At a panel discussion on ‘Revitalising Indo-Pak Peacebuilding Efforts’ in New Delhi on Feb 16, a host of luminaries agreed on the need for both countries to have an ongoing dialogue.
At the event organised by the India-Pakistan cross-border youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti, Director of India International Centre, Air Marshal (retd.) Naresh Verma inaugurated a peace exhibition of letters, greeting cards and paintings by school students of India and Pakistan collected during various activities of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
In his introductory remarks Verma highlighted the importance of peacebuilding efforts that shine as ray of hope. If France and Germany once traditional rivals who have fought so many wars, can come on peace, why can’t India and Pakistan, he asked.
Speaking at the panel, former High Commissioner of India in Pakistan, Dr T. C. A. Raghavan talked about how political leaders have been discussing the Indo Pak issue since 1947. Cross-border marriages, travel and multilateral engagements like cricket have continued, he said, adding that such engagements work slowly but have a cumulative impact. Opposing barriers on culture and literature, he commented that virtual spaces have made it easier for people to connect with each other.
When Track One fails, Track Two diplomacy must continue, said Major General (retd.) Ashok K. Mehta. Describing his personal efforts in trying to normalise relations he said that when it comes Indo Pak talks resumption, everything boils down to either terrorism or Kashmir. There are many ideas about improving relations but the problem is implementation. The question that keeps cropping up is, how do we break the ice? Advocating need for ongoing dialogue, he said, “Bada lamba safar hai, par chalte rehna hai’ (it’s a long journey but we must keep going).
Defence analyst and Air Vice Marshal (retd.) Kapil Kak also advocated for the dialogue process to continue, asking how long both countries can continue without dialogue? He discussed the “golden period” of Indo-Pak relations, between 2003 and 2007, wherein the aspirations of Kashmiris were also accommodated at some level. He warned of the need to be conscious of the fact that even if there are peace processes, there will always be some spoilers. It is for the political leadership to remain committed to moving forward.
Talking about the earlier people-to-people movements, senior journalist and media expert Rahul Jalali touched on the importance of Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s role of bringing people together to talk about this issue. He appreciated Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s engagement with students at schools and colleges, particularly given that it is the younger generations who will be most affected by the lack of peace. He talked about the importance of providing space for alternative thinking and reaching the millions on both sides who want peace.
Dr Medha Bisht of of South Asian University summarised the session and moderated the lively discussion that followed, with many in the audience curious and excited to talk, ask questions and share their own experiences.
Giving a vote of thanks, Convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, Devika Mittal explained that this volunteer group of students and young professionals has been consistently working for the past five years to advance the cause of peace.
Its activities include interactive sessions called ‘Aman Chaupals’ that connect Indian and Pakistani classrooms, peace workshops, discussions, letter and greeting card exchange programmes, an Indo-Pak Peace calendar, a virtual eight-week peace-building course called ‘Friends Beyond Borders’ and other virtual campaigns. Working as an advocacy group to improve relations between India and Pakistan and as a resource portal, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has also compiled a list of cross-border prisoners including fishermen who are lodged in jails in either country.
Aaghaz-e-Dosti founder Ravi Nitesh was present at the occasion along with other members including Shruti Achesh, Sanjana Arya, Radhika Arora, Sarral Sharma, Madhulika Narsimhan, Manish Bhadauria.