Peoples' Forum Urges India and Pakistan to Make Peace
Kalyani,OneWorld South Asia
NEW DELHI, Jan 29 (OWSA) - As relations worsen between India and Pakistan, citizens of the two neighboring nations are meeting Thursday in India's capital New Delhi, to urge the two governments to end what they term an "unacceptable and avoidable impasse."
" We want the two governments to start talking to each other," said former Pakistani minister Mubashir Hassan, a member of the National Council of Pakistan and one of the founders of the Pakistan-India Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) which comprises eminent citizens from both the hostile nations.
The 3,000-member body formed in 1994, said Wednesday that it was starting a three-month-long campaign in the two countries to pressure India and Pakistan to improve relations.
Appropriately, the meeting will take place on January 30, the day apostle of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated 55 years ago. It will be the first of a series of peace meetings and marches of people from all walks of life, in both nations.
"We urge both these governments to take a more balanced and mature view to end this totally unacceptable and avoidable impasse in the current relations between the two countries," a statement issued by PIPFPD said. "This is the least the peoples of both Pakistan and India deserve from their leadership."
A report from the northwestern Pakistan town of Peshawar said that retired army officers, industrialists, academics and students would soon visit India to promote "people-to-people" diplomacy between the two countries.
In April, the forum will hold a convention in New Delhi, followed by a joint meeting in the south Pakistan city of Karachi later this year.
Hassan said the involvement of thousands of ordinary citizens in the meetings could impel the two governments to improve ties. "We have seen that the large participation of people in these meetings has a salutary effect on the political leaderships of the two countries. When they see the popular support of these meetings, they realize they are not going to lose votes if they talk peace," he said.
Relations between India and Pakistan have been at a low ebb ever since the Indian Parliament was attacked by armed separatists in December 2001, prompting New Delhi to accuse Pakistan of harboring anti-India separatists.
Last year, the two countries deployed troops on the international border. Visa restrictions were imposed on people traveling between India and Pakistan and bus, train and air services were suspended.
Relations dipped again last week, after an Indian diplomat was roughed up in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. India retaliated by expelling four Pakistan High Commission officials from New Delhi. In the continuing war of attrition, Pakistan then asked four Indian officials to leave the country.
PIPFPD said as a first step, both governments should ease visa restrictions and open up air, rail and road traffic. "This hostile diplomacy has to end," stressed convener of PIPFPD's New Delhi chapter, Vijayan M.J.
Vijayan believed the pressure on them would force the governments to ease visa restrictions. He said a 1997 campaign by the PIPFPD had prompted then Indian Prime Minister, Inder Kumar Gujral, to permit Pakistani citizens to enter 12 Indian cities on an Indian visa. The number of cities was subsequently reduced to eight and finally to just three.
But PIPFPD was convinced the campaign would bring the two governments to the negotiating table. "We believe they have to scale down their hostile diplomatic relations," declared Vijayan.
"I am optimistic," said Hassan. "The two nations have no option but to talk peace."