By Moayyed Jafri
For some years now, peace activists have been converging at Wagha border in order to jointly commemorate Pakistan and India's Independence Days, Aug 14th and 15th respectively.
This year, a peace march titled Aman ke Badhte Qadam, organised by activists in both countries (with marchers having come from Mumbai and Karachi to Amritsar and Lahore) coincided with peace activities organised by the South Asia Free Media Association.
The freedom to rise above political and ideological differences and build a better future for people on both sides of the border: that is the true essence of Independence that needs to be practiced by India and Pakistan. And this was the message that participants stressed, at peace conferences held simultaneously in Pakistan and India to commemorate both countries' Independence Days.
These activities featured seminars and discussion forums at Amritsar and Lahore organised by the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) in collaboration with the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch and Folklore Research Academy of India. The earlier plan of a musical evening at Wagha border on the night of Aug 14th was cancelled in deference to the deaths and destruction caused by the devastating floods in Pakistan and to a lesser extent across the border in India's Ladakh area.
A 42-member delegation from Pakistan, comprising members of civil society, political activists, parliamentarians and journalists, organised by SAFMA and South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-Pk), left for India to participate in the peace conference in Amritsar. As they crossed Wagha border on 13th August (after many hiccups including literally last minute visas), civil society and NGO activists gathered at Wagha to see them off and shower rose petals on them.
Vinod Sharma, SAFMA India President and General Secretary Satish Jacob had arrived a day earlier in Pakistan. Now they escorted the Pakistani delegates to India. What was clear on both sides was a commitment to celebrating and sharing each others' happiness and understanding each other better,
Prominent among SAFMA delegation were PPP Punjab Acting President Sami Ullah Khan, PPP parliamentarian Azma Zahid Bukhari, television journalists Iftikhar Ahmad, Farah Warriach, Khalid Farooqi and Ahmed Waleed, SAP-Pk delegates included prominent lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, his wife Bushra Aitzaz, Iqbal Haider and SAP-Pk director Muhammad Tahseen.
At a seminar titled 'Celebrating Freedom and Commemorating Friendship', organised by SAP-Pk for Aman ke Badhte Qadam, former President Supreme Court Bar Association Aitzaz Ahsan stressed that the leadership of both countries and the social notables "should, under no circumstances, suspend the dialogue process. Dialogue is the only way forward."
"Both countries should open trade, relax visa restrictions and allow their people to interact with each other at the maximum," said PPP's Sami Ullah Khan. He added that peace between the two countries without resolving the Kashmir issue was not possible. "The leadership of both countries should sit together and find an amicable solution."
Prominent Jang and Geo TV journalist Iftikhar Ahmed stressed the need to bridge the communication gap through progressive dialogue at all levels, rather than creating tensions and boosting defense budget witch adversely affects the people.
At a seminar titled, "Pakistan in South Asian Context" organised by SAFMA in Lahore a day before the Pakistani delegation's departure, Secretary General SAFMA Imtiaz Alam and SAFMA India President Vinod Sharma said that the security establishments in Pakistan and India had never allowed a political peace process to mature. "Both countries are becoming security states rather than national states because of the dearth of bilateral political understanding and conformity," they said.
"Power is clearly concentrated in the hands of the military instead of the peoples' representatives," said Imtiaz Alam, expressing his disappointment that SAFMA was not allowed to stage a candlelight vigil at the Wagha border.
At a press conference on August 15th, Imtiaz Alam and Vinod Sharma expressed grief at the massive damage caused by the flood. 'This is one of the worst disasters the region has ever witnessed," said Sharma. "Yet such calamities also serve as opportunities to strengthen bonds between neighboring countries through concern and support."
Sharma added that Aman ki Asha, the joint peace project of the Jang Group and The Times of India Group, is a beacon of light for all those looking to contribute for better relations between the two countries. "The Times of India should use this platform to launch a fund-raising campaign in India for the millions affected by Pakistani flood," he said.
"India and Pakistan should understand the gravity of the situation and bury their differences. We need to work together for the relief of the millions affected by this catastrophe, by allowing trade of essential food items such as vegetables and fruits at least," said Vinod Sharma. He urged the Indian government to increase its offer of five million dollars for flood relief to Pakistan.
Later that day, SAP-Pk representatives returning from India held a seminar in which they advocated that the governments of India and Pakistan should abolish visa restrictions to facilitate people from both sides. "Peace in the region can only be ensured if people-to-people contact is restored," they stressed.
"It would be a very good gesture from India if its army offered to work with Pakistan for flood relief," suggested one speaker.
Prominent among the speakers were I.A. Rehman, M. Tasheen, Sandeep Panday, Monica Wahi, Gurdiyal Singh Sheetal, Feroze M, Mazhar Hussain, Sheema Kermani, Darshan Singh, Samina Khan, and Farzana Mumtaz.
Speakers suggested that the governments of both India and Pakistan should engage half of their forces in the flood-hit areas. They also called for the lifting of barriers that stand as a hurdle for trade ties, impeding the prosperity of the people of both countries.
Pakistan-India flood relief committee formed
A joint Pakistan-India flood relief committee was formed in Lahore on August 15, by Indian and Pakistani participants of the peace march Aman ke Badhe Qadam met. Participants of the meeting, held at the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-Pk) office, plan to mobilise doctors to help those affected by the floods in both countries. The Indian and Pakistani members of SAP-Pk also launched a fund raising campaign for flood relief.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
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