LAHORE (Web Desk) – Last week, the family of Karachi-based Inayat Ali was denied accommodation in the hotels of the Bhendi Bazaar area of Mumbai.
The family visited 40 hotels, but none of them welcomed them because the family did not possess the draconian Form C.
The news may have sparked suitable outrage among the public, but one man decided to take a stand.
Iqbal Latif, who runs 26 franchises of international food outlet Dunkin Donut in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar, took a step to show how Pakistanis welcome their neighbours, which also emulates Gandhi’s teachings.
In the next few hours, the food outlets had banners with an announcement offering free meals to any Indians visiting Pakistan on a short-term visa. The banner was inscribed with Indian and Pakistani flags as well. The offer went into effect from Friday last week.
“I felt bad when I saw this that family had to spend part of [the] night [on a] footpath near a police station and another part at a pavement at the railway station,” shared Latif.
“It’s not a big deal, but an effort to invoke the teachings of Gandhi Ji who preached love and coexistence all his life,” Mr Latif told a Pakistan daily Dawn by phone from London.
The response to Latif’s initiative was overwhelmingly positive.
“We served 2,432 people in Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore. They all loved it,” Latif revealed.
Sales went up by 30 per cent since the day the offer went into effect.
On the first day of the offer, 17 meals were served to Indians in a Dunkin Donut outlet in the Diplomatic Enclave of Islamabad.
“This is the place where US State Secretary John Kerry took breakfast last year. But we feel great honour [in hosting our] Indian friends,” said Mr Latif.
Elsewhere in Lahore and Peshawar, no Indian visited to avail a free meal.
“We’re waiting to treat Indians with a big heart and a big smile,” said Tehmina, who works at the Liberty Market outlet in Lahore. She shared that a couple of passersby glanced at the poster and waved a high five at the staff.
Mr Latif is elated by the response to the offer, and sees it as vital for promoting love among the people of Pakistan and India. He says he was slightly apprehensive about the reaction in Peshawar to the display of the Indian flag, but visitors and passersby waved at the staff, a sign of approval.
“Where is the hate and stone throwing of Shiv Sena? Only a degenerated mind does it. We need to tell Shiv to grow up. Love conquers all,” he added.
Though the Pakistani and Indian public are more willing to be friends, states and armies on either side don’t see eye to eye and often hit the headlines for trading shells and accusations at borders and international forums.
On Saturday, intelligence reports were in the media that India intelligence RAW could target Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Jamaatud Dawa head Hafiz Saeed.
Earlier last week, former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri was the target of threats from hardliner Shiv Sena activists on October 12 in Mumbai ahead his book launch, while the host, Sudhera Kulkarni, was painted black.
And Shiv Sena hurled threats, which resulted in the cancellation of the planned performance of Ghazal legend Ghulam Ali in Mumbai on October 8.
Vajee Vee, an Indian commentator, says it is the scar that was left by “Kasab and ISI post-Mumbai serial blasts”.
Latif, however, says his pro-peace and amity initiative has not met with any interference by any Pakistani intelligence agency.
“No ISI, no intelligence came to us to ask about the display of the Indian flag,” he said. He added that some of his friends in the army even called him to appreciate his gesture.
He says Pakistan has shown its love for Indians.
“Across the border, there is no hate. We all love India. 1.4 billion people love each other. We are only marginalised by a few hate mongers on both sides. I propose such initiatives on the people-to-people level [to] help make bridges,” he said, adding that both Pakistan and India are nuclear countries that cannot afford strained relations.
“I suggest that Indian food chains put this (offer) on display in India, and see if [their] business goes up or drops.”