Having no clue that Lahore city was under “red alert” due to possible terror attack, an excited 12 members Indian delegation, mostly journalists from Punjab and Chandigarh, entered Wagah check post, 25km from here, from Indian side on Tuesday afternoon. The South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) invited us for participation in a seminar and candle light vigil to strengthen India-Pakistan peace efforts amidst tension among two neighbourers.
The Pakistani hosts garlanded us and some “known faces” gave tight hugs to welcome us. “How can both the governments reduce prevailing tension on the borders? How can ceasefire violations be stopped? What can be done to ensure long lasting peace in the region?” a majority of waiting Pakistani print and TV channel reporters focused on these questions, aimed at scaling down border tension.
Just 30 minutes back, Indian media, however, “confronted” us on rationale behind our Lahore visit despite recent killing of five soldiers while a majority of Indian media virtually did not even take note of peaceniks’ Pak visit. As SAFMA’s Indian chapter also decided to cancel visit despite 49 delegates were granted visa, Chanchal Manohar Singh, Chandigarh’s veteran journalist, led 11 “humans” still interested in peace to Lahore.
After media interaction, Punjab Police commandoes in three escort vehicles were deployed to take us safely at Avari hotel, known for its luxurious hospitality and high level security parameters. The cavalcade moved on, as hardly any vehicular traffic was en-route. “The Avari hotel, Indian delegation, Wagah check post and the chief minister’s residence are main target of terrorists while entire Lahore city is on red alert,” SAFMA secretary general Imtiaz Alam told us during a luncheon meeting. I was rather thrilled, expecting to encounter some terror situations. (My resident editor, however, had asked me to give safety a preference over everything)
The evening seminar on “Modern Pakistan: at peace within and with neighbourers” was well attended despite red alert in Lahore and I too was given a seat on the dais (thanks to big media personalities from Delhi preferring to cancel the visit). Earlier, we were extended heartily welcome by participants. The Indian and Pakistani delegates unanimously adopted resolutions, urging Prime Ministers– Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh – to meet in New York next month, continue with composite dialogue and maintain peace at line of actual control (LoC). Media on both the sides was asked to avoid jingoism and fanning the tension. Tributes were paid to those, who laid down their lives for the independence. A peace park at the Wagah-Attari border was also demanded.
My speech in chaste Punjabi combined with “desi” style was well appreciated by Lahories (bagged clapping seven times in 15 minutes). Soon after the seminar, the TV channels started interviewing me, as if I was a bollywood star. I was again thrilled for being treated as an expert. Thereafter, several participants get group pictures clicked with Indians while warmth and hospitality of Lahories was virtually unmatchable.
On August 14, the Pakistan’s Independence Day, we visited martyrdom place of fifth Sikh Guru Arjun Dev ji, Shahi qila and “mazaar” of Maharaja Ranjit Singh amidst high security. Accompanying commandoes were ordered not to stop vehicle of “state guests” en-route to these monuments. Pakistan is the most terrorism hit country in the world– a fact emerged during the visit.
The delegation members were relaxed and seen enjoying every moment in Lahore, which witnessed heavy rains. The lunch at Lahore’s famous “Village” restaurant was an experience in itself, as over 70 mouth watering dishes and desserts were on offer. The locals met us with full warmth and I virtually did not see any hostility towards Indians.
The evening witnessed discussion at SAFMA’s headquarters on future of Indo-Pak relations followed by a mushehra. Due to terrorists’ threats, Pakistani side led by Imtiaz Alam along with Indian delegates continued with tradition of candle light vigil outside SAFMA office instead at zero line on Wagah border and all of us raised slogans in favour of Indo-Pak peace.
Thursday was India’s Independence Day. Pakistanis congratulated us. We were asked to get ready for shopping. But, the programme was again changed, as SAFMA personnel was told to take us straight to border and not for shopping since there was threat to our life from terrorists. Abandoning shopping plans midway, we crossed over to India, hoping next trip will start from buying stuff for the family and friends (girls included).