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A report on Pak - India Forum 20th Anniversary commemorative Seminar on Understanding Pakistan Today

by Rita Manchanda, 26 March 2015

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Pak - India Forum 20th Anniversary commemorative Seminar on
Understanding Pakistan Today
India International Centre Annex, March 4-5, 2015

“India and Pakistan are neighbours who are open to the world but closed to each other” - Pakistan’s foremost human rights activist and public intellectual I A Rehamn said in New Delhi at a memorable Seminar on Understanding Pakistan Today aimed at challenging the dangerous myths and prejudices that are manipulated by self serving elites and institutional interests with utter disregard for the common concerns and futures of the peoples of the two countries. The Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) brought some 15 of Pakistan’s well known academics, public intellectuals, lawyers and human rights activists to India to unpack the enigma of Pakistan at the Seminar organized in partnership with the India International Centre on March 4-5, 2015. It provided a rare opportunity for a varied group of Indian participants to engage with the complex dynamics of Pakistan’s contemporary social economic and political reality overturning the stereotypical narratives derived from western geo-strategic perspectives and interests.

Among the Pakistan presenters were Professors Ijaz Khan, Yaqoob Bangash, Haroon Ahmed, Kauser Abdullah Mallik, A H Nayar, Pervez Tahir, Nadia Tahir, jurist Sajjad Nasser, journalist Babar Ayaz, women’s rights activists Anis Haroon and Usma Noorani as well as I A Rehman and Zaman Khan. A wide array of some of India’s well known experts in the field of politics and governance (Balveer Arora, Ajay Gudavarthy, Manoranjan Mohanty, Surinder Jodhka), India Pakistan relations ( Radha Kumar, Jayant Prasad, Achin Vaniak), judiciary and democracy ( Warisha Farasat, R Sudarshan), extremist politics ( Shail Mayaram, Sidiq Wahid) economics ( Ratna Sudarshan, Atul Sood), education (Harsh Sethi, Dinesh Mohan), social movements (Pamela Philipose, Kamal Chenoy) provided the complementary narrative of not only the Indian reality but located it in conceptual frames which resonated with the experiences of both countries.

Appropriately Mani Shankar Aiyar, the foremost voice in India’s formal political realm for peace and uninterrupted dialogue with Pakistan, was the guest speaker. He overturned the theme of the ‘critical relevance of the moment’ today, to emphasise the missed ‘moment’of 1971 Simla, which could have enduringly transformed the bilateral relationship of confrontation. He appealed for attention to the implications of the generational change in Pakistan, and the recognition that Pakistan no longer positions itself as the protector of the subcontinent’s Muslims, that whatever the genesis, today it was the primary victim of terrorism.
The Seminar was an important step in developing a more complex analysis of our neighbour, for our academies have poorly developed and under-resourced ‘Pakistan Studies’; our media has very limited direct access, and narratives more likely are derived from western geo-strategic perspectives and interests; our public intellectuals and commentators are largely former diplomats, army officers and intelligence officials rarely able to shake free from the entrenched national security pathology . Not surprisingly, when we look at the map of our neighbour - dangerous myths, prejudices and half baked assumptions abound which serve to cloud over our lack of factual knowledge and analytical understanding of Pakistan today.

The Seminar was a fitting event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of PIPFD, a Forum which as its President Emeritus, Tapan Bose said, has been the trail blazer in pulling down the walls that divide the peoples of India and Pakistan and providing opportunities for hundreds of Pakistan’s and Indians in eight mass Joint Conventions to frankly and freely discuss issues of war demilitarization and peace dividends, democratic solutions to Kashmir problem, democratic governance, religious intolerance and globalisation and regional cooperation. The Forum was a standing reminded of the peace constituency in both countries and the hurdles created by the visa regime beg the question - are the governments afraid of people who speak of peace?

The Seminar was a lively forum that drew more than a 100 people to the sessions and sought to demystify that Pakistan was more than just a society overrun by religious fundamentalists who want to reverse the process of modernisation and take Pakistan back to the early days of Islam, it drew attention to the historical and contemporary struggles of resistance e.g. around the blasphemy law. It was a unique opportunity to understand the changes wrought in Pakistan’s political economy following the neo liberal growth model; the nature of peoples’ struggles for rights and control over resources; and political contestations to redefine the social contract of state and region; of women’s assertion and the ascendancy of conservative forces and finally, the scope for democratic resistance vis a vis the institutions of power in Pakistan’s ‘deep’ state.
Regrettably visa issues impeded some of the scheduled Pakistani from participating.

The large presence of young people amongst Indian participants in the Seminar was a reminder of our lack of attention to Pakistan’s rapidly growing young population, which like that of India is undergoing immense social change.

Rita Manchanda