By Saeed Ahmed Rid
Last year, in interviews I conducted for my doctoral research, top Jang Group executives acknowledged that most activities from the Aman ki Asha platform are restricted to major cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad in Pakistan and New Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta in India, and that reaching out the grassroots in Pakistan and India needs more work.
As a past Rotary World Peace Fellow, familiar with Rotary s structure, work and commitment to peace, I believe that the Rotary and Aman ki Asha partnership has the potential to take peace-building to the grassroots level in both India and Pakistan. Those heading Rotary Pakistan and Rotary India and the Aman ki Asha initiative may have already thought along these lines but through this piece I would like to draw their attention towards this great opportunity of building peace and understanding at the grassroots between our two nations.
For durable and sustainable peace in protracted and deep-rooted conflicts like India and Pakistan, taking peace-building to the grassroots or selling the peace agreement to the masses are important. This is where Rotary and Aman ki Asha strategic partnership can play an important role. We saw the Oslo Accord falling apart in Israel-Palestine conflict where people were completely missing from the loop and the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland succeeding where people rallied behind it. In the India-Pakistan conflict so far people at the top and middle levels of society have been involved in the peace-building to certain extent but the participation of people at the grassroots level has so far largely remained a missing link.
Rotary and Aman ki Asha have already collaborated on the Heart to Heart and Youth Exchange programmes. They plan to start the Rotary family exchange programme and to build ten high tech eye hospitals in Pakistan for free treatment of the under-privileged.
The Heart to Heart initiative provides under-privileged Pakistani and Indian children with free treatment for congenital heart defect in high-tech Indian hospitals. Under the agreement, Aman ki Asha provides the media coverage, while Rotarians bear the costs of surgery, boarding and lodging – the Indian Rotarians paying for Pakistani children and the Pakistani Rotarians paying for Indian children. So far more than one hundred Pakistani children and about same number of Indian children, include those from far-flung areas in both countries, have already been treated successfully in India. Hence this partnership has already touched the hearts of about 200 families and has changed their lives at the grassroots level.
Under the Rotary Youth Exchange programme, Rotary India and Rotary Pakistan exchange, delegations of five to ten girls and boys between ages 15 to 25 years old who visit each other s country for about ten days. The best part of this programme is that the young delegates get a chance to visit different cities as well experience the life and culture of the other country, staying with Rotarian host families. So far, a five-member youth delegation led by a Rotarian from India has visited Pakistan for ten days in December 2011; a similar eight-member Pakistani delegation visited India for ten days in February 2012.
To fulfil its immense potential of reaching the smaller towns and rural areas at the grassroots Aman ki Asha needs organisational and community support at the local district and tehsil levels. Rotary can provide Aman ki Asha such organisational and community support. The potential of Aman ki Asha and Rotary s strategic partnership reaching the grassroots lies in Rotary s effective presence at the grassroots through community service initiatives at the local level all over India and Pakistan.
Rotary has local clubs in almost every local administrative district of India and Pakistan and over a dozen clubs each in bigger cities like Karachi, Mumbai, Lahore, Calcutta, New Delhi and Islamabad. Just imagine, Rotary has two local clubs even in a small town like Khairpur (Mir s) in Sindh. Rotary s presence within communities and its community work at the grassroots is unparalleled among NGO s and INGO s.
Moreover, Rotary has a long tradition of promoting peace and understanding between India and Pakistan. Since the early 1980 s, Rotary India and Rotary Pakistan have been exchanging family visits. The March 2000 Karachi Declaration between Rotary India and Rotary Pakistan agreed to promote mutual understanding and peace between the two countries. In 2002 Rotary began the Gift of Life programme which in in March 2011 morphed into Heart to Heart, a joint initiative with Aman ki Asha.
Faiz Kidwai, Rotary coordinator for Aman ki Asha partnership says that by 2005 when he was Rotary Pakistan President, he and his then Indian counterpart Deepak Talwar were already discussing the need for long term planning and involving local Rotary clubs in peace-building. In June 2006 they held a peace conference in Islamabad and Bhurban where they decided to launch special Rotary projects in each other s countries at local club level. So Rotary clubs have already been mobilized to an extent in promoting peace and understanding between India and Pakistan.
Hence a common agenda, a common desire and a strategic partnership are already exist between Rotary and Aman ki Asha. The only missing link is specific strategies and programmes to engage the local Rotary clubs at the grassroots. Engaging Rotary clubs in peace work at the local level may be easier said than done but it is doable if the Indian and Pakistani leadership of Rotary and Aman ki Asha coordinate events and generate the required motivation and interest among local Rotary clubs.
In this regard, several new initiatives at the grassroots level can be launched or some old initiatives revived. The peace hankies campaign that schools in some big cities have already participated in can reach every nook and corner of India and Pakistan using the Rotary clubs network in each district and town in both countries. As members of good repute, with solid networks within their local communities, organising local peace events should not be an uphill task for local Rotarians.
Similarly, the Rotary clubs network can make the forthcoming joint India Pakistan Independence Day celebrations, a truly national event in both countries. Rotary clubs can host joint Independence Day celebrations in coordination with local peace groups and like-minded people in all districts of India and Pakistan.
Apart from planning events like peace hankies for all Rotary clubs, club-to-club partnerships between Indian and Pakistani Rotary clubs can be established. Local partner clubs may then exchange visits and organise peace events on their own.
In sum, the AKA-Rotary strategic partnership clearly has great potential. This just needs to be tapped and used wisely to make the most of it.
The writer is a faculty member at National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University,
Islamabad, currently pursuing a PhD on people to people contacts between India and Pakistan at the
University of Bradford, UK [email protected]