When 24-year-old Aliya Harir left her home in
Islamabad, Pakistan, for India on September 27,
tensions between the neighbouring nuclear-armed
countries were running high.
A little over a week earlier, 19 Indian soldiers had
been killed in an attack in Uri in Indian-
administered Kashmir. India had accused Pakistan
of being behind the attack, and social media
platforms had become virtual battlegrounds as
Indians and Pakistanis took to Facebook and
Twitter to vent.
But Aliya, who heads a cross-border initiative
called Aaghaz-e-Dosti (Beginning of Friendship)
and was travelling with 18 other girls to a peace
conference in the Indian city of Chandigarh, was
“I assured them nothing would happen,” she says,
referring to the concerned parents of the girls she
was travelling with.
When, on September 29, India claimed to have
carried out retaliatory attacks on the Pakistani side
of the disputed Kashmir region, and talk of war
escalated, Aliya remained confident.
“Every Indian I interacted with was friendly and
warm despite [the] political tensions, divisions and
constructed hatred,” she explained by phone from
Islamabad, where she returned on October 3.
The tensions between the two countries have
escalated as anti-India protests have taken place
in Indian-administered Kashmir, where more than
90 people have been killed and thousands have
been injured by the security forces over the past
The two countries have fought three wars over
Kashmir, which both claim in full but control in
New Delhi has accused Islamabad of fomenting the
current unrest. Pakistan denies the charge, while
accusing India of committing human rights abuses
in the region.
Countering the nationalistic shouting match
Amid the din of nationalistic rhetoric, those voices
supporting peace seem to have been drowned out.
“I think the situation may be the worst since [the]
1999 Kargil war [which the two countries fought in
Kashmir],” says Beena Sarvar, a US-based
Pakistani peace advocate.
She has been leading Aman Ki Asha [meaning
peace] – a joint India-Pakistan media campaign –
since 2010. It aims to promote peace between the
two countries but Beena acknowledges that it can
be a struggle.