Rehman Malik's resounding call for peace between India and Pakistan, and the need for tolerance, understanding and humanity, drew enthusiastic applause from Indian and Pakistani delegates
By Beena Sarwar
"Why don't you tell India to set its own house in order before pointing fingers at Pakistan?" was Indian stand up comedian Sanjay Rajaura's serious advice to Senior Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior, Senator Rehman Malik on Sunday afternoon.
Rajaura had brought the house down the previous day with his act featuring the corruption and idiocies of the police ('Indian', he hastened to add), cricket ('it's not a sport anymore, and why do you want to join the IPL sleazefest anyway?') and the desi obsession with getting 'settled' (which he is clearly not).
Malik had flown into Karachi where he addressed some of the Indian and Pakistani delegates of the groundbreaking first Pakistan India Social Mela 2012 (SMM2012) that took place on July 13-14, organised by Peaceniche. It wasn't a press conference or an organised media event, but the media turned up in full force - those that got wind of it, that is. An uplink by PTV ensured that Malik's remarks and at least some of the comments were beamed live not only all over Pakistan, but also, as we later learnt, around the world.
When the journalists tried to ask about current Pakistani politics, Malik politely asked them not to derail the discussion at hand and said he would give them time later (which he did, at the State Guest House that evening). "If I start answering your questions now, their (SOCMM2012) programme will be sidelined," he said.
"Who tau ho ga. Chalni tau political baat hi hai," muttered one reporter in the front row. The comment - that'll happen anyway, it's the political talk that will be highlighted - is a sad reflection on the media's priorities.
"We made a mistake, we didn't take action in time," acknowledged Malik in his address, referring to the policies of the past that encouraged militancy. As a result, today, the "Taliban zaliman" are even lurking on the Internet using fake IDs, he added, appealing to the social media community to be alert.
To Rajaura's comment urging him to stand up to India, Malik responded with restraint: "India is wise. We appreciate the Indian government for its stand."
"We used to blame everything on RAW in Pakistan," added Malik. He said he had issued directives to the security officials to not do that, and that the Indian government too, is now not blaming everything on ISI but going on merit. "We have broken the barrier".
He gave a resounding call for peace between India and Pakistan, stressing the need for tolerance, understanding and humanity, as well as the need to not only criticise the government and point out problems, but also promote positivity. Malik conveyed President Asif Ali Zardari's personal greetings to the delegates and said that the consensus policies of his government were working not only in Pakistan, but in the region.
"I want to get up and hug him," an Indian participant was overheard saying.
Some Indian participants did just that, following the interactive discussion, like sports journalist Venkat Ananth from Mumbai, who declared himself a fan. Malik earlier deftly countered Ananth's question about his choice of tie colours with: "Why did you choose that blue kurta?"
To filmmaker Onir's question on why visas can't be normalised so that ordinary people can visit, not just journalists, Malik replied that it has to be reciprocal. He offered to extend the visas of the visiting Indian delegates and said that he had given them two-month, police reporting exempted, multiple-entry visas.
It speaks volumes for the state of India-Pakistan relations and our bureaucracies and security establishments that despite his instructions, the Indian delegates were given 10-day, single entry, police-reporting visas.
The police reporting was time-consuming but it wasn't a bad experience, said the delegates who were ferried across to the airport thana by SMM2012 volunteer Norbert Almeida. The policemen were courteous, and even gave Karuna John of Tehelka a gift - a brown egg freshly laid by their thana hen. (She later presented it to a pregnant US consulate staffer in Karachi after ascertaining that it wasn't bugged).
Coincidentally, and to the great amusement of those who knew about the egg gift, Malik took up the theme of 'rotten eggs' on twitter in his call for the social media community to isolate and expose the spoilers - "eggs" being a reference to the generic image on twitter for those who don't upload profile pictures.
Some tweeps (as twitter users are called) using fake IDs do upload photographs (sometimes not their own) so they don't show up as eggs, and some use fake IDs due to security reasons. But the bottom line is that those who spoil the 'twitmosphere' with their divisive and abusive comments are rotten eggs. Malik called upon both the governments to take action against those who hide behind fake identities to abuse, bully and threaten others.
He also announced that the Ministry of Interior was planning a big social media conference in Islamabad, which he was trying to get Interpol to also attend. He hoped that Chidambaram would co-chair the conference with him. He promised to ensure student participation from India, when entrepreneur Fahad asked about student exchanges between India and Pakistan. Aman ki Asha and Rotary International have already started a student exchange programme, as have some other organisations. It would be a great step towards improved bilateral relations if the governments were to include such exchanges in their policies.
The writer is a journalist working with Aman ki Asha. Blog: Journeys to Democracy
Indians experience Karachi
Throughout their stay, the Indians were barraged by anxious queries from friends and relatives in India, worried about their wellbeing in this most 'dangerous' of countries. Happily, the only dangers they faced were over-eating, shopping and making friends they didn't want to say goodbye to.
After Malik's address to SOCMM12, Karuna John and Smita Choudhry were rushed to the airport with full protocol and deposited on their Emirates flight with minutes to spare before takeoff at 3 pm. Venkath Anant and Jugal Modi got really nervous when their names were announced over the PA system; impassive looking security officials cancelled their boarding cards for the flight to Mumbai via Dubai that night and asked them to step into the FIA office - only to present them with crates of mangoes, courtesy Rehman Malik. Malik also sent mango crates to the other Indian delegates who stayed behind for a few days in Karachi.
"I think a few more trips will give me better understanding," tweeted Onir after his return to Mumba. "Right now too early. But am working with artists from Pakistan." All in all, it would be safe to say that the Indian delegates had a blast in Karachi - the good kind. -Beena Sarwar
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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