They struck a chord in the heart of the city, when three Summer Alumni of the New Delhi Chapter arrived in Islamabad on an insightful 9-day visit in March, 2000 to uphold RCSS’ moto: “Dialogue, Network and Cooporate”. A brief account of the visit follows:

Papers were presented by the visiting Alumni Mr Arpit Rajain, PhD Student, JNU and Research Officer, Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) New Delhi; Dr Suparna Dasgupta, Officer, Confederation of Indian Industry, (CII) New Delhi and Ms Nayana Bose, CANTAB, Research Scholar on South Asia/ Consultant at the United Nations, New Delhi, on “Confidence Building: The Indo-Pak Way.”

Discussion at the Institute of Strategic Studies (ISS), Islamabad

Welcomed warmly by Dr. Tanvir Ahmad Khan,an in-house discussion with the Research Fellows and Associates of ISS topped the Agenda. Here, a free and fair duscussion was facilitated for the participants. Dr Iffat Malik, Ms Maria Sultan, Mr Sadat Malik and Mr Omar Farooq were among the participating members of ISS.

At a political level, Mr Rajain spoke on “Declaratory Statements, Nuclear and Missile CBMs”. His primary message was that CBMs are, quite simply, a reassurance that two or more adversaries will not attempt to surprise one another and mount a disabling military strike against the other. They are also an investment in crisis and conflict management and may help in war termination if by chance hostilities eventuate.

On Economic CBMs Dr Dasgupta initiated “A Move Towards Non-Military CBMs; Economic Cooperation”

India and Pakistan have deployed many CBMs between them, but most have been military based CBMs such as agreement not to attack each other’s nuclear installations, giving advance notice of each other’s military exercises and establishments of hotlines between military commanders of both sides near the Line of Control (LOC).

She pointed out that the economic cooperation between the two countries continues to be hampered owing to lack of awareness of potential of cooperation and costs of non-cooperation and also owing to the inability of India and Pakistan to resolve their political differences. Trade between India and Pakistan is a paltry amount of Rs. 1,200 crores risen from Rs. 800 crores, which is still far from Rs. 100 billion targeted to be achieved by 2003 by both countries.

Nayana Bose’s paper on “Non Military CBMs: The Role of NGOs and the Media in Conflict Resolution”, reflected on a different dimension of CBMs. Following issues were underscored:

South Asia as a region languishes behind on social and economic indicators. Figures speak for themselves: the adult literacy rate for South Asia is 36% (developing countries: 62%); female life expectancy at birth is 61.6 years, (developing countries: 84 years). Forty five percent of the world’s poor live in South Asia.

Indians and Pakistanis live under similar constraints of poverty and illiteracy.

Indicators India Pakistan
Urban population under poverty line 38% 20%
Rural population under poverty line 9% 31%
Population with access to health services 85% 55%
Population with access to safe water 81% 60%
Adult literacy rate 53.5% 40.9%
Infant mortality rate\1000 people 71 95
GNP per capita (in US $) 370 500

The GNP of a small country such as Congo is $ 670–India and Pakistan have a long, long way to go.

Rather than funding nuclear weapons and wasting valuable resources on defence , both India and Pakistan should pay some attention to the basics of life: health, education, shelter and food. Nutrition levels are abysmally low in South Asia.

Women’s NGOs and NGOs that are specifically aimed at increasing people to people contact at the Track 3 level, such as the Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, set up in 1994 were cited as examples to encourage and follow. It is in crisis situations when governments are inflexibly locked that Track 2 and the peoples track can explore ways of re establishing dialogue and jointly build public support against the use of force to settle differences.

The media: electronic and print has enormous potential to better relations between India and Pakistan. Satellite television has brought the culture of one country into the living rooms of the other and vice versa. Instead of being used for propaganda, the electronic media must use its potential to build an interest and an understanding among our peoples.

Unfortunately, very little from Pakistan is seen on the satellite channels (Zee, Star). Human interest stories, serials, soap operas build up a following irrespective of nationality. Much before the time of satellite channels, Pakistani serials such as Tanhaiya were watched on videos in Indian homes. There is an intrinsic interest, a curiosity among our peoples to know more about the other. With realistic portrayal on TV, the media could help break some myths and go a long way in building ties.

