Fakhar Zaman, noted Punjabi writer-politician from Pakistan, founded World Punjabi Congress (WPC) to bring together two Punjabs and promote the divided region's culture at the height of India-Pakistan tension during the Siachen crisis in 1984. Zaman, a key aide to late former Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto and the only Pakistani to receive Indian Punjab's Shiromani Sahitik Award, spoke to Sameer Arshad about the need for greater cultural exchanges to bridge the India-Pakistan gulf:
How important are the two Punjabs to the India-Pakistan peace project?
The key to improving ties lies in greater exchanges between the two Punjabs. There are around 110 million Punjabis on the either side of the border and a whopping 65 per cent Pakistanis speak Punjabi. The focus on shared culture and heritage could be a vital binding force between the two Punjabs and eventually the two countries. WPC has so far organised 24 international conferences in India, Pakistan and across the world with the emphasis on improving the ties between the two countries as well as promoting Punjabi language, culture and the shared Sufi heritage.
How difficult has the road been so far?
We've made a historical contribution but faced difficulties as well. I've been under the fanatical threat and my house in Lahore was attacked in 2001. The organisation has made a historical contribution in bringing the two countries together starting with its foundation in Lahore in 1984, which didn't go down well with the fanatics. The conference came in the backdrop of the Siachen conflict. WPC played a prominent role in promoting good relations when it organised a conference in 1986, even when the rapprochement seemed difficult.
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