South Asian Smart Power – Aman ki Asha

 “Trade between India and Pakistan was at its highest ever in the year following Kargil. Even the Mumbai attacks have not significantly dented India-Pakistan trade relations. Pakistan trades with 100’s of countries, India being the 9th largest trading partner”




by Zainab Jeewanjee


While working in D.C. some years back almost every Congress person, Think Tank and academic I came across was certain on one thing on nuclear proliferation: if an atomic bomb ever goes off again, it’s going to happen in South Asia. It was a dismal but resounding notion that I have even heard expressed amongst South Asians. Profound mistrust, three wars, land disputes, all spurred by a gory colonial partition 60 odd years ago has left Pakistan and India scarred in a way that makes cynics of even the best of us.

A realist might tell you that nuclear armed neighbors by way of deterrence have allowed India and Pakistan to refrain from war since testing their atom bombs, but even they would conclude war is inevitable. Liberals would make a case for enhanced trade to gradually spur economic interdependence to help avoid conflict, which is perhaps the most palatable idea, but statistics show that deepening trade between India and Pakistan has not yet improved relations:

“Trade between India and Pakistan was at its highest ever in the year following Kargil. Even the Mumbai attacks have not significantly dented India-Pakistan trade relations. Pakistan trades with 100’s of countries, India being the 9thlargest trading partner”

So if deepening trade and deterrence haven’t yielded what confidently could be considered lasting peace, what will it take? I’m of the opinion that realist and liberalist policies must be accompanied by ground level, macro scale diplomacy.  Because while deterrence satisfies the all mighty military institutions, and trade satisfies highly influential business elites there’s little attention given to the masses; and by masses I mean billions of South Asians who have yet to even fathom peace as a possibility.

Call it ground level diplomacy, soft power or good ol’ winning hearts and minds: it’s  the missing ingredient in bilateral relations. Resident Indian’s and Pakistani’s have a perceived animosity for one another that verges on the irrational. Catapulting cricket matches between both countries as akin to war, hate crimes against Muslims in India to cross border terrorism is absurd for states divided by man made, post colonial borders.

So the problem is not one of trade, or military might: it’s epistemic. Both countries must engage one another from the ground up. Shashi Tharoor the decorated Indian Parliamentarian described the effectiveness of Indian soft power best at a TED conference last year:

“India’s soft power, its true of music, dance of arts, yoga, aryuveda, even cuisine. With these examples come the sense that in today’s world its not the side of the bigger army that wins, it’s the one that tells a better story. And India is the land of a better story. Stereotypes are changing.  Today people in Silicon valley people talk of IIT’s with same reverence of MIT”

Why not apply that soft power in Pakistan? And vice versa. I laud the Aman ki Asha initiative for doing exactly this. Launched by Pakistani media conglomerate Geo T.V. and on the Indian side, the Times of India, both companies have taken up the task of engaging both countries using soft power. As media houses, through television, print and web placements, they engage masses directly, finally sidestepping politically or economically motivated discourse both countries are used to. Their mission statement reads:

Public opinion is far too potent a force to be left in the hands of narrow vested interests. The people of today must find its voiceand force the rulers to listen. The awaam must write its own placards and fashion its own slogans. The leaders must learn to be led and not blindly followed. Skepticism about the given is often the genesis of faith. This skepticism has been brewing. It can be unleashed to forge a new social compact between the people of this region. A social compact based on a simple yet powerful impulse – Aman ki Asha. A desire for peace.

Aman ki Asha taps the widespread but underrepresented sentiments of commonality shared by South Asians. By engaging the masses directly with soft power it’s is a brilliant first step at mitigating the most potent problem in bilateral relations: mistrust. And what is most brilliant about the initiative is that could have teeth. Unlike countless other proposals for peace, Aman ki Asha uses mass media to speak to masses directly with a specifically outlined agenda:

“Issues of trade and commerce, of investments, of financial infrastructure, of cultural exchanges, of religious and medical tourism, of free movement of ideas, of visa regimes, of sporting ties, of connectivity, of reviving existing routes, of market access, of separated families, of the plight of prisoners, will be part of our initial agenda. Through debates, discussions and the telling of stories we will find commonalities and space, for compromise and adjustment, on matters that have bedevilled relations for over 60 years”

