoples of India and Pakistan and developing ties and connections on multiple levels, we hope to build a web so strong that it will make war impossible. Through these people-to-people contacts, and through the many other initiatives and exchanges taking place, we hope to contribute towards make the dream of lasting peace a reality.

 

The writer is coordinator Aman ki Asha. This article is based on her paper presented at a conference titled “India-Pakistan Peace Process”, organised by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Dubai, October 10 – 11, 2011.

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