Since I was writing articles for Aman ki Asha, I got back in touch with many friends who were Indians, and lived all over the world now. We reconnected and reminisced, exchanged pictures on facebook and started making plans to meet again. One of the articles that got the most feedback was about my friend Puja ("Iftar with Puja", September 29, 2010, The News) and her roommate Aradhana.
We learnt that Choti, as Aradhana is known, was getting married. Friends from around the world were going to Delhi for the wedding. I hadn't met most of them in about a decade. Writing the articles made me more aware of the far-reaching effects of my friendships with my Indian friends. I realised they were always friends first, and their nationalities were merely incidental. I also realised that I really missed them and it was time for a follow up article.
The trips to Delhi that followed will be the subject of those articles, and they happened because of Aman ki Asha (AKA). The friendship, hospitality and welcome that I received allowed me to explore possibilities of more collaborative cultural exchanges between India and Pakistan.
If it weren't for AKA, the projects I'm currently working on would have remained mere ideas, or got bogged down by delays. At this point I have three projects planned for this year, for which I have received unprecedented support on both sides of the border. But even before that, there's the project I just completed that may not directly be an AKA project, but began with an "asha" for "aman" (hope for peace).
Once I started writing for Aman ki Asha, it was like being pregnant and seeing pregnant ladies all around. I saw opportunities for relatedarticles and projects all around me. Amidst all the fear and loathing (of terrorism) in Islamabad, it was wonderful to start seeing glimmers of hope.
In April 2010, I traveled to the stunning Shigar Valley in Baltistan to write about the Aga Khan Cultural Services Program's conservation project of the Shigar Fort that resulted in a highly acclaimed boutique hotel run by the Serena chain of hotels. Returning there after seven years I was struck by the positive change in the area, especially in the surrounding villages. It got me thinking about peace in the area (touch wood). On the last day, stranded due to inclement weather, I wrote an article (It's All About the "Asha".June 9, 2010 The News).
The article was an idea, perhaps simplistic, that economic uplift and education are good anti-terrorist measures. The AKCSP projects that gave an economic uplift for Shigar valley brought stability and alleviated poverty - and contributed to peaceful relations between people of different religious sects. When they can feed their families and have much to lose, people appear less likely to send their children to madrassas to be fed and brainwashed.
That cancelled flight resulted in an idea to attract people to the area - not just domestic tourists, but to tap into the Pakistani diaspora that visits in the summer and has dollars, pounds and dirhams to spend. They love Bollywood, so I convinced my old friend and "Rockstar Ustad," Shafqat Amanat Ali, a self-proclaimed patriot, to do something for his country on a shoestring budget under rather harsh conditions. To his credit, he agreed instantly and wrote the most appropriate lyrics based on extensive research about the myths of Baltistan, and the general feeling every visitor to the area seems to have. Despite our tiny budget, the star singer and the mega-talented young team of Soheb Akhtar and Usman Malkani went the extra mile because all of us believed in the underlying AKA motivation of the video. Instead of fighting terrorism, maybe we could prevent terror from being introduced to this bastion of peace, and let peace infiltrate the area.
While stranded in the spectacular Shigar valley, the direct result of this AKA mindset had resulted in an article, a song and a video. This idea led to a song (to soon be released, IA), thanks to grants from some philanthropic organisations. What fun we had - and what misery we suffered - shooting at minus six degrees.
Our team believes in this project so strongly not only because they fell in love with Baltistan, as I did, but also because we nearly lost our lives on the way back - the wheel of our jeep fell off as we careened around a bend on the Karakorum Highway. Miraculously, we skidded to a stop an inch away from the gravel that would have propelled us over the edge into the Indus River rushing hundreds of feet below. My "last thoughts" were about the AKA project and peace.
We believe that we were spared because some good will come out of our project. That we survived, led to a spiritual awakening of sorts. A spiritual awakening that has only intensified the AKA dream - that peace will be a reality one day.
- Zarminae Ansari
zarminae.ansari @ gmail.com
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Congratulating Nawaz Sharif on the electoral win of his political party, Aman ki Asha's plea to both governments continues to be: "Stay the course". Let the people re .....more
JATTI UMRA: As Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) emerged as the largest
party in the recently held elections in Pak .....more
Imagine the heavenly smell of stable peace
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A peace museum celebrating divided Punjab's shared architectural, cultural and culinary heritage is coming up at Attari near the India-Pakis .....more
The murderous attacks on an Indian prisoner in Pakistan and a Pakistani prisoner in India highlight the urgency of developing long term, humane policies to protect th .....more
On April 20, peace activist and educationist Ashfaq Fateh, 41, passed away in hospital after doctors unsuccessfully operated on a liver tumo .....more
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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