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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hope for Peace अमन की आशा

Let people meet ! Milne Do

When the first restrictions on movement of people between West Pakistan and India were imposed on July 14, 1948, it was a shock to people in the region. These restrictions were imposed by the Indian government in the form of an emergency permit system when north Indian Muslim refugees, who had fled their homes in the midst of Partition's violence, began to return to their ancestral homes. The Indian government was willing to accept Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan, but did not want north Indian Muslim refugees to return to India and claim Indian citizenship. By September 1948, the Pakistani government had imposed a parallel permit system, in large part to prevent Muslims in India from coming to West Pakistan. The excruciating passport and visa system for Indian and Pakistani passport holders - visas issued only for specific cities and requiring invitations, endorsements and police reporting - are remnants of the permit system.

History abounds with examples of how people-to-people contacts have helped pave the way for peaceful relations when traditional diplomacy failed. Take the United States’ relationship with China or Japan. Business and economics forced the former enemies to change their posture towards each other. It paved the way for more people-to-people interaction, and a progressively amicable relationship. This, despite being at the opposite ends of the globe.

The lessons of history are clear: it is only when two hostile countries develop an economic stake in each other that peace becomes an imperative and war a non-option. France and Germany provide an excellent example of how people-to-people contact and the media can play a positive and constructive role, and also bring the people of two former enemy countries closer together.

In South Asia too, there is potential for people-to-people contacts at every level, from academia to economics, from culture to sport, general tourism, medical tourism and religious tourism. This is a good way to dispel the mutual distrust by including students from premier institutions interact with one other on exchange programs. Public money should be spent on institutional youth exchanges: Each government puts in 50 % of the cost required to place youth (young professionals, say under 35 years of age) in various sectors in each other's country - doctors, lawyers, graduate students. This is a fantastic way to change mindsets and make people more accepting of each other.

We can't remain hostage to those differences forever. Let people meet, let families reunite, let trade and tourism flourish. The need is to push for facilitating cross border movement rather than placing hurdles in the path as an unstated state policy. Easing these restrictions would help diffuse tensions, reduce miscommunication and negate the stereotypes that have developed in our minds against each other.

There are powerful interests in the establishments on both sides who don't want peace - or who, at the very least, want to push their own agendas that have no space for the political constraints of the other side. In the context of India-Pakistan relations -- more they talk, the less they'll bite. And the more they talk, the closer they can get to understanding each other's perceptions and moving closer to taking steps that the other side would welcome. This is not to endorse 'talking just for the sake of talking' but to underline the point that, given the lengthy periods in which there has been no dialogue, any contact is better than none. Truly said "Peace is not an event but a process".

It is time to move towards a sustained, consistent and open-minded communication. The bottom line is that there is no alternative to dialogue. And that while the governments sort out their political differences, they should at least not let the people suffer - ease visa restrictions, let people meet, allow trade (yes, even transit trade), remove non-tariff barriers. In short, behave like civilised neighbours in the 21st century. India and Pakistan cannot be adversaries forever.

Half the world's poverty-stricken people are concentrated in South Asia. If we cooperate, we will together create a stronger front against poverty, illiteracy, terrorism and also contribute to improving the lives of millions of our citizens. We were one once. We may not be one again. But there can be peace and harmony between us. Let us make peace and fight poverty together - for us and our children and our coming generations.

Here's the Aman Ki Asha anthem!

Dikhayi dete hain duur tak ab bhi saaye koi

Magar bulaane se waqt lautey na aaye koi

Chalo na phir se bichhayein dariyaan bajayein dholak

Lagake mehendi sureeley tappe sunayein koi

Patang udayein chhatton pe chadh ke muhalley waaley

Falak to saanjha hai us mein penche ladayein koi

Utho kabaddi kabbadi khelenge sahardon par

Jo aye abke to laut kar phir na jaye koi

Nazar mein rehtey ho jab tum nazar nahin aatey

Yeh sur milaatey hain jab tum idhar nahin aatey

Nazar mein rehtey ho jab tum nazar nahin aatey

Yeh sur bulaatey hain jab tum idhar nahin aatey

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