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Kashmir most intensely discussed issue between Indian and Pakistani delegates
‘Discussions resulted in genuine paradigm shift in the minds of delegates on both sides'
Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary, South and Central Asian Affairs, and Judith McHale, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (in red suit) with Seeds of Peace delegates in Washington on Wednesday.
Washington: Green T-shirts flooded the State Department on Wednesday during an event that celebrated the graduation of teenage “Peace Ambassadors” from India, Pakistan and Afghanistan from a programme aimed at promoting cross-border understanding in the leaders of the future.
Indian graduates of the Seeds of Peace programme who spoke to The Hindu said the three weeks they had spent at a camp in Otisfield, Maine, provided some critical foundations for empowerment of young people through deeply personal interactions with their counterparts from “the other side.”
Karan Mantri (14) said that in “dialogue groups” of around 20 people delegates from all three countries would discuss issues such as the border dispute in Kashmir and water disputes between India and Pakistan, and “after some time we started looking at the solutions to these problems.”
Kashmir was the most intensely discussed issue between Indian and Pakistani delegates, Mr. Mantri noted, while the Durand Line and Pakistan's post-Cold War role in Afghanistan were the hot topic between Pakistani and Afghan delegates.
And the discussions resulted in a genuine paradigm shift in the minds of delegates on both sides, Mr. Mantri added. “We think that Pakistan attacked Kashmir and we helped them; but according to Pakistani students we sent our troops in and annexed Kashmir.”
Home Stay scheme
Another experience in the programme that truly transformed attitudes across borders is the Home Stay scheme, according to Rayan Modi (17). Mr. Modi spent time in the Lahore home of one of his Pakistani friends from the programme, and then his friend visited him in Mumbai and stayed in his home there.
Mr. Modi told The Hindu, “The whole idea is for each member of the organisation to go across to the other side, live with the families of fellow [delegates], to be in their lives, to experience their culture for a week. And this helps in understanding similarities and differences between our cultures.” Sometimes “we even forget that they exist, that they are leading their own lives [across the border] ... but it is only when you live there that you understand that their point of view is so important.”
The Seeds of Change programme is oriented towards impressing upon the future leaders the importance of peace and tolerance born of greater empathy.
Ronita Bhattacharya (17) said there was a clear focus on effective leadership, for example on “listening, and on how to express things in a way that is acceptable to others. When you say something you can either say it bluntly and make it a controversy or state it in a way that people may find they agree with more easily.”
On the occasion of their graduation, these bright young minds from South Asia were greeted by Judith A. McHale, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, and Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary, South and Central Asian Affairs.
Tolerance and understanding
Ms. McHale told them: “Governments do important work, but tolerance and understanding can't come from government bureaucracies. John Wallach understood this fact when he founded Seeds of Peace in 1993... As you return home from your experiences in Maine, I am confident that you will actively contribute to these partnerships and to the important relationships between your own countries and between your countries and the U.S.”
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