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India-Pakistan dialogue must continue, say peace activists at virtual brainstorming session | India News

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BATHINDA: India and Pakistan peace activists came together for a virtual brainstorming session, trying to find a way forward for the peace movement, how to invigorate it by involving more allies, younger people and expatriates.
Titled ‘Pakistan India: Peace in South Asia beyond ideological barriers’, the meeting connected India-Pakistan peace mongers across generations, locations and occupations, with a view to placing peace in India-Pakistan in the South Asia context.
It decided to float a South Asia Peace Action Network (Sapan) to bring peace monger groups and individuals across the region under one umbrella to urge governments to reduce hostility, enable people to people contact by easing the visa regime, and cut down on military expenditure.
The meeting coincidentally capitalised on a rare moment in recent years where there has been a deliberate lowering of hostility by both governments.
With the recent announcement of a ceasefire by both armies and the meeting of the Indus Water Commissioners last week, a thaw between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours does not seem impossible.
“Things are moving ahead. It is a very important moment and we must take advantage of it,” said Jatin Desai, former general secretary of Pakistan-India peoples forum for peace and democracy (PIPFPD), the region’s oldest people-to-people group.
“There is conflict reporting, but we haven’t placed enough emphasis on peace journalism,” said renowned journalist Raza Rumi, editor Naya Daur, speaking about the role of media in fuelling tensions between both countries.
Participants stressed the importance of urging both governments to normalise relations between the two countries and allow free movement of people across the borders.
“The Covid situation has had an impact on prisoners. The families of those imprisoned have not been able to meet each other. Can the two countries organise a way for families of prisoners to talk to each other electronically?” asked Desai.
The pandemic has underscored the need for better cooperation within the region. The situation had forced the governments on both sides to moot better connectivity projects.
“There is a need to place India Pakistan into a regional context”, said Beena Sarwar, senior journalist and editor of Amn ki Asha, a platform launched in 2010 by two major media groups from both the countries.
The treatment of minority communities in both countries also remains a matter of concern, observed participants.
Activists hoped the current thaw in India Pakistan relations may lead to more exchanges between the countries. Over the past five years, cultural exchanges as well as people-to-people contact between the two countries has almost come to a halt with very few visas being granted.
“We need to broaden the peace constituency by bringing people together, learning from each other on issues that affect us and that have potential to change our future”, said Ravi Nitesh, co-founder of the youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
Human rights activist Rita Manchanda, artist Salima Hashmi, former planning commission member Syeda Hameed, labour activist Karamat Ali, author Urvashi Butalia, women’s rights activist Sheema Kermani, general secretary PIPFPD India chapter Vijayan MJ, Sanjoy Hazarika of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Panday, editor Kashmir Times Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, former chief in Indian Navy Ramu Ramdas who is also a Magsaysay awardee, activist Lalita Ramdas, besides several others from both countries attended.
The next panel discussion has been planned on April 11, aiming to look at possibilities regarding business, economy, health, sports, culture, human development, water and other disputes.

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