End of the Ice-Age?

The World Social Forum has just happened to coincide with the sudden diplomatic thaw between India and Pakistan. Some 1000 Pakistanis have traveled to Bombay and, for many, this is their first trip to the neighboring country.

Thomas Bärthlein was in Bombay to talk with some of the delegates at the World Social Forum.

photo: AP
Noticeable easing of travel – Indian and Pakistani border guards at Wagha

​​Just a few months ago, no one would have thought it possible that so many Pakistanis, including twenty parliamentarians, could come to India. After all, there were simply no transportation links, let alone considering visa regulations. This makes it even more astonishing that there were so many Pakistani delegates present at the World Social Forum.

Shattered myth

Hena Shahida, one of the Pakistani women activists at the Forum, regards this development as a clear sign. “Actually, the most important thing is that the myth surrounding Indian and Pakistani identities has been shattered.

We have had all kinds of notions stuck in our heads that even we ourselves weren’t clear about, such as ‘Indians are like …’. Well, I have previously been abroad. I understood that Indians were people too. But our children think that Indians are some kind of peculiar beings.”

Photo: AP
Clear road ahead for the Lahore-Delhi bus

​​However, Tayabba Riaz has also observed that, to a certain degree, Indian women hold some strange ideas about their Pakistani neighbors as well. “One woman, for instance, thought that Pakistani women were so backwards that they couldn’t even leave their home. She was truly surprised, exclaiming ‘You young women have come here and are speaking to people. We thought that you weren’t allowed to talk to anyone!’”

In turn, Wali Haider from Karachi is impressed with India and Indian women. “The people are so open. I see women driving around in rickshaws without any problems and even riding motor scooters themselves. We in Pakistan think that India is a country just as conservative as our own. But their attitudes are far in advance of those in Pakistan. We have to recognize this as well as adopting some of their values that can be of benefit to us.”

Desire to end confrontation

The first step involves getting to know each other, breaking down prejudices, and learning from each other. The experiences of the Pakistani delegates to the World Social Forum have plainly shown something more. It will become very difficult for the two governments to maintain a policy of confrontation should many more Indians and Pakistanis get the opportunity to travel to each other’s country in the near future. The desire for peace among the populations of both countries is simply overwhelming.

For the time being, the delegates in Bombay are concerned with continuing and strengthening this exchange. The World Social Forum has provided Kamran with an idea. “Look around and you will see that here in India there are many more academics and experts than in Pakistan. That is because the country is simply so much larger.

We could invite people from here who are specialist in various field to our country to give workshops and seminars on all of the global issues – whether it be globalization, peace, or even small arms. We already invite people from abroad, from America, Canada, and England. Why shouldn’t we invite our own people who have experience in their field?”

Pakistani hospitality

Kamran is altogether generous when it comes to invitations, as evidenced by his own display of Pakistani hospitality. “Most of the visitors to the Pakistani stand at the Social Forum, where we sat today, were Indians. People kept on coming up to me and saying, ‘Where are you from? We want to visit Lahore!’ - where I live - ‘And we want to stay at your home! Not in a hotel!’ I said, ‘You are most warmly welcome!’ Whatever the reason, they wanted to see how we live everyday.

There is nothing negative in this. They expressed a deep-seated desire to live with us in our home. I told them that they had better arrange matters with my wife,” said Kamran laughing. “I ended up inviting most of them. We will see how many of them show up and how many I can accommodate. That is how things stand at the moment.”

Thomas Bärthlein © DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2004
Translation from German: John Bergeron

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