British Columbia

India-Pakistan conflict grips Metro Vancouver communities

Calls for peace are being made by Indian and Pakistani community leaders in the Lower Mainland, as tensions between between the two countries reach heights not seen in decades.

Calls for peace raised by Indian and Pakistani community leaders in the Lower Mainland

Pakistani protesters hold placards during an anti-Indian protest in Peshawar on Feb. 26, 2019, following the Indian Air Force (IAF) strike launched on a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) camp at Balakot. Pakistan rejected India's claim that it killed many militants in the air strike, branding it "self serving, reckless and fictitious." (Abdul Majeed/AFP/Getty Images)

Saima Naz is trying to wait patiently for her father to come home from Pakistan — but she can't help but worry.

"It's pretty scary," she told CBC News. "He's been there since early January ... he's very scared, because he's lived through war before."

Naz and her family immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in the 1980s. Every so often, they'll travel back. And on a recent outing, her father, Abdul, was traveling through the country when tensions between Pakistan and neighbouring India erupted, reaching heights not seen in decades.

Saima Naz says her father, Abdul, left for Pakistan in January to visit siblings. The family is now concerned for his well-being following a series of military conflicts between Pakistan and India. (Saima Naz/Facebook)

More than 40 Indian parliamentary soldiers were killed in an attack that a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, claimed responsibility for. Military action between the two countries has escalated in the weeks since, forcing the cancellation of numerous flights to and from the region and stoking worldwide fears of a war between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

For people like Naz concerned for the safety and well-being of friends and family overseas, there's an overwhelming feeling of helplessness — and hope for a peaceful resolution.

Cloudy information

"Most of the people [here], they still have their families back home," said Sameer Kaushal, a local radio host and reporter. "[Residents here] usually go back to their home or their village every year."

Kaushal works for the Surrey-based South Asian broadcaster, Red FM. Since the conflict, he says false information circulating online — including fake videos — have fuelled tensions between the two countries, and confused people watching from afar.

Sameer Kaushal clears up fake news reports on Red FM — a South Asian broadcaster based out of Surrey, B.C. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The broadcaster is one of several in the Lower Mainland working to set the record straight.

"On social media right now, they are playing games," said Kaushal, referring to fake news articles. "People [here are aware], so they are clearing those things up with us and with other media as well."

Tensions and harmony

Kaushal says for the most part, there has been communal harmony between members of the local Indian and Pakistani communities. However, some local politicians are warning against growing nationalism within the Indo-Canadian community.

In an op-ed written by Rachna Singh published in the Indo-Canadian Voice, the Surrey-Green Timbers MLA said divisions within the local community are a matter of "great concern."

Singh was one of several community leaders attending a vigil at Laxmi Narayan Temple in Surrey, following the Feb. 14 attack where she said several speakers attempted to "instigate the congregation against Pakistan."

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh says she was shouted at during the vigil. She says tensions have simmered in the days since. (CBC)

She said several speakers advocating for peace were shouted at and a group of attendees chanted "blood for blood."

"We know the historic tensions happening in that region," she said in Victoria on Wednesday. "My major concern is — those tensions should not flow into other communities. Here we are living together ... both our communities live very, very peacefully."

A leader at the congregation told CBC News that it was only a small number of people at the event that were calling "for revenge," but the community at large is hoping for a peaceful resolution.

Singh said she's witnessed tensions simmer in the days since.

Tensions flared inside this temple at a vigil following the Feb. 14 attack. Congregation leaders said a small group of passionate attendees were calling for revenge against Pakistan, but the congregation as a whole is advocating for a peaceful resolution, (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Saying no to war

Saima Naz, who is also a member of the Pakistan Canadian Cultural Association, says many leaders in the community are using their position to advocate for peace — and the overwhelming sentiment has been one of embracing similarities between the two communities, not differences.

"Our kids go to the same schools. We share meals together. We work together, and I think being in Canada it really helps you understand that you can have differences and have different points of view — but still coexist in a very loving manner."

Naz says she'll be one of many members from both communities attending a rally in Surrey this weekend advocating for a peaceful end to the conflict.

"I think we'll set the tone for what's happening back in India and Pakistan."