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Millennium Post

When borders divide nations, not people

The border clash in which two Indian soldiers were killed could not have come at a worse time when a Indo-Pak peace initiative was making steady progress in Lahore. As the SAFMA (South Asian Free Media Association) conference was pledging opening borders, opening minds, came the report of the clash. Ironically, viewed from the Pakistan side, one gets the impression, as if, the Indian side was at fault, while seen from the Indian side, it appears, the fault was that of Pakistani troops. The people in general were thoroughly confused. Neither Islamabad nor New Delhi want to escalate the tension and are keen to defuse the volatile situation by back channel diplomacy. It is a welcome sign.

One has only to cross the Indo-Pak border, either via Attari-Wagah border or by air, to see and appreciate the urge of the people of Pakistan to forge peace with the people of India. So is the desire of the people of India. This correspondent, having visited Pakistan several times, has seen the overwhelming desire of the Pakistani people to live in peace with their Indian counterparts.

Having crossed the Wagah border last week as part of the SAFMA delegation to participate in the 8th SAFMA conference in Lahore, this correspondent moved about freely in dense markets like Anarkali and other areas and talked to a cross section of the people and found they were more keen to open borders and remove stringent visa restrictions. And, co-incidentally, the theme of the conference too was ‘opening minds, opening orders’. There was time when Attari-Wagah border was an open border and the Grand Trunk Road connected Kabul with Calcutta and onwards to Dacca. People on both sides of the border have been urging their governments to keep the borders open to each other’s benefit.

Once Amritsar and Lahore were like twin cities and Lahore, Delhi, and Dacca were inseparable. The purpose of holding SAFMA’s inaugural session in Amritsar and closing it in Lahore was to demonstrate the desire of the people of India and Pakistan to relish the memories of the past, to bring back happiness of togetherness of the peoples of South Asia. The 14th SAARC Summit (3-4 April 2007 in New Delhi) had agreed to build ‘intra-regional connectivity, particularly physical, economic and people-to-people connectivity’, facilitating smooth flow of goods, services, people, technologies, knowledge, capital, culture and ideas for social and economic change in South Asia stuck in the obsolete paradigm of national security states or nation states and opposite to what Mahnaz Ispahani in her book Roads and rivers described as ‘anti-routes’.

The issue of opening borders means opening routes and allowing access without barriers and restrictions and keeping borders closed means ‘anti-routes’.  Therefore, a choice has to be made by opening minds: whether we will continue to be held back behind the barbed wire of anti-route ideologies and structure, or follow the consensus reached at the 14th SAARC summit for far greater connectivity and opening of routes and borders.

The first session of SAFMA was addressed by the former Pakistani Prime Minister and Muslim League-N President Nawaz Sharif. He said the most favoured nation status to India would pave the way to facilitate a better trade between India and Pakistan and result in progress and development of the people of both the countries. He said he strongly believed in establishing better ties with India and the Lahore declaration was proof of it. He vowed to pick up the thread where they were left once the PML-N comes to power again.

About SAFMA and regional peace, the former Prime Minister said media had promoted tolerance and peaceful coexistence trans-boundaries. By informing the public and putting people’s interest on top priority, the media had changed dogmatic views and led to providing an enabling environment for peace to take its course.

The concluding session was addressed by Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. He urged SAARC member states to dismantle political barriers for economic development of the region and vowed to introduce a mechanism to facilitate the media persons of South Asia in visa protective filters. ‘When minds are open, borders don’t matter much. Let there be no visa restrictions on journalists’, the Prime Minister said. He urged political leadership of South Asia to show courage, flexibility and statesmanship, dismantle political barriers and resolve inter-state conflicts for laying foundations of regional economic take off. There is immense scope of collaboration in the spheres of culture, sports, tourism, education, research, human resource development, poverty alleviation and environment among SAARC member countries.

Raja said the region had peculiar challenges, which could be tackled effectively by developing homegrown solutions. He added that it was in this context that diversity among the member countries needs to be employed to accelerate the process of development through greater connectivity. Calling for collective efforts to tackle the challenges faced by the region, the Prime Minister, said conflict over disputes must give way to reconciliation, connectivity, openness and regional co-operation. He added that collective well-being of the people of South Asia could not be left at the mercy of any one country. ‘We need to resolve all political and economic issues with an open mind and sincerity of purpose’, he said.  (IPA)
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