KARACHI: Despite a history of conflicts, mistrust and estranged relationship, an overwhelming number of Pakistanis and Indians want peace and friendship between the nuclear-armed South Asian nations, a survey conducted on both sides of the border has revealed.
The survey - conducted by independent research agencies and sponsored by the Jang Group of Pakistan and The Times of India on the first anniversary of their joint peace initiative 'Aman Ki Asha' - showed that 70 per cent of Pakistanis and 74 per cent of Indians want peaceful relations.
Although, the process of composite dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi remains stalled since the 2008 Mumbai carnage, 72 per cent Pakistanis and 66 per cent Indians hope to see 'sustainable friendly relations' in their lifetime. Compared with last year, the number of Indians hoping to see peace in their lifetime has surged by 17 per cent.
The optimism at the people's level appears in a stark contrast to the current bitter official positions. The Indian government accuses Pakistan of harbouring terrorists and not doing enough against the alleged sponsors of the Mumbai attack, while Islamabad says that New Delhi has been using this incident as a 'propaganda' tool to avoid talks on the core issue of Kashmir. Islamabad also blames India for instigating violence in Balochistan.
According to the survey, awareness of the Kashmir problem as being central to the state of relations between the two countries, particularly in India, has increased. The survey results show that 77 per cent Pakistanis and 87 per cent of Indians feel that peace can be achieved by settling the protracted Kashmir dispute.
The scientific survey covered 10 Pakistani cities and 42 villages, covering a cross-section of people from rural and urban areas. Pakistani cities where the survey was carried out were: Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad and Sukkur. In India, the survey was conducted in six cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad (Deccan) and Chennai. Adult population, both male and female, were represented in the survey.
This was the second survey on Pakistan-India relations. The first survey was conducted in December 2009; just before the Aman Ki Asha peace campaign was launched. Survey results show a consistent and marked improvement in perceptions about each other by people in both countries.
The survey showed that the issue of Pakistan-India relations featured in the thoughts of 73 per cent Pakistanis and 68 per cent Indians. The survey results said apart from settling the Kashmir dispute, 80 per cent Pakistanis and 91 per cent Indians think 'stronger relations and better defence' would also contribute in achieving the goal of peace.
The survey tracked the impact of the Aman Ki Asha campaign in India by asking a similar set of questions to two groups of people - one aware of this peace campaign and the other not aware of it. On all four questions asked - perceiving Pakistan as a high threat to India, as a sponsor of terror, desire for peace and being hopeful for achieving sustainable peace - there was a marked difference in the responses of the two groups. The group that was aware of the Aman Ki Asha initiative had a much better perception of Pakistan.
Around 77 per cent of Pakistanis and 87 per cent Indians consider that international pressure may help in bringing peace, while 71 per cent Pakistanis and 72 per cent Indians pin hopes on greater people-to-people contact to pave the way for friendly relations. Eighty-one per cent Pakistanis and Indians see people-to-people contact as an effective 'instrument of peace'.
An increase in business has also been tipped as a vehicle of peace by 67 per cent Pakistanis and 69 per cent Indians, the survey said. Among other steps needed to promote peace, 32 per cent Pakistanis pinned hopes on sports, 28 per cent on business, 22 per cent on tourism, 20 per cent on travel for health treatment and 13 per cent each on culture and higher education. The data from the Indian side regarding this questionnaire was not available.
For 51 per cent of Pakistanis, business can help bring peace, while 46 and 45 per cent of respondents said that it can also be done through sports and tourism respectively.
AMAN KI ASHA: The first of its kind peace drive 'Aman Ki Asha' was seen by a vast majority as articulating the aspirations of the people. Around 87 per cent Pakistanis and 74 per cent Indians were of the view that this sustained campaign 'developed tremendous awareness about the Indo-Pak relationship'. Around 85 per cent Pakistanis and 61 per cent Indians said Aman Ki Asha communicated 'peoples' desire for peace to their governments, while 80 per cent Pakistanis and 86 per cent Indians said it 'helped bring the people of the two countries together'.
The Jang Group and The Times of India have held a series of events over the last 12 months that involved a broad section of people, including students, intellectuals, artists, businessmen, doctors, information technology experts and ordinary citizens in an attempt to boost people-to-people ties.
In Pakistan, the recall of the 'Aman Ki Asha' campaign has been around an impressive 92 per cent. Shahrukh Hasan, Group Managing Director of the Jang Group, said this media-led civil society movement had made a huge contribution for peace at a time when tensions remained high between the two countries.
"The survey results should lay to rest any misgivings or apprehensions people may have had about the objectives or chances of success of the campaign," he said. "The survey results show that Aman Ki Asha has brought about a sea change in perceptions in India about Pakistan. Every negative perception has decreased and every positive perception has improved. The Jang Group feels vindicated and is delighted that we have helped put across Pakistan's point of view through honest dialogue, seminars, people-to-people contacts and cultural events."
According to the survey, the terror perception in India about Pakistan is down to 42 per cent from 75 a year ago, of bomb threats to 29 per cent from 54 and awareness about the Kashmir dispute rising to 17 per cent from a mere four per cent. Hasan hoped that the Pakistani and Indian governments would continue to facilitate the Aman Ki Asha peace campaign and take advantage of the access to the hearts and minds of the people of the two countries that the Jang Group and the Times of India provided.