We will return to finish the march

We will return to finish the march

Dr Sandeep Pandey

The India Pakistan Peace March from Delhi to Multan is symbolically over but we are leaving Pakistan with a sense of unsatisfaction. We were not allowed to march within Pakistan. It was quite an embarrassment for us to be talking about disarmament but moving around under heavy armed security cover. A Police jeep was always accompanying us wherever we went.

Some of our hosts within Pakistan were also uncomfortable with this. We do realize that probably under the given circumstances in Pakistan this was the best possible thing that we could have done. This was the only reason we decided to come to Pakistan in what eventually was a curtailed and restrained visit for us. In my opinion in the end it was ultimately the difference of democracy between the two countries which resulted in different response from the two Sates, although it was only marginally better in India. The marchers from both countries had difficulty in crossing over into the other country to participate in the March.

Both Governments delayed giving visas to the marchers from the other side but whereas the Indian Government did give visas for all the 12 Districts that fell on the route to the Pakistani citizens the Pakistani Government granted visas to the Indian citizens only for the cities of Lahore and Multan. It is a different matter that the Pakistani marchers could not use their visas for all places as by the time they were in India, because of further delay by the Pakistani Government in granting them permission to cross the Wagha border on foot, the March was in the last District of Amritsar. However, while the Pakistani marchers were walking on the road for five days in India there was no Police accompanying us. We consider it an achievement of the March.

We find it an affront that whereas hurdles were created in the path of peace lovers from both countries to participate in this peace march by both the Governments, soon Lal Krishan Advani, the master mind behind the uprise of communal politics in India, is soon going to be a State Guest of the Government of Pakistan when he comes here to inaugurate a temple and visit the school that he studied in at Hyderabad, Sind. It reflects the misplaced priorities of the Governments. The peace activists who labour to bring about a change in the relationship of animosity between the two Nations over the last 57 years and are mobilizing public support in favour of a friendly and peaceful relation between India and Pakistan are discouraged at every step, whereas the man whose party almost brought the two Nations to the brink of a nuclear war and whose partymen indulged in the worst carnage in independent India in Gujarat, is going to enjoy Government hospitality in Pakistan. We in India are fighting a battle to free Indian politics of the forces which are a threat to our democratic polity and our neighbouring Nation chooses to honour their leader. Although, we are no admirers of the US policy, but a step to deny visa to Narendra Modi, definitely discredits these forces. We admire Pervez Musharraf for having taken steps to check fundamentalist forces in Pakistan but we also expect him to help Indian people in controlling such forces in India.

We are glad that we received a very positive response from the various people’s representatives that we met during our tour in Pakistan. The Nazim of Lahore, Mian Amir Mehmood granted us permission to take out a peace march within the city of Lahore and allowed us to plant a sapling that Professor Rameek Mohan, one of the marchers from India, had brought from Rohtak, as a symbol of peace and friendship. Rana Tariq Javed, Member of National Assembly was present to welcome us at a small function in Sahiwal on our way to Multan. The local Nazim and SSP, Khuda Bux Malik were also present here. In Chinchawatani the local Nazim welcomed us. In Multan, MNA Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi, who also happened to be the Sajjada Nashin of Dargah of Bahauddin Zakaria, almost echoed our setiments in his speech and granted us permission to move about freely in Multan. We planted another sapling at the City Council Hall in Multan that we had brought from India. Member of Provincial Assembly from Okara hosted dinner for us when we were returning from Multan. Back in Lahore we were hosted in the Punjab Provincial Assembly by the Opposition Leader Qasim Zia, a former Pakistani Hockey player. MNA, Chaudhary Manzoor Ahmad of the PPP was quite harsh on the two Governments especially for engaging in arms race. He questioned the two Members of Parliament from India who had joined us that evening, Nilotpal Basu and Hannan Mollah, both of CPM, why India was still following the path of BJP Government in defence spending. Riaz Fatyana, another MNA, hosted high tea for us at the Lahore Gymkhana and he too supported our campaign. These people’s representatives compensated to some extent for the negative attitude shown by the Pakistani Government towards the Peace March. But it is clear that movement for democracy in Pakistan will have to be strengthened if pro-people’s initiatives are allowed to take place freely here. Even at the risk of appearing to interfere in the internal matters of our neighbouring country, we would like to see our peace movement also strengthen the democratization process in Pakistan, just as various people’s struggles are aiming to do exactly the same in India.

Hence we will continue to push forward the agenda for peace and friendship between the two countries. At the common people’s level it is the most important democratic issue in the context of bilateral relationship. We had planned to organize a joint peace march of activists from both countries. But that remains unfinished. The two Governments, even though they have used the language, hitherto used by peace activists, in the meeting between Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh, did not cooperate fully in facilitating the Peace March. We will return to finish this march next year. We hope, by then, the Governments will realize that it is in the interest of the people to allow such a march to take place.

By Dr Sandeep Pandey

(Author is a senior social activist and recepient of Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002. He has been the faculty member of Engineering depts. of IIT Kanpur and Princeton University and founded ASHA For Education Trust in 1991.)