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Peace is just a cellphone call away

Karachi, Nov. 28: India is the flavour of the peace season in this port city of Pakistan.

At Karachi's Gurumandir roundabout, facing Qaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's mausoleum, a banner screams 'Bharat-Pak dosti, waqt ki zaroorat'.

A few steps ahead, another hoarding says 'Dil to ek hai'. It is Paktel's invitation to mobile subscribers to call up their relatives in India at economical rates and comes with a range of free SMSs.

Other mobile-service providers like Mobilink, Instaphone and U-fone are not far behind in offering sops to subscribers. 'Talking to your Indian relatives is no longer a problem. Just load it and dial it,' claims one.

Another advises subscribers to be in constant touch with Indian relatives through SMS. 'It is cheap and fast,' the ad says.

The port city is virtually awash with banners and posters that carry messages of peace. Altaf Hussain's Mohajir Quami Movement is most vocal. Hussain is in exile in London but his followers here have splashed the town with his call for closer ties with India.

The six-party opposition alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Ammal (MMA) has little problems with Altaf's call.

'It is no longer a debate whether we should have good ties with our neighbours or not. It is just a matter of modalities of working out a road map for peace,' said Maulana Fazlur Rahman, a leader from the Jamiat-e-Ulema, part of the MMA.

Students are equally upbeat. Maliha Shahid, a 23-year-old final-year MBA student, visited New Delhi's National Institute of Foreign Trade all alone to present a paper this week.

In the evenings, she took Delhi Transport Corporation buses to the handicraft centres of Dilli Haat and Janpath's Cottage Emporium. 'Can I work in India after completing my MBA' she asks with a smile.

At Karachi University and the National Institute of Public Administration, scholars are discussing the future scenario.

'India has such good faculties in engineering, medicine, management. The government of India should offer some fellowships for our students,' says Atiq Ahmad, a professor of economics.

His views are endorsed by a Grade-20 bureaucrat (on a par with India's joint secretary rank).

'The situation in the West is getting worse for our students. Perhaps, India can fill that void,' he says, referring to the post-9/11 restrictions in the US.

Newspapers and columnists, too, have turned peaceniks. Even the hawkish Jung, Ummat, Jasarat and other radical Urdu dailies ask Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to 'do more' to accelerate the peace process. Some, though, ask if he is the right man to deliver peace.

Visitors at Jinnah's mausoleum are few ' most are in Karachi for the first time.

One of them, Mohammad Wasim, a taxi driver from Multan, says with an air of authority: 'Qaid (Jinnah) would have liked that (peace).'

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