During the last days of our exchange program in Islamabad, one of my Pakistani counterparts, Delawar Jan, asked me,” You said you really hated Pakistanis when you were in Afghanistan. Where did all this hate come from?”
For a moment, I was silent and finally words came out.
“I was born to hate Pakistanis.” He smiled at me and said, “It’s good now you don’t.”
I am from a remote area called Sar-e-Pul which was part of Jawzjan province years ago. Now, it is separate province. I was selected, along with 10 other young journalists from different provinces of Afghanistan to go to Islamabad and meet a group of Pakistani journalists. A few months ago, I had applied for another three-month scholarship in Pakistan and was shortlisted for it. However, with my pessimism about Pakistanis and sense of hatred, I didn’t provide them final documents to get into the program.
On May 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm, I received an email from one of my best friends, who was also my boss for several years, about this very FES Afghan-Pak Journalists Exchange Program. This was 10 minutes before the deadline. I saw the application links were for Pakistani journalists and so I started ‘googling’ for the Afghan journalists application but couldn’t find it.
I called one of my friends in Khost province who is working with Mediothek for help. He said he was out of office and will send me the application once he returned to work.
I finally received the application form from Mediothek’s main office in Kabul via email from a respectful and kind man who told me I should complete the application and send it by tomorrow morning. But I completed it and sent it within an hour. After several days, I shockingly found out that I was selected for the exchange program. I was happy but still nervous about going to Pakistan. But I decided to go this time for the program. My family also told me to visit Pakistani and see it real life.
After a few days of staying in Kabul and learning about Pakistan, my thinking had already changed. I learned many things. Pakistan after all didn’t seem as bad as as I had always thought while growing up. We had guests speakers who talked about Pakistani culture and its 50 years of journalistic background. Every word that said about Pakistan was positive. I thought they were doing so as they were paid by Pakistanis.
During the last days in Afghanistan, when we visited the Pakistani ambassador in Afghanistan, he was quite open to us and answered all questions with smiles. It was then, for the first time, I accepted that I had misunderstandings about Pakistan.
He shared with us facts about Pak-Afghan relations that I had never heard. This was all in my country. Things got better when I went to Pakistan.
The first day we reached Bara Gali – one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life – we met Pakistani friends from different parts of the country. My Afghan fellows were tired because of the long flights and went to rest. But I came to talk to my Pakistani counterparts. They offered me to join them at trekking. First I wasn’t interested, but when I saw their enthusiasm and friendliness, which reminded me of my childhood picnics with my school mates, I readily accepted the offer.
There, I enjoyed interacting with them, especially Ms Beenish for bringing different subjects of my interest about Afghans, so I wouldn’t feel alone being the only Afghan joining them at the time.
Seems like I have thousands of memories from each one of them being so kind to us.
I remember Ms Ayesha Hasan, who interviewed me for a report in her newspaper, on our first day in Bara Gali. Mr Haris, who recited a number Persian poems from different Persian poets. I could say if he was better than me in sense of loving and memorizing Persian poems.
One thing that made me very happy was the invitation from one of my Pakistani counterparts, Ms Sundus Rasheed, to a concert. It was a big concert with young singers and great audience. We all loved being in the front row at the concert, especially left empty for us. I watched and enjoyed the live concert for the first time in my life.
Ms Rasheed also took me to the office of Pakistan’s largest English daily newspaper, Dawn, so I can freely look over Pakistani newspapers for headlines about Afghanistan in Pakistani media. When I got to the archives, I met someone special – Mr Ramzan Ali – the librarian. He was a man of discipline. Everything in place- newspapers were archived by alphabets. He made me feel as if I was at my own office. I asked him for lots of files. When I asked him if I could take photos of the headlines, he smiled and said, “When it is your office, you can do whatever you want,”
I am not comparing it but I remember once being punched in my face in my country while taking photos.
Friendship, kindness, good behavior, support, humility and honesty – these were all things I found in my Pakistani counterparts. Looking at the photos and recalling the good memories – every minute reminds me of their smiles and kindness.
I urge the media from both countries to let us, the people, decide who is the enemy and who is the friend. Do not feed us with enmity from the day when we are born, instead, I request them to promote a culture of peace and friendship.