Below, my comment in The News about the forthcoming visit of Indian journalists to Pakistan (The News also carried this report on their visit based on their press statement). As I wrote earlier, just one of these journalists has ever visited Pakistan before. A CORRECTION to my comment below: the Mumbaikars who formed the human chain on Dec 12, 2008 numbered not in the ‘hundreds’ but thousands. “Nearly 60,000 people including several celebrities… formed a 50 km long ‘human chain for peace’,” according to this report in The Indian Express (I found it after filing my story). One of the people behind this event, organised by ‘Mumbai for Peace’, was the journalist Jatin Desai, spokesman for the current delegation to Pakistan.
Situationer: Mumbai journalists’ visit: yet another sign of hope
By Beena Sarwar
The journalists from Mumbai landing in Karachi on Monday will arrive to a warm welcome – and no cell phone roaming. India and Pakistan both deny this facility that millions today take for granted, to each other, as foreign correspondents, businesspeople and others who travel in the region know all too well.
The visit of the Mumbai journalists takes place after two years of efforts by journalists from Karachi and Mumbai who have been trying to initiate formal relations between their Press Clubs – slowed down by the difficulty in obtaining visas.
Visas to the Mumbai journalists were granted just days ago, coinciding with the conclusion of the SAARC meeting in the Maldives where India and Pakistan reiterated their resolve to take forward the dialogue process and work towards better relations between their countries.
At every meeting of Indians and Pakistanis – including those organised by Aman ki Asha for journalists, businesspeople, strategic analysts, doctors and educationists – participants stress that easing the visa process would be the single biggest step towards improving relations between the two countries. Allowing cell-phone roaming would also be a step in the right direction.
It is significant that the journalists’ initiative stems from Mumbai, the site of the horrific attacks of Nov 26-28, 2008 that claimed 164 lives and left over 300 wounded. The media hype at that time overshadowed the citizens’ calls for peace – hundreds came together in Mumbai on Dec 12, 2008 to form a lengthy ‘peace chain’ for example, urging India to show restraint in its dealings with Pakistan at this critical hour [Note: They numbered nearly 60,000, including several celebrities, and formed a 50 km long ‘human chain for peace’ according to a report inThe Indian Express].
Mumbai students also took the lead in reaching out across the border, with their groundbreaking ‘Ummeed-e-Milaap’ (hope for unity), a platform for Indian and Pakistani students to connect. Ummeed-e-Milaap involves a Diary campaign in over 30 colleges in Mumbai, Lahore and Karachi to “un-mute” the voice of the youth of both nations.
The chasm between the two neighbours is evident in the wonder and excitement felt by Ronnie Philip of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Mumbai and Haasan Zafar of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), when they spoke to each other on the phone — the first time for each of them talking to someone from across the border, as they wrote in articles for Aman ki Asha recently.
Students from Lahore and Karachi and Mumbai have enthusiastically participated in this initiative – so far only virtually but the young organisers hope that their Pakistani partners will be granted visas to attend the TechFest in Mumbai, Jan 2012.
The Mumbai journalists also hope to host their colleagues from the Karachi Press Club soon, and for such visits to become part of a series of bilateral visits between journalists.
Several other events over the past few months have raised hopes for better relations between India and Pakistan. They include the heartfelt letter of condolence from Qais Hussain, a former Pakistan Air Force pilot to Farida Singh, the daughter of an Indian pilot whose airplane he shot down during the 1965 war, and her courageous and moving response; India and Pakistan’s support for each other at the UN; the Pakistan Army’s prompt return of an Indian helicopter and personnel after they had strayed across the Line of Control in Kashmir (see ‘Signs of improving times‘ by Shivam Vij); and better trade ties expected with Pakistan’s granting of ‘most favoured nation’ status to India.
But many dare not look these signs with too much hope — members of separated families and cross-border marriages, and most of all the elderly born ‘on the other side’ who yearn to visit their birthplaces. They retain too many painful memories of other times when their hopes were dashed in the past.
Filed under: Pakistan-India | Tagged: 26/11, cell phone roaming, hassaan zafar, hyderabad, iit mumbai, India, Jatin Desai, journalists, journalists visit, karachi, LUMS, mumbai, mumbai for peace, Pakistan, ronnie philip, ummeed-e-milaap |