Jan 6, 2010

Joint venture for peace

Iqbal Haider

In the most gloomy atmosphere around us in Pakistan, we had no reason to celebrate New Year's Eve. The morning of Jan 1, 2010, however, gave us a pleasant surprise when we read that the editors of the Jang group in Pakistan and of the Times of India group have taken a bold initiative to join hands for promotion of peace, economic prosperity, education and health much needed by the one-and-half-billion people of our two countries.

This was not the only good news on Jan 1. The civil society in Pakistan, realising the importance of peace had also observed a solidarity day under the banner of "Aman Ittehad" and took out rallies in more than 35 cities of Pakistan on Jan 1. Despite a hartaal in Sindh and fear of the terrorists, the peace rallies all over Pakistan were well attended by exuberant citizens from all walks of life. These successful demonstrations once again vindicated the burning desire of the people for peace.

I can state with confidence that the ordinary people of India equally desire peace with the same keenness, desire and sprit. It is for this reason that supporters of peace in India have once again convened a conference in New Delhi on Jan 10 in search of "A Road Map Towards Peace." We greatly appreciate this initiative of the intellectuals, political leaders, human right activists, NGOs, journalists and people from different walks of life, including Mr I K Gujral, former prime minister of India and Kuldip Nayar, a former member of the Rajya Sabha, who are two of the hosts of this conference.

The vast majority of the people do agree that war is not the solution. Over the past 62 years, the three wars with India and two battles of Siachen in 1987 and Kargil in 1999 could not help in resolving any issue. The untimely and unwarranted recent expressions of persons like Gen Deepak Kapoor about his determination to prepare for "two-front war" with China and Pakistan and deal with asymmetric and fourth-generation warfare, enhance strategic reach and joint operations with the air force and navy, etc., do cause alarm and promote a war of words between the generals of the two countries.

Pakistan is already at an unending war for the past over three years, with the worst enemies -- i.e., terrorists within Pakistan. I hope all thinking sections of the public in India would appreciate that, now or in future, Pakistan cannot afford to indulge in any aggressive designs or adventurism against India. Hence, there is nothing to fear from Pakistan. However, such expressions of war preparation, by any of the civil or military leaders of the two countries, only result in promotion of tension and strain our relations further. These statements also make the task of the peace activist much more difficult.

Not only were the wars in the past six decades destructive, but equally counterproductive and destructive was the strategy to promote jihad and jihadi organisations in Pakistan, on the pretext of keeping the Kashmir issue alive. The activities of the jihadis and extremist militant religious terrorist in the past three decades have only resulted in further loss of life, places of worship and properties not only of the Kashmiris but more so in Pakistan. The so-called jihad could not force India to budge an inch or motivate any country, including our closest allies, to pressure India to resolve the issue peacefully. Nor was the Indian economy or its image damaged by the jihadis in any significant manner.

On the contrary, it is Pakistan that is bleeding profusely on account of the undeclared ,endless war unleashed from within by the terrorists, by whatever name they may be called: Al Qaeda, or Taliban Pakistani or Afghan or any other segments of he Taliban or Fazlullah or Sufi Mohammad or Baitullah Mehsud or any other brand of terrorists. They all have a common agenda to take over the state institutions and resources of Pakistan.

Indeed, the people of India have suffered many terrorist attacks, including the attack on the Houses of Parliament of India, the tragedy of Nov 26 in Mumbai and bombing of the markets in Delhi are some of the most heinous, condemnable crimes against the state and people of India, I share the grief of the people of India and join them in condemning these terrorist forces. I would however, draw the attention of the people in India to the fact that the people of Pakistan are suffering such disasters and barbaric incidents of far worst terrorism almost every day in every nook and corner of Pakistan, where several thousands innocent citizens have lost their lives and properties. Hence, peace is our need not only for our country but also for the entire region. We can only succeed in eradicating the terrorism, in all its forms with concerted efforts and joint line of action between our two countries, without any further loss of time.

Not only the people but also the governments of the two countries agree that all disputes can be resolved through dialogue, with sincerity of purpose. In terms of priority, the first and foremost issue that needs to be addressed immediately is the futile war over Siachen.

The presence of the army of the two countries on the glaciers of Siachen is not only an avoidable heavy burden on the exchequer of the two countries but is also rapidly destroying most precious reserves of water. How ironic is the reality that the people of the two countries are already facing acute scarcity of water, but this unending war is destroying the water reserves, which will be needed by our future generations also. Hence, it is of utmost importance that the armies of the two countries must withdraw forthwith from Siachen and resolve the issue of boundaries on the table, rather than on the mountains.

I urge both India and Pakistan to show flexibility in their respective pronounced positions on Kashmir. Instead of insisting on resolving the Kashmir issue first, the emphasis should be on an end to hostilities in all forms and building confidence and trust between the two countries which is imperative for meaningful dialogues. I am not suggesting that the issue of Kashmir should be shelved or given up. All that I want to emphasise is: don't give Kashmir priority over the wider national interests of the two countries.

Our national interest always warranted "peaceful co-existence" with our neighbours. Hence, in the first place dialogues between the two countries must resume unconditionally and with the sincere commitment to resolve the issues. There is no harm if both the countries agree to accept the Line of Control, with some necessary adjustments, as the international border, at least de fecto, for the time being. With this agreement, it would be most prudent and in the best interest of the people of Pakistan, India and Kashmir, if the two countries agree to establish visa-free borders or at least visa on arrival on all points of entry and exit, as well as free exchange of economic, cultural, academic, intellectual groups and free access to the electronic and print media, etc., in all walks of life.

I am conscious of the fact that such bold decisions cannot be implemented without mobilisation of not only the opinion of the public but also of their leaders. Here I see the most vital positive role that can be played by the media of the two countries. We are fortunate that at this crucial juncture, the two biggest groups of publications -- i.e., the Jang group and the Times of India group in India -- have come forward to save one-and-a-half billion people of our region from wars, prejudices, terrorism and poverty which are most detrimental to their interest, prosperity and protection of their life and property. The two media giants, owning largely circulated print media and most popular television channels in the respective countries, are bound to succeed in influencing the opinion of the people and their leaders in breaking the deadlock and creating the environment for a meaningful dialogue between the two countries, for achievement of the aforesaid objectives of utmost importance and national interest of the people of the entire SAARC region.

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