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 reap the dividends of peace
The day when a Pakistani can take off on the wings of a whim to the sultry beaches of Goa for New Year’s Eve; follow a Yogi’s trail in the Satpura Range; perhaps enroll in a Kathak programme at Tagore’s Shantiniketan or grab a refresher at the Indian Institute of Technology…
The day when an Indian can soak in the history at Mohenjodaro, Taxila or Harappa, or visit the Hinglaj Mata temple tucked away in the caves of the Hingol National Park, attend the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s dance, drama and puppet festivals in Lahore or load up with silks, spices and dry fruits at the picturesque Kissa Khwani Bazar, Peshawar…
That day may not be such a distant blur
Aman ki Asha – the peace campaign launched by the two largest media groups of South Asia, The Jang Group and the Times of India Group – is that bridge between aspiration and opportunity, which has no other match in Pak-Indo history. Despite real and complex disputes, not to mention many imaginary ones, this groundbreaking peace initiative has managed to remain free of historical and political baggage to carve out new horizons for Destination Peace.
Since its flamboyant launch across India and Pakistan on January 1, 2010, Aman ki Asha has diligently furthered its declared intention of facilitating peace through a three-pronged strategy: using its huge platform for an honest and sincere dialogue on all contentious issues, aggressively advocating economic collaboration through increased trade and investment, and greater people to people contacts through cultural exchanges.
On all fronts, Aman ki Asha has achieved significant successes. Two bilateral economic conferences, the largest ever between the business communities of both countries, brought together its movers and shakers to develop a realistic roadmap for increased and sustained economic collaboration. An unprecedented assemblage of practically everyone who mattered, contributed significantly to the mood that culminated in Pakistan’s decision to grant MFN status to India. Several conferences in both countries on contentious issues have brought about a sea change in perceptions.
Many believe that we may well be close to the point where momentous decisions may be taken to resolve the age old and complex disputes that bedevil relations between the two nuclear rivals. These three years have seen more people to people contacts spanning sectors such as art and literature, music, youth exchange programmes than in the past decade.
No wonder that the Indian Foreign minister during his visit to Pakistan last year credited Aman ki Asha with the sea change in perceptions that has taken place in both countries during the last three years.
Heaping praise on the movement, he said ‘We now share the optimism of Aman ki Asha’.
Campaigning for a more relaxed visa regime, Aman ki Asha’s award winning ‘Milne Do’ campaign demanded the revision of stringent visa processes and requirements that only serve to widen the schism between the people and impede cultural, educational, medical and commercial growth. It was a proud moment for AKA when the ministers of interior of both countries signed a long awaited and much heralded visa agreement last year.
Then there is the ‘Heart to Heart’ initiative, a purely humanitarian track in collaboration with Rotary
International, Rotary India and Rotary Pakistan that has provided free treatment for congenital heart ailments to children from under-privileged families in Pakistan, as well as in India. Setting out to heal hearts, the campaign has won over millions of hearts in both countries.
All this, along with student exchanges, debate competitions, concerts, and literary and art events have catapulted Aman ki Asha to a buzzword and a movement most likely to bring peace between the two countries.
So what has this joint vision achieved so far? Along this idealistic road full of obstacles, Aman ki Asha has racked up tremendous support internationally, expressed by the US, UK, France, Germany and the rest of the European Union through their missions in New Delhi and Islamabad.
There has been unparalleled success on the shared dream of prosperity through unceasing activity on the business track. The First Aman ki Asha Economic Conference, held in India in 2011, was inaugurated by the then finance minister and current President of India, Pranab Mukherjee. This paved the way for Dividends – the Second Aman ki Asha Pakistan India Economic Conference, in May, 2012 in Lahore.
The most prestigious economic event ever between India and Pakistan, it brought a constellation of Pakistani and Indian business celebrities under the AKA umbrella to further bilateral business ties. The Indian delegation was led by Adi Godrej, the then President of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Chairman of the Godrej Group, and included such icons of industry as Rahul Bajaj, Sunil Kant Munjal, Rakesh Bharti Mittal and Harsh Manglik – to name only a few.
This platform also brought then Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, PTI chief Imran Khan, and Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif together to speak on the occasion. A large number of entrepreneurs and businessmen of Pakistan – including Mian Mohammad Mansha, Razzak Dawood, Mohammad Ali Bashir, Syed Babar Ali, Syed Yawar Ali, numerous CEOs and respected technocrats – recognized Aman ki Asha as the need of the hour.
Indeed, Aman ki Asha has enjoyed unwavering support from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and future Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, as well as all the other major parties on Pakistan’s political spectrum.
At the Dividends Economic Meet last year, Prime Minister (designate) Nawaz Sharif staged a diplomatic coup by hosting a resplendent reception in signature Sharif style at his Raiwind residence in honour of the Indian big guns, where he categorically stated that Pakistan should “abolish the visa regime even if India dithers.”
And so, we welcome and applaud PML-N’s return to power. We are confident that yesterday’s unfinished business is poised to become tomorrow’s blueprint to prosperity.
We hope that Pakistan will now grant India the long awaited MFN status and that our neighbour will meet the gesture with the removal of non-tariff barriers and the implementation of a liberalised visa regime.
After all, Aman ki Asha aims to cultivate bilateral trade and investment between both countries as well as consolidate cross border ventures in the arts, sports and commerce. The movement has already, according to independent research in India and Pakistan, transformed perceptions amongst the populace. It has gripped the imagination of the region to become the greatest and most forceful alliance and platform for peace in our shared history.
Aman ki Asha’s plea to both governments continues to be: “Stay the course”. Let the people reap the dividends of peace.
The writer is Manager, Aman ki Asha, Jang Group, Pakistan