Social media enthusiasts descend on the city
By: Sidrah Roghay
Karachi: US Consul General William Martin said that the people of Pakistan and India could help pave the way for peace between the two countries by exchanging views through social media.
He was speaking at the 2012 Pakistan-India Social Media Mela, which kicked off on Friday amid whispers of “the best hash tag for the event” among twitterati as they came in their hordes, armed with smart phones, iPads and laptops, to tweet all the sessions live over the next two days.
The United States consulates general in Lahore and Karachi joined hands with PeaceNiche to organise the two-day social media conference.
Martin talked about the increasingly important emerging new media. “Bloggers between India and Pakistan enjoy the most energetic of relationships. They see shared problems in their countries.”
He said that the best way to bridge gaps between the neighbours was to send students on exchange programmes. “This has worked for the US and Pakistan. When I read the Pakistani newspapers, I realise that Pakistanis feel strongly against US policies, but people-to-people contact is a different experience altogether.” He highlighted that Indians and Pakistanis become the closest of friends when they go study at American colleges.”
“So, why is the United States supporting an event that is for Pakistanis and Indians? Stronger ties — people-to-people ties, commercial ties, political ties, blogger ties — are absolutely essential for the long-term peace and prosperity of not just India and Pakistan, but the entire region. The world needs an economically thriving, stable Pakistan just as much as an economically thriving, stable India. We see an event like this Mela as a cornerstone of what we call citizen diplomacy,” he said.
Of the 46 people invited for the Mela, nine of them were from India, and all had somehow made their mark on society through the social media. The participants would conduct sessions on subjects ranging from blogging in the social media to using the forum as a tool for education awareness, news, music and views.
The conference began with Sabeen Mahmud, the director of PeaceNiche, sharing details of her meeting with Rehman Malik. She thanked the politician that “everyone loves to make fun of” for facilitating the Indian guests’ visa process.
Just three before the event on July 10, Mahmud recalled that the embassy had given up on the visas for the Indian guests and asked them to contact a diplomat. “I sent out a random text message asking ‘Who knows Rehman Malik?’ and in came a reply: ‘I do’.”
Mahmud remembered calling the politician at least fifty times that day and finally going in personally to meet him. “He asked me if they were ‘Faujis’. I replied no, ‘just Twitter waley’. Malik joked, ‘yeh Twitter waley mera bauhat mazaq uratey hain’, and the next day we got a ten-day visa for our guests.”
To show their appreciation, the who’s who of local social media enthusiasts present at the occasion instantly created a #thankyouRehmanMalik hash tag and for once, the former interior minister was being appreciated on Twitter instead of maligned.
Barkha Dutt and Beena Sarwar, both journalists with a history of bridging the trust deficit between India and Pakistan, conducted a session on the issue. Due to visa difficulties, Barkha Dutt could not make it to Karachi, but she participated through a video conference.
“Technology has collapsed the boundary between India and Pakistan,” said Barkha Dutt in her short appearance.
Beena Sarwar went through a timeline of the Aman ki Asha Project, a joint venture between the Jang Group and Times of India. She started with a copy of the front page advertisement titled “love Pakistan”, which appeared in the Times of India when the campaign first began, and went on to discuss the “tug of peace” at the Wagha Border, where 160 handkerchiefs made by schoolchildren from both sides were exchanged. She also talked about ‘Umeed-e-Milaap’, a project by university students in Mumbai and Lahore who maintained an online diary to extend a hand of friendship between the two countries.
“The funny thing is India and Pakistan are the only two South Asian neighbours where a visit visa does not exist. One cannot enter as a tourist,” she said. Sarwar shared that polls conducted a year after the Aman ki Asha project showed that sentiments were significantly less hostile between the two countries.