18th May 2015, 05:36 PM
Track II Diplomacy and Pakistan- India Relations
‘Freedom of opinion/expression’, ‘positive change’, scope for progressive voices’, ‘youth engagement’, ‘fresh perspectives’, ‘real time sharing forums’, ‘crystal clear means of communication’ – these are some of the terms that Indians and Pakistanis used when asked how they view the media championing the cause of citizen diplomacy for peace between the two countries.
Citizen diplomacy has gained credence for its capacity to allow personal experience, direct contact and grassroots reach among populace in adversary nations. The emergence of multi-track diplomacy popularised the concept of citizen diplomacy, enabling citizens to become ambassadors of national cultures.
Many examples of citizen diplomacy between India and Pakistan offer a wide canvas for interaction, like WISCOMP (Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace, India-Pakistan Friendship Society (1987), South Asian Dialogue (1990s), Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (1994) and Pakistan Peace Coalition. However, these initiatives have not managed to harness the power of the media to amplify their voices and ascertain the involvement of ordinary citizens from both sides.
Over the past decade and a half, relations between India and Pakistan have faced multiple challenges, including the Kargil Conflict, attack on Samjhauta express, tensions in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, Pakistan’s speculation’s of India funding terrorist and separatist, and numerous skirmishes across the Line of Control (LoC). Yet there have been a number of confidence-building measures (CBMs) such as the Delhi-Lahore bus, the Amritsar-Nankana Sahib bus service, the Munabao-Khokhrapar train service, and the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service which have persisted even during times of tension and played their part in giving a fillip to people-to-people contact and interactions between people from different walks of life and strata of society. Many of these links, such as the Munabao-Khokhrapar rail service, had existed before the 1965 war, but were disrupted.
In addition to these efforts, there has been a reasonable rise in trade through the Wagah-Attari land route with trade between both countries crossing $2 billion as of 2014. The number of goods being traded through the land route too has gone up to 137 – though there is scope for increasing this.
There has also been demand for opening up of other trade routes through Punjab, as well as in Munabao-Khokhrapar (Rajasthan-Sind) and Gujarat-Sindh. The credit for all the above steps goes not just to central governments, but a number of other actors such as state governments (border regions), members of civil society, chambers of commerce, academics, and journalists. This multi-layered diplomacy has ensured that even during times of tension, links between both sides are not totally broken, and has also widened the constituency for a more manageable relationship. This constituency does not consist merely of utopian peaceniks, but also businessmen and realists on both sides.
India and Pakistan are currently led by two prime ministers who are considered pro-business. It is important that they both exhibit pragmatism and ensure that basic interactions are not disturbed by jingoistic narratives that can dominate the bilateral discourse.
While there are a number of vexing issues which need to be addressed, it is important that the leadership ensures that links between citizens of both countries are not broken. While it is true that people-to-people efforts may have not resulted in any tangible results so far, the termination of such links will not help either – it will only lead to a further hardening of identities. Some of the steps which leadership on both sides should take in this context are ensuring that the bus and train services remain intact, the possibilities of opening up alternative trade routes are seriously explored, and interactions at the sub-national level are encouraged.
The creation and implementation of CBMs is a difficult task, aggravated by the way that the activities are regularly subject to outside political strain’s preventing their advancement. Achievement often relies on the efforts of national leadership, who perceive the gains of CBMs and work overwhelmingly to seek better solutions regardless of criticism or fear. The requirement for sustained engagement to address issues of regional security is similarly critical. While it is true that CBMs may not guarantee the resolution of disputes they can help – not just in keeping dialogue open between individuals on both sides, but also also tempering jingoistic sentiment on both sides.
Role of media:
The media can play a key role in this process by functioning as a classroom to promote global understanding, where citizens become students and augment their cultural knowledge, cultural sensitivity and acceptance of the ‘other’. Especially with the new media that can transcend barriers of time and space, the ‘other’ does not seem alien anymore.
Media representatives have the power to build positive images of the other country, and counter the traditional views of the ‘enemy’. However, rather than availing of this opportunity, South Asian journalists tend to remain entrapped in the web of jingoist and exclusive nationalism. As such, the media’s role in citizen diplomacy has largely remained traditional and limited to institutionalised exchanges among Indian and Pakistani journalists.
In the information deficit that plagues India-Pakistan relations and creates hatred and misperceptions of the ‘other’, media-aided citizen diplomacy can help engage in a constructive and transformative dialogue process with a focus on issues of concern to citizens on both sides
Pakistan-India is more about people, about the tragedy of not being able to meet and talk to your next-door neighbour, about emotions that need an outflow, about good memories that can be created together. We need the media to do to all this and more for the countless people who still view our story with hope.
Last edited by Fortified; 18th May 2015 at 05:40 PM.
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