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NEW DELHI:  Amid disappearance of its Convener in Pakistan since Dec 2 ,  Aaghaz-e-Dosti continued its efforts on peace building. Members of this young team are highly hopeful that Raza will return soon. Members informed that as a peace education group ,  our activities are not against anyone and therefore we think that we must keep working for our activities. 

Guest Speakers in Panel:

Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak

Rahul Jalali (Sr. Journalist ,  Former President ,  Press Club of India)

Jyoti Malhotra (Journalist ,  Consulting editor – Indian Express )

O.P.Shah (Peace activist ,  Chairman of Centre for Peace and Progress)

Prof. Jagmohan Singh (Activist ,  Nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh)

Indo-Pak Peace Calendar is launched at New Delhi today by voluntary youth initiative Aaghaz-e-Dosti that works on fostering people to people relations between India and Pakistan. This calendar is a collection of selected paintings of Pakistani and Indian school students along with messages from 12 renowned persons from both countries who favor Indo-Pak Peace. This year ,  peace calendar carries messages of Prof M S Swaminathan (Father of Green Revolution) ,  Kamla Bhasin (Feminist and Peace Activist) ,  Kapil Kak (Retd Air Vice Marshal) ,  Rahul Jalali (Former President-Press Club of India) ,  Nirupma Subramanian (Sr. Journalist and has been posted in Pakistan for few years) and Amardeep Singh (Author-Lost Heritage-Sikh Legacy in Pakistan) from India and of Dr. Mubarak Ali (Pakistani historian) ,  Imtiaz Alam (Secretary General SAFMA) ,  Anam Zakaria (Activist and author) ,  Dr Anita M Weiss (Academician) and Farooq Tariq (Activist and spokesperson of Awami workers party) and Lt. Gen (retd) Mohd M. Alam. 

At a time when Indo-Pak relations are turbulent and facing tide and ebb journey between the political establishments on both sides ,  students of Pakistan and India expressed their desire for peace through this peace calendar. This is something we need to recognise as a demand from the young community in both countries where youths are of majority in population and their secured ,  safe and peaceful future should be in the agenda of both sides of governments. 

Aaghaz-e-Dosti aims to create unwavering bonds of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan and seeks to become the medium to discover and recognise the misrepresented reality on the other side of the border. It is focused on citizen diplomacy and works primarily through peace education aimed at familiarising the people about the ‘other‘ ,  countering stereotypes ,  homogenised and negative image of the other ,  educating them about the issues of conflict ,  the existence of diverse views and developing critical thinking and developing confidence in dialogue and peace building for conflict resolution.

This was the sixth year of the initiative and peace calendar. In earlier years ,  these calendars have been launched in several cities of India and Pakistan. A panel discussion on the topic ‘Sharing of Hopes for a Peaceful Co-existence’ was also organised by India International Centre and Aaghaz-e-Dosti jointly where speakers like Kapil Kak ,  O P Shah ,  Rahul Jalali ,  Jyoti Malhotra and Prof Jagmohan Singh participated and spoke upon various issues.

While speaking on the occasion ,  Retd Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak talked about the importance of peace building ,  specially through such people’s initiative. He quoted Faiz Ahmad Faiz to explain diplomatic engagements between India and Pakistan- "Dil se toh har mamlaa hal karne chale ,  saamne aaye toh har baat badal gayi". Highlighting the efforts of Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments ,  he called the 2003-2007 phase as the 'golden period in the India Pakistan dialogue process' ,  post which he said we suffered from a 'famine of dialogue'. Referring to Narendra Modi's 2015 visit to Pak as a 'leap of faith' and quoted Elliot alongside- "only those who risk going far can know how far one can go". He stated the importance of *connectivity*- need of engaging people across the LoC ,  media ,  public engagements for building opinions on the need for peace. He also told that we all need to have patience- most critical virtue ,  for any resolution as it takes time. Voices from both sides must speak for peace.  

Senior journalist and former President of Press Club of India ,  Rahul Jalali said that there are much need to work on peace building these days to counter hatred and violence at every level. He also insisted that media groups may play a positive role in peacebuilding effectively. He appreciated Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s for peace in today's disturbed times when there's a dearth of those taking on or for peace between the two neighbors. Highlighting the role of social media in shaping public opinion he told that need of the hour is to present facts and not focus on myth building and hate mongering. He advocated to continue dialogue as the world desires peace between the two neighbors.

O.P. Shah who is founder of think tank Centre for Peace and Progress talked about the necessity of people coming forward and take a centre stage to decide policies of their own and demanding peace ,  harmony and development. Expressing hope for a much better things in future ,  he congratulated Aaghaz-e-Dosti peace building efforts. He talked of existence of 'crisis of confidence' between and among the neighbors.  He also emphasized that unless well meaning people work hard together and with honesty to create a climate of trust and confidence ,  we won't get much. He highlighted the importance of a continuous dialogue and he quoted Mani Shankar Iyer’s line- "there's a need of uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan". He also advocated the need of positive ,  constructive and meaningful role of media and need of leadership like that of Gandhi. 