A beginning can be made by making available the mainstream newspapers and magazines of both countries at every book seller, at every newspaper kiosk in the cities of India and Pakistan.

A common consensus arrived upon was that it is imperative to create conditions through economic and social CBMs that make it conducive to talk about other -interactable issues such as Kashmir. The three presentations winded down with a healthy exchange of views.

Our deep appreciation to Dr. Tanvir Ahmad Khan, Chairman, ISS and Ms. Maria Sultan, Research Fellow, ISS (RCSS Alumnae, Ahungalla ’99) for accepting our initiative to hold talks at ISS and for making this such a productive and informative exchange of ideas, rounded off by a wonderful lunch for all who participated.

Presentations at Quaid-Azam University, Islamabad

Under the auspices of Dr. Rasul Baksh Rais, Director, Area Studies Centre, Quaid Azam University, Islamabad we were treated with long, lively discussion with students for more than an hour following our presentation of papers. It was an extremely interactive, challenging session. The questions ranged from Kashmir, (to the usual “first Kashmir, then other issues”) to how much American investment there is in India and is there any opposition to this, what does the average Indian think of Pakistanis, is there a lot of hatred for Pakistan, etc. The students were diverse in their interests and opinions and there were many takers for going ahead with economic and track 3 initiatives, instead of waiting for Kashmir to be resolved. Again enthusiastic views were thrown in by the students. A very energetic dialogue and debate took shape leaving the friendly atmosphere undeterred.

Day trip from Islamabad to Muree and Burban, organised by the Institute for Strategic Studies Along with eight members of ISS, Arpit, Suparna and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to these picturesque little towns, from where one could look onto the snow capped peaks of “Azad” (POK?|) Kashmir. The drive up was very pretty and gave us more of an opportunity to interact with ISS fellows and associates, on a one-to-one basis, which was a unique opportunity to speak our minds on contentious and other issues.

We were then taken to Burban, the smaller of the hill stations to the famous Pearl Continental Hotel for a sumptuous lunch. The hotel is landscaped into the mountains, with its terraced gardens, swimming pool and amphitheatre and is rumoured to be the best five-star hotel in Pakistan. It certainly was beautiful and we were privileged to be there.

The RCSS link…..

This trip to Pakistan would not have been possible without the help, hospitality and support given unconditionally to us by RCSS Alumni, all participants at the Summer Workshop, Ahungalla, 1999: Nadeem Iqbal, Akabir Rehman, Waqar Ahmad Sheikh, Sarah Bokhari, and Maria Sultan. To Nadeem and his wife Dina, went the dubious honour of hosting us for our stay in Islamabad. We were looked after so well that we felt we now had a “home” in Islamabad. We ate at the best restaurants, and saw the best of Islamabad. To them, our friends, we owe a huge thank you.

Our trip was timed such that we were able to attend Waqar’s wedding in Lahore, which was one of the highlights of our visit to Pakistan. Showered with warmth and affection by his relatives with whom we stayed, we spent four wonderful days in Lahore, sightseeing by day, celebrating by night. The hospitality we received from his family remains unparalleled. Akabir and Sarah came from Islamabad and with them we saw the sights of Lahore: the Minare Pakistan, the Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque. It was a pleasure to see how clean the city is, and how good the roads, all over, are.

We were struck by the similarity and terminology (mehendi, Baraat) of customs at the wedding. People were curious: “ How do you know Waqar? We would not allow our girls to go unescorted for a wedding to India! Is India really like what we see in Hindi films? Is our food the same? As for the food: we have NEVER eaten as much as we did in Lahore….but that is what Lahore is famous for!

Not once did we feel that we were in a foreign “hostile” country. The replicas of the Ghauri and Shaheen missiles on roads and floats on the canal in Lahore were a subtle reminder but paled in the warmth and friendliness that we received everywhere.

To the RCSS we owe a debt of gratitude for making this unique and enriching trip a possibility. A “Thank you” seems inadequate.