It was a game changer, it was an extensive exposure, it was as real start of my career, it was my first international traveling as well, and in fact I boarded a plane for the first time. Though it look awkward for a journalist but this is also fact that in Pakistan no such traveling opportunities for journalist working in newsroom, while reporters and other field journalist has lot and now anchors are on center stage of all journalism world in Pakistan. Under this kind of situation, East-west center came to rescue us with unique journalist exchange programme between Pakistan and India. It was really a wishful thinking by East-west center to bring Pakistan and Indian journalist close and work together on some common issues, that was excellent in nature and gained much out of it.
It was February 2015 when my director news informed me that East-West center is starting journalist exchange with India and you should go to grab this opportunity. When I replied in positive, he forwards a mail of Susan Kreifels which suggested that I have to give three story ideas to pursue in this this visit once I selected. I pitched three story ideas to pursue during my ten days stay in India. One of my Idea was to learn ‘’How India eradicated Polio’’ as Pakistan is still struggling in this regard. Working on Polio eradication is my personal passion as well. This idea was happily approved by East-West center to pursue. Visa application to India for a Pakistani is a serious business a really serious one. A plethora of papers were attached with the application including an invitation from East-West center USA and an Indian host from Manorama media group. Though Visa fee is as low as Rs 100 only but long wait for visa need some real patience. Finally we were awarded 10 days visa for two cities Delhi and Mumbai.
Travel date was 7th of September 2015 a day after when Pakistan celebrated golden jubilee of victory of 1965 war between Pakistan and India. I was very excited to touch that land from where my grandparents migrated to Pakistan and I had just heard fantasy like stories of their life in Indian Punjab before partition in 1947. This was my first ever foreign travel and off course by air as well. Before my travel my host from MMTV Mr. TJ Sreelal helped me lot to explore people who could be helpful in my story, so everyone was lined up to talk before my landing on Delhi’s Indra Gandhi airport. After landing and coming out from airport, contacting our taxi driver was a job as we dint had local phone or currency. My taxi wala who was supposed to stand in arrival lounge with our names was missing. We decided to lend a cell phone from an Indian and make a call to Sreelal. I asked a young man to help me calling; he was agreeing to give his cell phone. I just as courtesy told him that we travelled from Lahore, just landed and we have no local sim card that’s why we asked you to help. As soon as he knows that we are Pakistani he hold his hand back and refused to give us his cell phone. His that was reaction was very much obvious as Pakistan and India are “enjoying” very special relation where only common emotion is hate. That young man was so kind to offered us 20 Indian rupees to make call from pay phone booth that we did to call our cab driver.
Our Host media organization was from Kerala state while we were hosted in Delhi by them. As we reached to MMTV office, Mr. sreelal among other staff welcomed us with open arm and hearts, booked room in a hotel located in old Delhi’s PahaarGanj area near Delhi Railway station. Delhi press club was the place we brought first for lunch and meet some Indian journo. Delhi press club is on Raisina Road where hundreds journalists visit to have meal and chit chat daily as in Pakistan. Unlike Pakistan there were no footprints of 65 war anniversary were seen in Delhi but COAS Gen Raheel statement regarding Pak India relation and cold start doctrine was under discussion.
Next morning I started my professional work and interviewed members from WHO, Rotary and Gate foundations and discussed their role and efforts to eradicate polio from India. Visiting Mumbai was most excited part as I had to visit Indian news channel Times Now and this became most fruitful part of my exchange proggrame. I and my videographer Rizwan went to see Arnab Goswami then president and editor in chief of Times Now. He warmly welcomed us and briefed us all kind of technical and editorial working of the channel and we both agreed on future cooperation among us professionally. Soon after I came back from India, a mute duff and dumb girl Geeta who was stayed in Pakistan’s Edhi home in Karachi for more than decade set to go home back to India. This was the story where my cross boarder reporting started and cross border cooperation among news channel started as well. I fed Times Now from searching her parents in India to her departure from Karachi to Delhi. This experience went well and our cross border cooperation bond turned stronger. Meanwhile T20 cricket world cup held in India in 2016. We decided to get benefit of this exchange and cross border cooperation so we did not sent our own reporter to India and got full assistance from our Indian friends and this cooperation is still intact and we are getting benefits from it mutually. Just one visit under this exchange enabled me to build strong bridge with my Indian journalist friends. This sort of cooperation proved itself right and fruitful when Indian foreign minister visited Islamabad and Indian PM landed in Lahore as he was on way back from Kabul in December last year.
A year later East-West center invited me as panelist to share my experience of cross boarder reporting in International media conference Delhi where I met more Indian journalist and my cross boarder experience turned in mature relationship with Indian journalist and news channels. This cooperation is working purely on voluntary basis.
An excitement was on full swing when I received a mail from Susan to invite me to Colombo for Pak India journalist exchange dialogue. This was a great occasion to meet all Indian and Pakistani participants of this exchange programme which was funded by US embassy Islamabad and Ms Elizabeth lee of US embassy was also present in Colombo to make this week long dialogue a success along with Susan Kreifels and Shabbir Cheema. This dialogue started on 30th November and concluded on 4th December 2016 with the help of Sri Lankan journalist Dilrukhshi and Amantha.
Staying in Colombo with Indian journalist from various media organizations was a real treat for a person like me who is all the way student of journalism. I tried hard to learn from the experience of all senior fellows from India and discussion with Jyoti Kamal from CNN news 18 and DivyaMutto of ND TV was a treat. We learned a lot from each other’s prospective. Passions broke in to tears when our trainer of investigative peace journalism Mr Stephen Franklin played national anthem of Pakistan and India. Every one stood up to honor it. Every one of us was agree to play his role to bring peace among both nations and even pledged to play their part in this regard. Our exchange partner from MMTV shared with us that how our singer UstadGhulam Ali Khan is applauded in Kerala. It was also good news to know that several music clubs are running in the name of UstadGhulam Ali Khan and late Mehdi Hasan. We also decided to report this story of for our future cross boarder reporting project in near future and use it as music diplomacy with the message that we can fence our boarders but can’t stop our voices to cross it. There was a super emotional moments when we are about to depart from Colombo after a short stay. Indian friends were bidding us farewell with tears in eyes and we were moving away from them with heavy hearts.