While speaking on the occasion ,  Prof Jagmohan Singh who is activist and author and nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh ,  talked about Bhagat Singh and Pakistan. He told about the place where Bhagat Singh was studied and hanged as it is in Pakistan. He told about his experiences on how Bhagat Singh still lives in so many hearts of Pakistanis and Indians and can be a connecting medium for peacebuilding. He distinguished between two layers of politics ,  emphasized on the role the lower level consisting of civil society and students engaged in peace can play. He told that there are two types of mindsets- fixed and growth and that Aaghaz-e-Dosti represents the later ,  with it's efforts in trying to build the bridge it is building including the students at school level especially'

Senior journalist and columnist Jyoti Malhotra emphasized that these paintings made by students are actually something we need to learn and understand about what these students ,  who are future generation of these countries ,  desire for. Lamenting the unnatural state of affairs between India-pakistan ,  she stated 'it isn't our responsibility to decide whether Pak is good or bad ,  what is needed instead is to hope for a more normalized relations with our neighbor ,  which given our geography cannot be ignored.  She referred to Aaghaz-e-Dosti's engagements with school children across the borders as the 'story of the future' ,  wherein technology has to be leveraged in the interest of the two countries. 

Devika Mittal ,  Convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti in India told that the importance of the calendar is that it is a collection of shared dreams and hopes for friendship which we will be reminded of every day. This calendar is one of our peace education activities in schools and colleges. The purpose of these activities is to enable the future leaders to forge the path to a better world by engaging them with aspects of critical thinking ,  civic engagement and dialogue as solution. She told that this year again Aaghaz-e-Dosti received many paintings from many schools of Pakistan and India. In these six years ,  Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been received paintings from school students from almost all states and provinces of India and Pakistan.

Madhulika V Narsimhan ,  Aaghaz-e-Dosti member during her moderation talked about important points raised by speakers and also about various other activities of the initiative during last six years.  

Many eminent persons like educationist C. Raja Mohan ,  Supreme court advocate Ram Mohan Rai ,  Secretary General of South Asian Fraternity Satyapal ,  Activist Khurshid Reshi ,  NYP Coordinator Sanjay Rai ,  Youth activist Mushtaq ul Haq ,  Akhtar Hussain ,  Mubashir Malik ,  Suresh Yadav ,  Abhishek ,  Sanjana ,  Madhuri and others were present. Photography was done by Zephyr ,  a photography society of Delhi University students.  

Talking more about Aaghaz-e-Dosti ,  Ravi Nitesh informed that Aaghaz-e-Dosti has given peace trainings to more than 6000 students and youngsters through 20 Aman Chaupals (peace session) across India and Pakistan and also uses video conferencing to connect classrooms of India and Pakistan in sessions called Indo-Pak Classroom Connect that facilitates interaction between students of India and Pakistan. Aaghaz-e-Dosti conducts regular Exchange of letters and cards between students of India and Pakistan and has recently exhibited these letters at the renowned Faiz Ghar (house of Faiz Ahmed Faiz) in Lahore.

On the disappearance of its Pakistan’s convener Raza Khan ,  Aaghaz-e-Dosti stands on its earlier statement that the whereabouts of Raza are still unknown but all members are highly hopeful that Raza will be back soon and will start working again. Group has not criticized Government of Pakistan or its agencies and instead maintains that being a voluntary peace group ,  we respect constitution ,  democratic values of both countries and our activities are not against any government or ideology. Emphasising its stand ,  group states that it doesn’t attach itself with any ideology except ideology of peace and harmony that is need of this world. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is not a funded project of any organization and never receives any governmental or foreign support for its activities. Group states that their members are mostly engaged in peacebuilding through their participation in peace education activities among school students in India and Pakistan.

In previous years for its peace calendars ,  Aaghaz-e-Dosti received messages/ participation from Dr S N Subbarao ,  Kamla Bhasin ,  Dr Syeda Hameed ,  Col Virender Sahai  ,  Major General Ashok K Mehta  ,  Dr Shashi Tharoor  ,  Vishwajyoti Ghosh ,  Pankaj Chaturvedi ,  Dr Dhananjay Tripathi ,  Ram Mohan Rai ,  Dr Meenakshi Chhabra ,  Dr D S Rana ,  Javed Naqvi ,  Deepak Malviya ,  Dr Chaman Lal ,  Late Sh Pankaj Singh ,  Air Vice Marshall (Retd) Kapil Kak ,  Sudheendra Kulkarni ,  Dr Kavita Sharma ,  Kuldip Nayar  ,   Shailja Kejriwal  ,  Tara Gandhi ,  Admiral Ramdas ,   Satyapal ,  Syed Salman Chishty ,  Ram Puniyani ,  Shirish Agarwal ,  Dr Pritam Rohilla ,  Pramod Sharma ,  Lalita Ramdas ,  Sadia Dehlvi ,  Manik Samajhdar ,  Deepak Malviya from India and  Dr. Pervez Hoodhboy ,  Raza Rumi , Beena Sarwar ,  Sheema Kermani ,  Dr Ayesha Siddiqa ,  Aamir Nawaz ,  Reema Abbasi ,  Shakeel Wahidullah Khan ,  Rahil Yasin  ,  Awais Sheikh ,  Dr. Salima Hashmi ,  Lt. Gen Muhammad Masood Alam ,   Saeeda Diep ,  Dr I A Rehman ,  Khadim Hussain ,  Karamat Ali ,  B M Kutty ,  Anwar Jafri ,  Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad ,  Saeed Ahmed Rid ,  Nisar Ahmad Chaudhary ,  Dr Zahid Sahab Ahmed ,  Dr Farzana Bari ,  Asma jahangir ,  Dr Mubashir Hasan from Pakistan. Many students participated in the launch ceremony.