Sixty-nine years ago, India and Pakistan decided to part ways. Lines were drawn on land, water and even in the sky. The two countries took different political turns. Their relations saw many ups and downs. There have been several instances of open conflicts. There have been instances where relations almost reached a dead end. But beyond politics, beyond the control of minds, remain hearts that are still full of love and hope.

Following every political clash, the youth and civil societies in both countries have attempted to rekindle the hopes. And each time, they managed to win hearts by highlighting the love and desire for peace that lies in most people’s souls. The average Indian and Pakistani have the same secret desire to cross the border, at least once. They want to see what people on the other side eat, how they talk, what they look like and how they think.

And going by what people say – those who are fortunate enough to have visited the other side – first-time cross-border visitors are likely to be quite ‘disappointed’ because it is the same on the other side. We share a common history, a common language (even slang), a common culture and even common desires. With a huge sense of pride, the third generation will narrate how their grandparents had crossed the border. The images of the past, the nostalgia are still being invoked after 69 years, after all the political clashes and fluctuating relations.

This shows the common desire to build strong ties of friendship and brotherhood. India and Pakistan even have the same political, economic and social challenges to fight. So why keep the falsely constructed distance?

I experienced this firsthand a couple of weeks back while visiting Nepal to attend the Religious Youth Service (RYS2016) event. Representatives from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Vietnam, Malaysia, Russia, Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates all gathered to talk about peace.

The only Indian delegate was Mayank Karnani, and there were five of us Pakistanis. The next day, we traveled to Pokhara where our event was being held, and at the destination I learnt that Mayank and I would be roommates over the next week.

During those seven days, we realized that our language and culture were similar. During the Indo-Pak cricket match on March 19, Tahira (another Pakistani colleague) supported India because she wanted Mayank not to feel lonely.

On our last evening in Pokhara, there was a cultural night. After the host country Nepal’s presentation, Pakistan’s delegation started with the national anthem and performed two popular songs, which rocked the floor. We started with ‘Laal Meri’ by Runa Laila and dedicated the song to all of South Asia. Bangladeshi delegates were surprised to learn about Runa Laila’s huge fan following among Pakistanis. We then performed ‘Ho-Jamalo’ by Shazia Khushk – and were shocked to learn that Indians were also her fans, and that Indians and Bangladeshis know how to do the Sindhi Jhoomar dance. And of course everyone knows the Luddi dance.

The next performance was by Mayank from India. As the only delegate from his country, he started singing the Indian national anthem but we felt it didn’t look good with only one person singing it on the stage.

So the Pakistani delegation decided to join him on the stage, most of us familiar with the Indian national anthem thanks to Bollywood. Our gesture surprised everyone and we got huge applause for taking care of our Indian friend. No one had expected it since people generally think that all of us see each other as enemies, due to the media.

Later, we all sat down together and had another long discussion on how the youth can interact and learn about the softer and “real” side of each other. We came to the conclusion that we have to start a youth campaign in the entire SAARC region.

Our first target will be the youth of India and Pakistan and later we will include all the other nationalities. Our only aim is to know the real and peaceful side of people in each nation and start a learning process from each other. Adopting good and positive things can lead all of South Asia towards another level of prosperity.

Despite so many differences, the European Union can stay together; so why not a South Asian Union? Why not peace, education and health for all of us? Let the only barriers be political ones because, socially and culturally, there are no barriers. These barriers have been constructed and have to be demolished. Let’s start #AmanKaRasta#AmanKaSafar.