Event ReportsPublished on Jun 07, 2011
There is an increasing realisation amongst the media community in Pakistan that their State had been actively involved in training India-centric terrorist groups within Pakistani borders, said a delegation of Urdu journalists from Pakistan who visited ORF.
Furthering Indo Pak Ties and the Importance of Track Two Dialogue

A delegation of Urdu journalists from Pakistan visited Observer Research Foundation on 7 June and held interactions with its faculty and journalists from the Indian media. The issues discussed included protection of journalists in Pakistan, access to books published in India and Pakistan, greater civil society participation in changing perceptions along with improving ties and  joint media campaigns such as ’Aman Ki Asha’.

In the wake of the recent abduction and killing of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in Pakistan, the interaction began with queries on the vulnerability of journalists in Pakistan. Indian representatives expressed shock and dismay over the killing. Members of the Pakistani delegation emphasised that there were significant public protests in response to the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad and pressure was put on the government to set up a commission in order to investigate the murder.

Regarding perceptions of each other’s country there seemed to be a consensus that there were grave misunderstandings and prejudices operating on both sides. For instance, there were a few reports following the ’Mehran’ terror attack that suggested that India could be behind it. The Pakistani delegation clarified that such reports were published in only fringe elements and did not reflect the mainstream discourse, which was more mature and responsible. There was reiteration of the fact that the common person in Pakistan is still not significantly influenced by anti-India propaganda and thus holds no such animosity.

But there still remains a constituency of those who may be termed as ’affected people’ who have a deep seated sense of mistrust and hostility towards India. These ’affected people’ can be characterised as those whose ancestors or kinsmen were directly affected by the traumas of the Partition. What was also mentioned was the fact that there still remained a significant section of religious minorities (Hindus/Sikhs) in provinces such as Sindh, and even Swat valley, a province which in recent years has gained the reputation of being virtually ruled by the Taliban, Pakistani delegation members pointed out.

They also frankly pointed out certain positive trends, such as the increasing realisation amongst the media community in Pakistan that their state had been actively involved in training India-centric terrorist groups within Pakistani borders.

Role of the State

Several delegates raised the point that the key factor that distorts and continuously impedes better relations between the two countries is the State. Therefore the function of media houses, civil societies and industry will be to bypass the State with all its regulations and restrictions and form several diverse kinds of interconnections and networks that would have the consequence of undermining the State’s monopoly on influencing relations between the two nations.

Aman Ki Asha

The role of the campaign in bringing about a more favourable sentiment towards people to people ties was noted. However, the failure of the spirit of the campaign to influence the editorial policy of both respective newspapers (Jung and Times of India), which still remained hawkish, had seemed to undermine the entire campaign itself were pointed out during the discussion.

Student Visa problem

The absence of a separate category of ’student Visa’ was highlighted as an important factor in impeding student to student ties which helps both in terms of  improving perceptions on both sides and in enhancing scholarly research. Without such a category, Indian students in Pakistan are more likely to be harassed by Pakistani intelligence/police if they are found to be engaging in activities such as visiting Madrasas or interviewing people which the State might perceive as too sensitive. Besides, greater access to Pakistani books will enable Indian scholars to have a more in-depth outlook towards Pakistan without which they would be more susceptible to the influence of Western scholars.

The informal discussion ended on a lighter note with Pakistani journalist Essa Naqvi urging the older generation within the audience to let the youngsters do in their generation what they could not do in theirs.

(This report was prepared by Sidharth Raimedhi,  Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation)

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