Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a cross border peace initiative is running an online 8 weeks peacebuilding course. It is first time when any such peace initiative has started such course between India and Pakistan with the aim to bridge the gap as well as to develop understanding about peace, friendship and humanity.
With the aim to facilitate people-to-people communication and create a culture of mutual respect and understanding, Aaghaz-e-Dosti launched this initiative last month and called it 'Friends Beyond Borders' to facilitate bonds of friendship and understanding between Indians and Pakistanis.
Friends Beyond Border is an eight-week virtual peace building course wherein an Indian and a Pakistani has been paired to be “Indo-Pak E-Pals”. Through this eight-week interactive course, the fellows or the Indo-Pak E-Pals are guided by a mentor who gives them weekly plans/activities based on a curriculum designed to familiarize them with the ‘other’, its culture, society, politics and the existence of divergent narratives. It aims to develop critical thinking, acceptance and respect for differences in order to celebrate similarities with a belief in peace and friendship as the sane way forward.
This 8 week long course is running with the fellows 'ndo-Pak e-Pals' who are reading and doing activities under mentorship of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. Course materials have been developed by Aaghaz-e-Dosti and all statements or facts given during the course are along with their sources. This is being done to avoid any kind of controversies in presenting facts. Also, the course aims to develop an understanding about mutual respect and to enhance friendship and communication, but it broadly address the very need of world peace, non violence and humanity. This course provides materials as papers, research articles, short videos and presentations on various issues. All 8 weeks are divided with the course theme from introduction to culture, society, politics, peace and conflicts etc. During these weeks, fellows also submit assignments and reports on activities suggested as per weekly instructions.
For the first session, Aaghaz-e-Dosti received a total of 80 applications from people of both countries. Applications came from different parts of India and Pakistan which included major as well as smaller cities and towns. The applicants varied in terms of their age and profession. The applicants also differ in terms of their motivation to join the course. While there were some for whom this would be the first attempt to reach out to people across the border, to know about the culture, many applied it with the reasons as they have emotional bonds and they want to spread words of peace through more understanding. Muhammad Zuhaib Arain from Hyderabad (Pakistan) being one of them applied because he carries an emotional bond. Zuhaib’s grandparents had migrated from Amritsar.
During selection of fellows for the course, preference was given to people who had no friends beyond the borders. The selected fellows were Akshay Mankar, Anjali Katoch, Ankush Vats, Aasma Pratap Singh, Aamir Bin Masood, Fayaz Shaikh, Guneet Singh, Jasmine Singh, Madhavi Bansal, Muddasir Hassan, Manish Harish Yadav, Preeti Kumari, Richard Joseph Salafia, Yashika Pahwa from India and Adil Ahmad Dayo, Awais Mumtaz, Ch Faisal Mehmood, Faisal Latif, Fatimah Shah, Imtiaz Akram, Madeeha Dogar, Mohammad Saad Farooqi, Mohammad Zuhaib Arain, Nihal Tabbussum, Rizwan Ali Shinwari, Sadaf Kashif, Salma Noureen, Zaman Bhatti from Pakistan.
These fellows come from Delhi, Chattisgarh, Punjab, Haryana, Vadodara, Mumbai and Pune in India and Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Karachi and Hyderabad in Pakistan. Their occupations include college students, research students, advocates, journalists, NGO workers, activists and businessmen.
The Indo-Pak E-Pals are guided by mentors. The mentors of the first session are Abdur Rauf Yousafzai, Aliya Harir, Imrana Qasim, Sehyr Mirza, Suraiya Islam and Syed Zeeshan Ali Shah from Pakistan and Devika Mittal, Ilma Iqbal, Madhuri Mittal, Madhavi Bansal, Madhulika Narasimhan, Sirish Agarwal and Shruti Achesh from India.
Every week is based on a specific theme. The fellows are given activities, points of discussion and resources. At the end of the week, they submit their report. The first five weeks had them to know about each other, learn about diversity in terms of religion, language, culture etc in India and Pakistan, role of the media, the challenges faced by both countries and a general introduction to peace and conflict resolution.
In the first week entitled "Getting to know each other", the fellows were asked to know about each other, have conversations on daily life across the border and clear their misconceptions. They were also asked to write on a paper the name of their friend and his/her country in their language and in English and have a photo holding it.
After learning about the culture and diversity in India in second week, Sadaf Kashif from Lahore reflected in her report, “India and Pakistan are almost the same. Our culture, traditions, customs and school of thought are quite similar. The countries are located in Asia plus they face the same everyday problems and that has made their people think alike, which is very interesting.”
Yashika Pahwa from Delhi noted the same thing about Pakistan. She wrote, “Similar to India, Pakistan is also a very diverse country, with many tribal groups residing in different parts of the city.” She and her friend Madeeha Dogar who is from Islamabad focused on exploring diversity in terms of cuisines which is their shared interest.
On the role of media, Akshay Mankar from Chattisgarh and Salma Noureen from KPK wrote, “If we ignore the TRP part, Indian Media is always highly suspicious of Pak, which we cannot altogether label as hoax, but the continuous dose “do not trust Pak” to the public is rather not good and a big hurdle in peace process as the nation is democratic and if people’s view are negative, their representatives too, cannot take any substantial, and daring step in order to bring peace or negotiate or make compromises for peace. Likewise, the Paki media is always in the illusion that Indian military strength is an offensive one and is developed by keeping Pakistan in view, which is not at all true. Though they are not as aggressive as the Indian media, but they misunderstand India in all possible ways. They repeat the rhetoric of India being an existential threat, questions upon Indian secularism and Indian democracy repeatedly and thus qualifies as the only media to question those things.”
In their joint report on who benefits from peace, Awais Mumtaz from Lahore and Preeti Kumari from India writes “The beneficiary of peace is the general public. Peace is beneficial for everybody, for the fuller development of all individuals. Peace ensures the value and protection of life which is the ultimate goal of humanity. So in this sense peace benefits the general public like us who never want to indulge in wars but promote the sense of brotherhood and serenity on both sides.”
The coming weeks will have them to discuss about the core issues of conflict and the victims of conflict.
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