An 18-member delegation of Indian journalists from the Mumbai Press Club visited PIIA on 17 November 2011. They were introduced by B.M. Kutty, a pioneer of peace between Pakistan and India and a member of the Council of PIIA. The women journalists in the delegation did not join us because they were visiting Aurat Foundation, the leading women’s empowerment organisation in Pakistan. I am a member of the Board of Governors and Treasurer of Aurat Foundation but was amazed that not only men but also women could subscribe to gender exclusivity! We would have liked to meet the women journalists and hear their impressions about Pakistan.
The Indian delegation was led by Jatinbabu Desai of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy. In his introductory remarks, he spoke about the need to break down barriers and bring the people of Pakistan and India together through more interaction between ordinary citizens. There was the usual Indian view about how we share the same historical and cultural experience. In the Indian delegation and among our own members there were many, including myself, whose ancestral roots were in the other country. Everybody spoke about the need for mutual understanding, increasing trade and communication and people-to-people contacts.
When it came to discussing the political issues between Pakistan and India, however, the velvet lines were drawn. Kashmir was thrown up, as it was bound to be. It was heartening to hear one Indian journalist say that the future of Kashmir should be left to the Kashmiris. Another journalist asked whether Pakistanis thought they had gained anything from their long-standing alliance with the United States. Do you think India will gain, one of our members retorted, an obvious reference to India’s growing economic and strategic linkages with the United States.
Terrorism and Taliban terror attacks took up much of the discussion. When a question about the Maoist insurgency in India was raised, which afflicts more than half of the Indian states, especially in the “red belt”, Jatinbabu Desai said the Maoists had their own philosophy and roots in economic deprivation and could not be compared with the Taliban. We disagreed with the implication that terrorism should be equated only with the Taliban straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. All terror groups have philosophies of their own and roots in some deprivation and poverty. After all, there was the IRA in Ireland, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the Basque militants of ETA in Spain, the Bavarian Liberation Army and there are killer groups in Latin America, not to mention al Qaeda’s international network and the list goes on.
It was pleasant to see the candid curiosity of the Indian journalists. They were surprised that Karachi was such a modern city and in spite of media reports about violence, they could move around peacefully. We requested them to give, on returning to Mumbai, a true picture of Pakistan as they saw and experienced it. We also asked them to work for the opening of the Khokrapar (Sindh) – Munabao (Rajasthan) railway line to facilitate travel and trade across the border between Pakistan and India. And as we wait and strive for that longed- for- peace, we nevertheless look forward to a visit to Mumbai. They promised to make us welcome.