Voices yearning for peace

Even sceptics concede that the current climate of peace between Islamabad and New Delhi must be nurtured. Who knows, peace may arrive from the most unexpected sources.

"They are like my two eyes," said the fabled Pakistani folk singer Reshma, speaking of India, the country of her birth in 1947, and the country she has lived in since infancy. Similar emotions are echoed by another lauded singer, the Bombay-based Seema Anil Sehgal, known as the ´Bulbul (nightingale) of Jammu and Kashmir´. Last May, she dedicated her CD, recorded at the first ever concert in Bombay on the poetry of Allama Iqbal, the man credited with the idea of Pakistan, to 'India-Pakistan friendship'. Sehgal had been one of the 235 Indian delegates who attended the Sixth Pakistan-India People´s Forum for Peace and Democracy convention in Karachi in December 2003 – the largest delegation of Indians ever to visit Pakistan. Since both countries had snapped air-links two years back, they had to obtain special permission from Pakistan to cross the Wagah border in Punjab on foot and then take an overnight train to Karachi.

"No one could anticipate the amazing welcome we received at the Karachi railway station," wrote Bombay-based filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, whose anti-nuclear film War and Peace, won the Best Documentary award at the unrelated, privately organized Kara Film Festival held simultaneously. "Outside the station a huge crowd had gathered. A student brass band played, rose petals were showered and pigeons were released as peace slogans rent the air", said Patwardhan. The Karachi convention had taken place amidst an atmosphere of great hope. Barely two weeks later, this hope bore some fruit when the Pakistani and Indian leadership met in Islamabad for the SAARC Summit. In bilateral meetings, they produced a joint statement that paved the way towards a thaw in their relationship. Meanwhile, there was talk of getting a 5000 strong Pakistani delegation across to India for the World Social Forum in Bombay (17-21 January 2004). With the Indian Embassy in Islamabad, the sole visa granting authority in Pakistan, desperately short-staffed (both countries had slashed their consular officers during the tensions of the last two years), this number was pared down to 2000 and finally only some 600 Pakistanis were granted visas. Even so, this was the largest ever delegation from one country to visit the other. Moreover, the visas were the ´non-police reporting´ kind – normally, Indians and Pakistanis visiting each other´s countries must report to the police within 24 hours of arrival and departure.

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Himal Southasian