By Amir Zia
PERTH: Two South Asian media giants, the Jang Group of Pakistan and The Times of India, on Wednesday made a first of its kind presentation at the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) about their joint-peace initiative, advocating a strong case for enhanced trade and investment to help improve relations and reduce tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
They said common economic interest would serve as the best guarantor of peace in the region and that their media-led civil society movement, Aman ki Asha, helped change mindsets in both countries.
The CBF, being held as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), gave a rare honour to the Aman ki Asha initiative by inviting the Jang Group and Times of India to talk about its objectives and contribution to a region considered a nuclear flash-point and one of the most dangerous in the world.
Dr Mohan Kaul, the director-general of the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC), Shahrukh Hasan of the Jang Group and Rahul Kansal of The Times of India were the key speakers at the special breakfast session. Dr Hasan Mehmood, state minister of Bangladesh, Abdul Razzak Dawood, a former federal minister and past chairman of Pakistan Business Council, Chandrajit Banerjee, director general Confederation of Indian Industry and Arif Zaman, CBC’s advisor on South Asia, also briefly spoke on the occasion, underlining the importance of the peace initiative for Pakistan and India – home to around 1.6 billion people.
Dr Kaul, CBC’s director-general, complimenting the two groups for their initiative, said boosting regional trade remains important to enhance global trade. CBC works with regional bodies, including Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation), to achieve this end, which in turn promotes peace and stability, he said. In this very context, the CBC invited Jang group and the Times of India to share details on the Aman ki Asha campaign.
“Both India and Pakistan have given each other the MFN (most favoured nation) status,” he said. Now there is a need to remove hurdles and bottlenecks to increase trade between the two countries, he said, adding that the private sector supports such initiatives.
Shahrukh Hasan of the Jang Group said the Aman Ki Asha initiative aims to facilitate peace through a three pronged strategy: resolving the thorny issues bedevilling relations between India and Pakistan by providing a platform for open and frank discussion, aggressively advocating enhanced economic relations and establishing people-to-people contact. “This strategy is backed by a strong and sustained media campaign, seeking to give confidence to both governments to negotiate with an open mind and with the strength of conviction that comes from the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of their peoples desire peace.”
“Mutual animosity has prompted both countries to acquire nuclear weapons – a development that has alarmed the whole world,” Hasan said. “The threat of political instability in Pakistan is therefore fraught with unspeakable consequences,” he said, adding that Pakistan’s economic, political and social emancipation remain directly linked to peace with India.
Hasan said the Aman ki Asha initiative, launched on January 1, 2010, brought about a sea change in perceptions about each other in both countries. Quoting from results of two independent surveys, he said 58 percent of the Indians surveyed perceived Pakistan as a threat before the launch of this campaign. One year after the campaign, this number was reduced to 28 percent, he added. Similarly, only 13 percent of Indians surveyed thought that peace between India and Pakistan was possible during their lifetime. One year down the road, this number more than doubled to 27 percent, Hasan added. “According to the surveys, every negative perception decreased and every positive perception improved.”
Kansal of the Times of India said the two countries should not remain hostage to their bitter past. “As the largest media groups on either side of the border, Jang and The Times of India can serve as important facilitators in fostering greater understanding between the people.”
“Unfortunately the media in both countries has tended to focus far too much on the negative. In the process, the good that people do is drowned out by the sensational and constant flow of death-and-destruction headlines,” he said, adding that distrust thrives in an atmosphere of ignorance.
Kansal said that only when two hostile countries develop an economic stake in each other that peace becomes imperative and war a non-option. The lively and interactive breakfast session attracted participants not just from Pakistan and India, but also from several other Commonwealth countries including Australia, UK, Nigeria, New Zealand and Bangladesh.