MOMIN IFTIKHAR Equipped with unprecedented tools of mass media, two reputed publication houses of India and Pakistan have embarked upon building an environ of peace at a time when bilateral relations of the two neighbours are touching a new nadir. One wishes the two publication houses Godspeed in their endeavours to bring peace to a region when proxy war is ravaging Baluchistan and FATA regions, and bomb blasts have acquired a sickening frequency in blood splattered cities of Pakistan. This is the age of information where media plays a major role in shaping opinions and trends. Given a resolve, the venture can prove useful in breaking the negative momentum that has seized diplomatic interaction of the two South Asian nuclear armed neighbours; after all a thousand miles journey begins with a single step. The potential for the Asha campaign, given the dismal state of Indo-Pak relations at the time of its launch, could not have been better. The cycle of coercive diplomacy that started with the 2001 Indian Parliament attack and launch of Operation Parakram (December 2001 to October 2002) gave way to the resumption of the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP) in 2004. The CDP was already sputtering when the Mumbai terror attack materialised but now effectively stands stalled. Moreover, the Sharm El-Sheikh Declaration, whereby the Indian premier announced to resume the peace process by detaching it from terrorism has been scuttled due to ingrained opposition by the Indian establishment. The vacuum has been exploited by India to notch up the hostile hysteria at home. The Indian media is at the forefront of fanning the fires of acrimony and hatred. Five years of sustained investment in the dialogue with India seems to have evaporated into thin air. So a campaign like Aman ki Asha should be welcome with open arms but experience has taught us to be circumspect, tempering euphoria with a strong dose of caution. Asha is no novelty. Many similarly noble initiatives have preceded it; candle light vigils on the Independence Day at the Wagah Border being one such regular practice. Nevertheless, the lack of enthusiasm towards the current venture is explainable because similar efforts in the past have been lacking in sincerity; their manifest motivation being to score brownie points and provide a smoke screen to befuddle public opinion on core issues. Indian media, with a few exceptions, is well wedded to the Indian foreign policy agenda and generally mirrors the hostile attitude of the hardline establishment. The Times of India, despite on the forefront of the Asha campaign, is no exception. A front page item: US-Pakistan bickering gets ugly as ISI fingers American diplomats appearing in The Times on January 09, 2010 is sheer and unvarnished propaganda and should prove instructive in explaining the point. Appearance of such vitriolic items in the Indian press is routine but its appearance in the flag bearer of the Aman ki Asha is heartbreaking; it is sheer hypocrisy. Such duplicity only steels the hardliners and discourages the peaceniks in Pakistan. The Times would do well to match intent with action or the Asha campaign runs the risk of turning into a laughing stock. It is strange, though, that the Asha campaigns launch coincided with the jingoistic statements by the India army chief who sought to find space for conventional war with Pakistan even in the presence of a credible nuclear deterrence. At a time when the Pak army is dismantling the terror structure on its western borders, the Indian army chief attempted to cause distraction by outlining the possibility of aggression on the countrys eastern flank. Many analysts translated such rhetoric to an Indian desire to facilitate operations for the anti-state terrorists and miscreants, who are presently on the run in Balochistan and FATA, and are believed to have links with the Indian 'footprint in Afghanistan. Such perceptions are held by a wide cross section of Pakistanis and the two media organisations would do well to join efforts in removing the root causes of such endemic mistrust. The Times does not seem to be the only Indian media agency seeking to bring about Indo-Pak dtente. A three-day India Pakistan Conference (January 10-12) arranged by a consortium of Indian fora and participated by speakers from India, Pakistan and IHK seeks to address vital issues central to the theme of promoting peace between the two countries. The host forum, India International Centre has titled the gathering as India-Pakistan Conference: A Road Map towards Peace. But before one gets carried away by euphoria a look at the titles planned for the discussion can prove downright sobering. Issue of Autonomy: Kashmir and Baluchistan is one such subject that was scheduled for the discussion on January 11. How the non-existent question of autonomy for Baluchistan could be discussed under the banner of a seminar seeking a road map for peace involving India and Pakistan is an enigma to most but routine for those used to doublespeak and spin doctoring preached in the Indian media and think tanks. The media in India has a role cut out for it in contributing to the cause of peace and harmony in the subcontinent. Given this context campaigns like Aman ki Asha and seminars viz A Road Map towards Peace are laudable efforts which can prove instrumental in creating an urge for peace and promoting trust. For such efforts to succeed, honesty and sincerity are the cornerstones. If such ostensibly noble ventures only hide intent to perpetuate hostility and ill will, then it truly reflects a sad state of affairs in need of a substantive correction. The writer is a freelance columnist.