It sounds promising, because although I do not anticipate this dissemination of smart power to yield results immediately, if it’s done consistently it might have a capacity to democratize the push for peace. It ought not to be the military, or economic institutions setting the agenda, rather, policies should reflect the will of the people. Aman ki Asha is a hugely cooperative step in bilateral ties. More peaceful relations in South Asia can begin by reminding the masses of what my Pakistani born and raised mother said when  she came back from a trip to India in 2005 they (Indians) eat the same food, sound the same, act and even look the same as us”. With such strong commonality felt amongst everyday people, one questions the legitimacy of policymaking that has historically divided, rather than united South Asians. And if that sentiment disseminates, albeit gradually, there’s much to hope for in the future

Writer is a masters candidate in International Relations. She is also a writer for the Foreign Policy Association where her articles focus on U.S.-Pakistan relations. Her senior thesis entitled U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan: A History of Realist Cooperation from Partition Through the Cold War was completed as an undergraduate at Santa Clara University. 
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.



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8 replies to “South Asian Smart Power – Aman ki Asha

  1. Pakistan is the super market of the product of volatile mix of terrorism and perverted interpretation of Islam.

    Hatred towards India and the Hindus have been systematically propagated into generations of Pakistanis through the school curriculum and text books !

    This product is an anti-dote of India’s soft power, and India’s soft power is no match for such a toxin … !!

  2. @ Neel 123
    What abt. mass product of a volatile mix of terrorism & perverted interpretation of Hinduism in India’s cow belt & the ongoing wars being fought between Naxalites and stooges of the capitalists in 20 out of 23 states in the Indian Union?
    In second para of ur comment, just put Pakistan instead of India & u will understand what I mean. Even ur language speaks of the venom of hatred u have for Pakistan and its people. Mr. 123, hate geneates hatred [Sow thorn bushes & expect Rose buds to bloom?????]
    Wasi of Kundian

  3. Neel you are no match to such a toxin .Now they are being handled by others very well .Watch and wait .

  4. @ Muhammad Wasi,

    The naxalites are poor people fighting for their rights, they do not have state funding and training, and do not go to Pakistan to kill innocent civilians.

    In India, school curriculum and text books teaches to have respect and tolerence for all faiths.

    You moron are in denial, like a large section of the Pakistanis …. !

    1. Neel 123,
      Thank God, u at least admit that poor Naxalites are home grown militants and not the non state actors trained either by the ISI or the Jehadis of Pakistan.
      Yes, indeed school children might be reading text books which contain respect for all faiths but all this remains embedded in text books only. Massacre of thousands of Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Dalits in India are a testimony of that secularism. U guys lament over demolition of Buddha statues in Bamiyan but never raise voice for re-construction of Babri Masjid which was standing there for centuries.
      Ur last sentence is an excellent example of what Indians like u are like.
      When u don’t have any reason or logic to support ur view point, u resort to accusations and that’s what u guys always do.
      Ur comments are a proof of ur large heartedness, ur secularism & ur respect 4 free opinions.

      1. @ Muhammad Wasi,
        Babri masjid was built on the property of an existing temple by a barbarian invader. There are two more such masjids at Mathura and Varanashi, which will also be demolished in the same manner …….. !!

        Unlike in Pakistan, the Indian state does not discriminate on the basis of religion, people of all faith are treated as equal, and justice takes its own course without any religious bias…!

        Indian secularism may not be perfect, but it works….. in Pakistan the religious minorities have been systematically decimated in last six years, in India the minorities are thriving !!

  5. @ 123,
    U R doing very gud service to promote the image of India. With ur venomous, hate generating propaganda, u r doing great service in “helping” the sincere efforts of all gud Indians over there.
    U claim to be a big country but Indian like you don’t hv the big heart of a big India. Unfortunately 2 me, u appear 2 be a follower of that great prophet of hate called Bal Thackeray. The evil soul of B.T. has inspired or perhaps dreaded the Mumbai-walas so much that every third film from Bollywood, carries an anti-Pakistani theme. You guys fought a big war against the Chinese but in not a single film did this hate generating movie mafia of Mumbai portray Chinese as their enemy. Its only Pakistan and the Pakistanis, who hv overpowered the psyche, the mindset of Indians like u.
    We r a small country, India is a huge landmass, even then u spread ur message of hate Mr. 123.Why don’t u speak a language of peace and friendship. This war of words which u started is going to do no gud .
    Even after this msg if u continue ur harangues, I won’t reply to such rubbish coz that wud mean u r bent upon to continue putting in ur hate script again and again. In that case I wud only pray for u 2 my Allah and 2 ur Ram, Aik Allah jiske kyi naam, ALLAH AAP PER KIRPA KRE Bhai.

    Wasi of Kundian

  6. Pingback: Rajeev Ranjan

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