Daily Times – Civil society organisations slam Pakistani, Indian govts’ policies

Daily Times – Civil society organisations slam Pakistani, Indian govts’ policies

 

Published: Daily Times – September 17, 2006

* Visa-free convention deems nuclear weapons race the cause of discontent
* Speakers lash out against visa policies
* Say nuclear disarmament essential for peace

By Rana Kashif

LAHORE: Members of Indian and Pakistani civil society organisations said that it was not the people but the governments of both countries that were not interested in promoting peace, harmony, love and friendship in the region.

They were addressing ‘Second Visa-Free South Asia Convention’, a seminar organised by the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies in collaboration with Action Aid Pakistan, at the Lahore Press Club (LPC) on Saturday. They said that it was time both governments promoted peace and gave up the nuclear weapons race.

Jammu and Kashmir Parliament Member AR Shaheen said that there was no grievance or rivalry between the people of India and Kashmir but that the governments insisted on creating and sustaining enmity. She said that it was by fault of the governments of India and Pakistan that the last 59 years, which should have been used to promote peace and harmony between the two peoples, were used to develop defence strategies against each other.

She said that both governments talked of freedom and liberty to their peoples but they were just tall claims, since in reality, it was nearly impossible to obtain a visa to visit one’s relatives in either country. She said that the governments’ claims of freedom to their respective peoples were beyond comprehension if no one was allowed to move across borders.

She said that in the so-called civilised world of today, the governments of India and Pakistan were concentrating on trying to win the nuclear weapons race without realising what the actual issues of the time were. She said that instead of risking killing people with the ever-increasing weaponry, the need was to promote peace and harmony in the region via eradication of unnecessary restrictions and nuclear disarmament.

Col (r) Virendra Sahai Verma, India-Pakistan Soldiers’ Initiative for Peace general secretary, said that the inventors of nuclear weapons had said that by building them, governments could save money spent on conventional weaponry and use it for development purposes instead. He said that contrary to that opinion, the current situation was that India was spending around Rs 80 million annually on its defence and had the third strongest defence in the world, but was 127th in the world when it came to the women development sector. Similarly, Pakistan had the 15th strongest defence but was 142nd in the women development sector, he added.

Verma said that India claimed to provide the right to education to its people but actually did not have the budget for it. He said that according to Green Peace reports, the Chernobyl accident had claimed 93,000 lives by cancer and that if such an accident happened in India or Pakistan, the number could be much larger. He said that civil society organisations had concerns about visa restrictions because they fuelled contempt between the countries at the cost of ordinary people, many of whom had legitimate, humanitarian reasons to travel to the neighbouring country.

National Alliance of People’s Movements Convener Dr Sandeep Pandy said that the people of Pakistan and India genuinely wanted peace and harmony in the region by nuclear disarmament and abolishment of visa policies and they strongly believed that both governments must agree on the demands without succumbing to any pressure. He said that peace between the two countries constituted no need to spend on defence.

Brigadier (r) CB Khandoi said that there was a need to develop policies that allowed people from both sides to move freely between the two countries. He said that nuclear technology should be used to fulfil domestic energy needs rather than to produce bombs.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Director IA Rehman said that the rift between India and Pakistan was just a struggle to be closer to America, but it was clear that a close alliance with America was extremely damaging for both nations. He said that it was quite an easy task to travel from Lahore to Amritsar but it had been made the most difficult one by visa restrictions. Restricting free movement was basically to snub human rights, upholding of which was the main concern of civil society organisations, he added.

Dr Mubashir Hasan said that whether it was India or Pakistan, public should not be under control of the ruling class. There was a need for the public’s democracy, not that of the ruling class, he said, adding that armed forces were being formed to control the people, not to defend the country.

Seema Sehgal and Bakht Arif presented peace songs and poetry on the occasion and the seminar was attended by a number of human rights activists, civil society organisation members and a 19-member Indian delegation.