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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 30 New Delhi July 14, 2018

What Option is there before India and Pakistan other than Friendship and Peace?

Sunday 15 July 2018, by Sandeep Pandey

The India-Pakistan Friendship and Peace March from Ahmedabad to Nada Bet during June 19 to 29, 2018 concluded successfully even though the Ahmedabad Police detained the marchers for about three hours at the beginning as soon as it started from Gandhi Ashram and the Border Security Force didn’t give permission to the march at the fag end from Nadeshwari Mata Mandir to the border, a distance of 25 km. Hence the total distance of this march on foot was curtailed to about 250 km. From Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad the march proceeded along Adalaj, Kalol, Chatral, Nandasan, Mandali, Mehsana, Bokarwada, Sihi, Balisana, Patan, Dunawada, Roda, Totana, Thara, Devdarbar, Diyodar, Kuwala, Bhabhar, Dudhwa, Suigam to Nadeshwari Mata Mandir at Nada Bet.

The March was taken out to demand from the governments of India and Pakistan to reach an agreement to stop killing each other’s soldiers on the border. Recently on June 21, 2018, the occasion of International Yoga Day, Indian and Chinese soldiers practised yoga together at Daulat Beg Oldie in eastern Ladakh. Why can’t a similar atmosphere of bonhomie be created on the India-Pakistan border? The two countries need to grant easy permission for visas to each other’s citizens to allow them to travel across the border. If possible, they should waive the visa requirement for the old people, children, journalists, academics, social activists, religious leaders and labourers. One route on the Gujarat border with Sind should be opened to facilitate travel and trade between two countries either at Khavda or Nada Bet. The bus service between Suigam and Nagarparkar, which was there till 1972, could be restored. Opening of the Khavda route will be a great help for those fisherfolk whose family members get caught by the coastal guards of the other country and then have to spend years in jail without any information reaching back home. Sometimes family members may not even know that their kin have landed in jail on the other side of the border. The two countries must make public such list of each other’s prisoners.

For people, who may find it difficult to get a passport made or obtain a visa, if the daily evening military ceremony at Wagha-Attari border is replaced by a peace park and people from across the border are allowed to meet freely for a couple of hours every day merely by depositing one of their identity cards and under a suitable security apparatus, the event would serve a great purpose. Such peace parks could be created on all openings along the border. Finally, drawing inspiration from North Korea it is important that China, India and Pakistan should give up their nuclear weapons to make Asia a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and safe for all people of the region and the world.

About 500 signatures were collected during the march on the above-mentioned issues addressed to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan.

The peace march received a major boost when PM Narendra Modi’s wife Jashodaben decided to join the march on June 23 for about half-an-hour in the morning to express her solidarity. She wholeheartedly supported the idea of peace and friendship with Pakistan and thought that the killing of soldiers was avoidable. Jashodaben’s endorsement also had a soothing effect on the people subscribing to the jingoistic variety of nationalism who were raising questions about the goals of the march. Jashodaben and her borther, Ashok Modi, also signed the statement of the march.

A demand was raised during the march at Balisana, where about hundred families have relatives in Karachi, to open a Pakistani Consulate at Ahmedabad so that they would be saved the trouble of long distance travel and going to Delhi to obtain their visas.

Baldev Nath Bapu, the head priest of the temple in Devdarbar, belonging to Lohana (Thakkar) community, hosted the peace march during day-time on June 26, 2018, and described his experience of travel to Pakistan in October 2017 for about a month. He is building a hospital in Salemkot from the donations he received from his followers in Pakistan. He refuted the allegations that Hindus are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan and temples are destroyed there. He said on record that not once during his month-long stay there he received any complaints like these. He said that in Pakistan people are talking about the possibility of Suigam-Nagarparkar route to be opened by 2020 or 2022.

Earlier in Totana the march paid its respect to Sadaram Bapu, aged over hundred years, who has played an important part in preserving communal harmony in the area. It appears that spiritual gurus have a role in maintaining peace and harmony along the Gujarat-Sind border.

At a closing event of the march in Ahmedabad peace activists from Pakistan, Karamat Ali and Saeeda Diep, joined over internet and interacted with the marchers and their supporters. Entrepreneur Piyush Desai of Wagh Bakri Tea Company was so overwhelmed with the idea of the march that he has decided to hold weekly meetings at Gandhi Ashram to promote the philosophy of peace and communal harmony.

A letter has been written to Narendra Modi on behalf of the India-Pakistan Friendship and Peace March to start a bus service between Ahmedabad and Karachi similar to the one started by former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee between Delhi and Lahore.

India and Pakistan have been overtaken by Bangladesh in social indices like literacy, malnourishment, sanitation, fertility rate, health status of children and women, women empo-werment primarily because the former two countries have invested heavily in defence, including the development of dangerous nuclear weapons, whereas Bangladesh has judiciously concentrated on improving the general condition of its women and children. The security for common people comes from fulfilment of their basic needs. Nuclear weapons at best protect the vested interests of the ruling elite. How are our nuclear weapons providing security to a child dying of hunger or a farmer committing suicide? If we don’t take care of the basic needs of people of what use are the pompous weapons for the common people?

Noted social activist and Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Pandey is the Vice-President of the Socialist Party (India). He can be contacted at e-mail: ashaashram[at]yahoo.com

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