We are grateful to the Pakistani Government for allowing us to enter Pakistan and symbolically complete the India Pakistan Peace March scheduled from Delhi to Multan between 23rd March and 11th May, 2005, but regret that we were not given permission to walk within Pakistan. The only consolation is that we reached Multan on the scheduled date, which was not looking possible at one point because of bureaucratic hurdles. The highlight of the Multan event was the presence of both Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi, the Sajjada Nashin of the Dargah of Bahauddin Zakaria in Multan where our March ended and Nazim Syed Ali Shah Nizami, the Gaddi Nashin of the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi from where the March began. The March was meant to carry the message of Sufi saints and we accomplished our objective to a large extent. The response from people on both sides of the border was overwhelming. The signs are very clear. The people of India and Pakistan are for peace and friendship and they blame their governments for not giving it to them.

The people of India and Pakistan are anxious to meet each other as no other two communities of people around the globe. The Governments of India and Pakistan have made it so difficult for the two people to meet as probably nowhere in the world. A very complicated travel restriction regime exists between India and Pakistan. Some of the restrictions are beyond the comprehension of common people. For example, why does one need the permission of one’s Home Ministry to cross the Wagha border on foot if the other country has granted a visa? This permission is not needed when you’re crossing over from one country into the other by any other means – air, rail or bus. Hence, if you cross the same border on Delhi-Lahore bus service then you don’t need the permission from the Home Ministry. There is also a rule which mandates a group of a minimum of four to cross the border on foot. Most of the common Indian and Pakistani citizens are neither terrorists nor criminals but they are required to report daily to the Police if they are in the other country. It is funny that during our stay in Pakistan a Police squad was continuously accompanying us and they had minute to minute knowledge about our movement but still our friends Saeeda Diep or Shabnam Rashid had to waste a couple of hours every day to carry our passports to the Police Headquarters. One has to use the same means to return that one used to enter the other country. There is a senseless strictness about port of entry. Most importantly, you cannot go into the other country unless you have a relative or an invitation. The Pakistani High Commission in Delhi had refused to entertain our visa applications until our names were cleared by the Interior Ministry in Islamabad, which meant that unless we had influential friends in Pakistan it was virtually impossible for us to enter Pakistan. And we had to go through all this after Pervez Musharraf’s recent trip to New Delhi where the two Governments had talked about increasing people to people contact and making the borders softer! The bureaucracy on the two sides is still not willing to acknowledge the changing realities between the two countries. It wants to maintain its hold over people and create all possible obstacles in the path of people wanting to go to the other country.

Only twelve of us had got the nod of the Pakistani Interior Ministry to enter Pakistan. About ten times more people who wished to accompany this March into Pakistan were disappointed. A close friend Vinish Gupta, who left his Ph.D. programme at IIT Delhi to become a Buddhist Monk and presently lives in Sarnath, wanted to come to Pakistan to see his ancestral home in Lahore which houses Habib Bank today. His grandmother would have been most happy if he could have brought photographs of this home back with him. However, Tenzin, as he is now known, was not given the opportunity by the Pakistani Interior Ministry to fulfill even as small a wish as this. The great Gautam Buddha had said that desrire is the source of pain. Tenzin has learnt this the hard way. However, what right the bureaucracies on the two sides, who themselves are not accountable to anybody, have to deny even simple freedom to the people to travel and meet people they wish to on the other side?

Even though we’re demanding a complete doing away with of the passport-visa regime for travel between India and Pakistan, the common sentiment that was expressed by people along our route was that the two governments must grant visas on arrival at the border. The Governments of India and Pakistan can do it if they want to. They have to merely demonstrate the political will as they did when they started the Delhi-Lahore bus service, implemented the cease fire agreement, allowed over 5000 people to cross over to watch a cricket match and most importantly, against all odds, introduced the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service.

In fact, it would be a very novel idea to allow granting dual citizenship to people of the other country who wish to apply for it. There would be a number of Pakistanis willing to obtain Indian citizenship too and similarly a number of Indian citizens willing to obtain Pakistani citizenship too if given the choice. This would be the surest way to get rid of distrust between the people of two countries which exists because of sustained propaganda on both sides against the other country and its people. It would also make life easier for a number of us who wish to frequently travel to Pakistan to meet friends and attend events and have to go through the tedious process of getting approval of Interior Ministry of Pakistan every time. And till the day of our departure we’re not sure whether the Indian Home Ministry would allow us to cross the Wagha border on foot, even though we might have the visa from the Pakistani Government. No Governments possibly treat their citizens in such a disrespectful manner as the Governments of India and Pakistan when it comes to traveling between the two countries. Why should the citizens of the two countries be subjected to this shoddy treatment by their Governments?

By Sandeep Pandey