Media teams from India and Pakistan pay each other a visit in yet another initiative for better Indo-Pak relations
When Fazil Jamili reached Mumbai in May, he thought his grandfather's dream had come true. Fazil, who works for the Jang Group of Newspapers, was part of the Karachi Press Club delegation which visited Mumbai and Pune last month for the first time. Some of the journalists had connections in the cities and Fazil's grandfather always talked about Bombay when he was a kid. He tried to run away once to the city in his childhood but was caught on the way and sent back home.
Walking on the streets of Mumbai, Fazil was reminded of Anarkali Bazar in Lahore more than Karachi. He seemed to think that the people of Mumbai were well disciplined and queued up at bus stops, at ice cream parlours even. “They are very careful in spending, consuming and eating. Wherever we went we found the air conditioner switched off. We were offered ‘half cup tea and half glass water',” he says earnestly.
The need to foster relations between Indian and Pakistani media has been felt for long and today only two journalists from each country are allowed as representatives. Many misconceptions exist about Pakistan and its people. “Even journalists and politicians don't know much about Pakistan. They only believe what they have been told by certain elements. Most people think that Pakistanis are non-vegetarian and they even don't touch vegetarian food. They think all Pakistani women are burqa clad and they find it difficult to go to offices or schools. My daughter always demands that I buy her a scooter but in Pakistan it's not possible for a girl to drive a scooter. When I saw the girls driving bikes on the roads of Mumbai and Pune, I wished my daughter was with me and I would allow her to drive the bike by herself,” says Fazil.
Like other Pakistani journalists he too liked the night life of Mumbai. “It's a lively city-- it offers much more and one can live a life without fear,” he sums up. Among the gifts he took back home for his son was a bottle of Thums Up - which his son promptly showed off in school the next day.
Faisal Sayani, head of programming for Express TV says, “I've been to Mumbai and Pune several times before. In fact, I've experienced many things for the first time in my life in these cities (I was 17 then). My last visit to Mumbai must be 12 years ago and the city has changed to some extent. Still, I recognised the smell of the pavements, and some of the old buildings.”
Last November for the first time ever, a delegation of over 20 journalists from the Mumbai Press Club travelled to Karachi and Hyderabad after many stops and starts. The visit left a deep impression on many of us who stayed there for a week and if the numerous gifts overwhelmed us, the hospitality and food swept us off our feet. On a less euphoric note, during an interaction in the elegant confines of the Karachi Press Club, senior journalists felt the need for the media to go beyond nostalgia and hospitality speeches and press for concrete steps to resolve the impasse between the two countries and play a bigger role in establishing peaceful relations.
Cynicism usually greets attempts at peace between India and Pakistan and the fears are not entirely unfounded. As journalists from India the mood of optimism with respect to Indo-Pak relations in Karachi was something we were unprepared for and the all round condemnation of the November 26 terror strike from common people was rather reassuring. When Pakistani delegates from the Karachi and Hyderabad Press Club paid a return visit in May, there were unwritten rules that they should not be allowed to visit Leopold Cafe, the first stop for Kasab and his killing crew on November 26, 2008. Security was tight for us in Karachi as well, and we had policemen stalking our every move. Even a morning walk became fraught with anxiety as the policemen insisted one should stay within their line of vision.
People warned us not to use expensive mobile phones specially in crowded places and reports of the high crime graph in Karachi and the sporadic bomb blasts were quite nerve wracking.
In Mumbai, members of the Pakistani media were also under police escort and they were state government guests as well, hosted by the chief minister, home minister and other dignitaries. Journalists from both sides called for ending the language of hate and relaxation of travel restrictions between the two countries. Beyond the speeches at the formal functions and mementos, some real rapport was forged between the media of the two countries after the two visits. The question is how this fledgling step will be taken forward and how seriously this relationship can impact things at a higher level.