Tug of peace at the border

Tug of peace at the border

LAHORE: The Queens’ Baton Relay ceremony and the Aman ki Asha Peace Chain Event at Wagah border last Friday, Jun 25th was a success beyond anyone’s imaginings. As Laleh Habib, the Aman Ki Asha Coordinator put it later, “It did appear that we were truly blessed; some potential crises were narrowly averted, and the best possible results were manifest. It had been pouring till an hour before we got to Wagah, but it did not damage our equipment, and there was no sign of rain during the event. The rain brought the mercury down, and everything was washed clean. All the performers were excellent; they managed to create and maintain a tempo, and truly engaged the audience. The handkerchief event went off really smoothly at zero point. The production teams coordinated beautifully, and really helped to pull of the event.”

The two production teams were responsible for organising two separate events: the actual event taking place around the baton being carried from Pakistan to India for the Commonwealth Games (the singers, the sound, the stage etc.) and the Nadia Khan Show that focused on the Aman Ki Asha Peace Chain Event, where a few hundred handkerchiefs inscribed with peace messages by students from both sides of the border were being tied together.

These handkerchiefs were part of Aman kI Asha’s Peace Chain campaign involving thousands of children on both sides of the border writing and drawing peace messages for each other on handkerchiefs – some 200,000 from India, and about 30,000 from Pakistan. If all these handkerchiefs were to be strung together, they would probably form the longest chain of peace messages by children.

Arif and Kaleem, the two young men heading each production team, were at the venue all night. They got soaked during the rain, returned to the hotel only to change, and were back at Wagah within an hour. The Aman Ki Asha team arrived at the border at 5.45 am. School children and teachers began arriving by around 7.00 am. Some students, including those from St. Peters High School and the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Toba Tek Singh, had travelled all night to make it to the event in time. A huge contingent of students and teachers from Sanjan Nagar School Lahore also participated enthusiastically, having brought their own hankies chains and banners. By 7:30, everyone was seated in the stands overlooking the gates at Wagah, between the border and the symbolic Bab-e-Azadi gateway.

The Pakistan Olympic Association, headed by the genial Lt. Gen. Syed Arif Hasan, coordinated the Baton Relay and worked closely with the Rangers and Aman Ki Asha to assure us access right up to the gate. They allowed us to set up our low stage right in front of the gate, perhaps the first time such an arrangement had been made.

At 7:50 am Pakistan time, schoolchildren from both sides lined up with two rows of peace handkerchiefs. At 7:55 am, the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers opened the heavy sliding iron gates – synchronised as always – and the children stepped forward to the white line that marks the border.

Cheered by the crowds on either side, the children at the front tied the peace chains together in a symbolic knot of friendship. Then one row of children pulled a string into India while the other string made its passage of peace into Pakistan. The rehearsal of the previous morning paid off, and it all happened smoothly.

A spontaneous addition to the programme was the giant banner signed by about 1,900 children and teachers of Modernage Public School and College, Abbottabad that had arrived in Lahore the previous night. Pakistani schoolchildren passed it on to their counterparts in India.

At the end, the atmosphere was electric with both sides having a string of India-Pakistan messages. The event may have taken all of ten minutes but it marked a historic first where children cheered their conviction that peace can, and will, find a way.

This pictoral page covers the first half of the Peace Hankies event at Wagah on June 25, 2010. Look out tomorrow for another page featuring the second half – the Queen’s Baton Relay arriving at the border, performances and appearances by celebrities and singers including Najam Shiraz and Jawad Ahmed, also featured in the Nadia Khan Show. Watch this space!

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