On Thursday, even as military and diplomatic tensions between India and Pakistan were at an all-time high, the voices that demanded peace couldn’t be muted.
With Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announcing the release of captured Indian Air Force wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman as a token of peace, members of the civil society in Pakistan, as well as local citizens, took part in protests in Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi.
“We wanted people to know that a majority of Pakistani citizens do not want war,” said Bushra Khaliq, Executive Director of Women In Struggle for Empowerment (WISE), a non-profit organisation that advocated gender equality and women rights in Pakistan. WISE was one of the dozen or so human rights organisations that took part in Thursday’s rallies. “War is not actually beneficial to anyone, and especially women who often face the worst of the fallout and lose husbands, brothers, sons and fathers,” Khaliq told News18 over the phone.
Apart from WISE, organisations such as Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), Women Action Forum (WAF) and Awami Workers Party also took part in the protests.
“The kind of war-mongering that has been going on both sides of the border is mindless, especially when assisted by sections of media and polity,” said Khaliq. But according to the human rights defender, war often makes people forget the real issues – education, labour, gender equality. “Only when we have peace in the country can we actually move on to fighting for issues that actually matter,” she said.
Khaliq felt that it was heartening to see the response to anti-war protests in Pakistan as well support for such sentiment from India. “We put the message out in WhatsApp groups and instantly, many people from civil society as well as the art world responded. Within a few hours of us putting a word out for the protests, artists and designers contributed with posters and anti-war artwork to carry at the protest,” she said adding that many artists also participated in the protests themselves.
Photos and videos from the rallies across Pakistan have gone viral on social media.
This is a video allegedly shot in Islamabad and posted on Twitter by author and journalist Ammara Ahmad.
Protests against war took place all over Pakistan. This is a huge win for the civil society which has been under constant crackdown since last few years. Here is a video from Islamabad. Many people had banners asking for #Abhinandhan’s release #PakIndiaCeasefire #MakeChaiNotWar pic.twitter.com/aNapExVnyT
— Ammara Ahmad (@ammarawrites) February 28, 2019
This one was shot in Karachi.
She also shared a photo, originally published by the newspaper Dawn, from Lahore.
— Ammara Ahmad (@ammarawrites) March 1, 2019
In one of the videos shared on Twitter, protesters can be seen singing and chanting anti-war songs and messages. People also carried banners seeking wing commander Abhinandan’s speedy and safe return to India.
“As women, we know the pain of losing someone to war. The pilot who was captured in Pakistan is someone’s son, someone’s husband. Women are usually the real yet unrecognized casualties of war. We wish the pilot be safely returned with dignity as accorded to prisoners of war and to human beings in general,” Khaliq said.
Following the attack on an a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, which killed 40 jawans, relations between India and Pakistan have remained tense. On Tuesday, India mounted an IAF air strike on an alleged terror training camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) in Pakistan’s Balakot. JeM is also the terror group that claimed responsibility for the dastardly attack on Pulwama.
Tuesday’s strike resulted in several military skirmishes with both Pakistan and Indian military forces using aircrafts to breach the others’ airspace. On Wednesday, Pakistan announced that it had in its custody an IAF pilot that had been captured after they downed an IAF aircraft with India claiming it too had downed an Pakistan Mig-16.
Now with wing commander Abhinandan’s return to India scheduled for Friday, citizens of both the neighbouring countries have taken to social media to express resistance to war using hashtags like #SayNoToWar and #MakeChaiNotWar.
“I live near the border and I can tell you,those who live at the border do not want cross-border violence,” said Farooq Tariq, spokesperson for the Awami Workers Party. According to Tariq, the usual war hysteria that exists in times of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan were somewhat dissipated this time.
“Unlike in 1965 when this sort of warmongering was at its peak, this time the tensions did not bring a surge in so called ‘nationalist’ instinct,” Tariq said. He added that this was good since it meant people were finally focusing on real issues like. He also felt that the pressure created by civil society regarding the humane treatment and release of the captured IAF pilot could be in part responsible for Abhinandan’s release.
“The real issues that people of Pakistan face are inflation, poverty and social decay in Pakistan. Will war help that?No,” Tariq said, adding that war will only end up hurting both India and Pakistan.