“We are neighbours, situated next to each other. We have a shared history and geography. We have fought for our freedom together… Plus human beings are social animals, and social animals talk to each other. Unfortunately, our politicians and states due to their own compulsions have not allowed us to do this”
This is how the iconic journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman responded to the first question about the inspiration behind his peace work, at the inaugural episode of “Baat toh karo” (Let’s at least talk) March 27. The series is hosted by Atiqa Shahid and Nickhil Sharma of the youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
This was probably I.A. Rehman’s last public appearance. He passed away peacefully at home barely two weeks later, April 12, leaving bereft a multitude of friends, admirers and proteges across the region and the world.
Baat toh karo is a series of discussions launched by Aaghaz-e-Dosti to promote peace and dialogue between people from India and Pakistan. Talking is the first step to break the ice between the two neighbouring countries, as I.A. Rehman said. This, he added, is also the message of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
You have to be friends with your neighbours, said I.A. Rehman, pointing out that Pakistan’s neighbours include Afghanistan, Iran, China, but “we have a special relationship with India.” Around the world alliances are being built, blocs, forums and economic cooperation formed, he pointed out.
“To our misfortune this is not happening in our region, which weakens us,” he said. “We remain entangled in our tensions. And the biggest sufferers are the awam, the ordinary people of both nations.”
“We spend so much on our enmity, if we spent the same resources on friendship, we could do a lot together.”
India and Pakistan are leaders in the de-colonization, among the first nations to gain their freedom. We could have taught the world a lot about how newly independent nations should move forward, said Rehman Sahib.
No nations had a greater enmity than France and Germany, I.A. Rehman pointed out, and yet they sorted things out.
Reminiscing about free travel between the two nations several decades ago, he added that Indians and Pakistanis spend a lot of money to travel far and wide to Europe to see beautiful places, but if the borders were to open up, there is a treasure trove of beautiful places to explore within the region.
Despite the tense bilateral relations, he saw hope and opportunities for building a meaningful relationship not just between people but also at a bilateral level to find solutions to shared socio-economic issues – poverty, lack of quality education and healthcare, hunger and so on.
I.A. Rehman always enjoyed engaging with young people, agreeing to talk to the Aaghaz-e-Dosti team despite his frail health. Atiqa Shahid has worked in the field of gender and labor rights in Pakistan and is currently doing her Master’s in Gendering Practices at Gothenburg University, Sweden. Nickhil Sharma is a PhD Student in Sustainability Studies at the UEA, Norwich, United Kingdom.
With the belief that talking can initiate change, dismantle stereotypes, and create space for exchange of ideas, the youth group plans to hold regular sessions with well-known personalities as well as ordinary people. The series aims to collect perspective around the nuances of Indo-Pak relations.
The interview, conducted in Urdu/Hindi, is available at Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s Facebook Page as well as Youtube channel.
— Beena Sarwar