Joint India Pakistan Peace and Goodwill Mission,
December 27, 2004-January 8, 2005:
Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D.
The Joint India-Pakistan and Goodwill Mission ended on the afternoon of Saturday, January 8, 2005, following a Press Conference at the Press Club, Mumbai, India . The delegation had started its visit at Karachi, Pakistan, on the evening of December 27, 2004 .
Consisting of 21 Non-resident Indians and Non-resident Pakistanis from Canada, U. K., and U.S.A, the delegation was led by John Prabhudoss, the Executive Director of Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, Policy Institute for Religion & State.
No government or non-government organization had sponsored the delegation. Each member was responsible for his or her expenses.
The delegates ranged in age from 23 through 69. Some of them were born in the West, and were visiting India and Pakistan for the first time. Some were returning to their country of origin after as many as 23 years.
They included businessmen, community developers and organizers, economists, engineers, history scholars, investment managers, IT professionals, management consultants, psychologists, and realtors. Many were involved in non-government advocacy, peace & harmony and relief & welfare organizations, some in executive capacity. Captain Mohamed Suleman Mehtab had started his career in Pakistan Navy.
To promote peace between India and Pakistan and show solidarity with like-minded people of the region, the delegation met government officials, political and religious leaders, lawyers, journalists, businessmen, peace activists, and representatives of labor and women’s groups. The delegates wanted to demonstrate that Indians and Pakistanis could work together for peace, in spite of the differences in their professional training, religious affiliations, cultural background, national origin, political points of view, and personal experiences.
Besides Karachi and Mumbai, the delegation visited Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Amritsar, Delhi and Jammu . Most places they were greeted warmly with garlands, high teas, and/or lunch and dinner receptions. At Karachi Gymkhana each delegate was welcomed with a Sindhi saropa. At Jammu, J&K Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Hakeem Mohammad Yaseen presented a pashmina shawl to each woman delegate. Even the Indian and Pakistani immigration officers at the Wagah Border welcomed the delgates with a cup of tea.
The delegation purposely abstained from offering a political formula, or an action plan for the resolution of problems that have plagued India-Pakistan relationships for the last 57 years. Instead, they encouraged the peoples and governments to live like friends and good neighbors, while they work together to find peaceful and just resolution of all outstanding issues.
They emphasized everywhere the need for removal of visa restrictions. They believed that easy movement of people across the border would be of immense help in destroying the decades-old walls of suspicion and mistrust between the two neighbors. In New Delhi, The Indian Home Minister S. K. Patil assured the delegation of easier travel by the elderly and the handicapped across the Wagah Border.
At Wagah border the delegates offered interfaith prayers for the victims of the Partition-related violence, on both sides, in 1947. Also the delegation delivered a petition personally to Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at Islamabad, and the Congress President Sonia Gandhi at New Delhi The petition requested the two governments to build a suitable memorial at the Wagah Border to the innocent Hindu, Muslim and Sikh victims. Initiated by the Keizer, Oregon-based Association for Communal Harmony in Asia, it had been signed by people from more than 20 countries.
In the course of their 13-day visit, the delegates met representatives of a number of peace and harmony organizations. With their help they hoped to revive in the people the same passion for peace between India and Pakistan, which had characterized the Indian Independence Movement, when Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs fought togeher for a common cause.
The delegates had a hectic schedule. Often they got up early and went to bed very late. At times they had to reach the venue of the next program directly from the airport or train station, or vice versa, without a breakfast or dinner. Some of them took ill.
Offered and arranged by General (Retd.) Iftikhar Jilani, the Governor of the Northwest Frontier Province, perhaps the delegation’s visit to the historic Khyber Pass and to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was the most memorable of all events on its schedule. At Turkham border post, Bakhtiar Khan Mohmand, the Pakistani Tehsildar and Immigration Officer graciously entertained the delegates with tea and snacks. On the way back from Turkham, upon their arrival at the Corps Command Mess, musicians broke out in "ghar aya mera pardes" tune followed by "baharo phool barsao, mera mehboob aya."
Courtsey of their local hosts, the delegates had the good fortune to visit the ancient ruins of Taxila, near Rawalpindi, and the Jallianwala Bagh and the Golden Temple at Amritsar.
The longing for peace in people on both sides of the border made the delegates feel "Aag dono taraf hai baraber lagi huyi." But at the goverment level, they could not help recall Ghalib’s couplet, "Aashqi sabr talab, aur tamana betab; Dil ka kya rang karun mein khoon-i-jigr honay tak."