My friend Karamat Ali, a peace activist and co-organizer from Pakistan of the proposed Delhi to Multan India Pakistan Peace March from 23rd March to 11th May, 2005, was trying to get me included in a delegation of Pakistan Peace Coalition which had got an appointment to see the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, on 12th of March to discuss the organization of peace march and specifically request visas for marchers from India who would cross over in Pakistan at Wagha on 18th April. I did not expect an invitation. Why should the P.M. of Pakistan be interested in talking to an Indian activist about a proposed peace march? However, to my surprise I got the invitation 48 hours in advance of the appointment. I had to literally rush to Islamabad after seeking my visa and booking my tickets.

That the office of Prime Minister decided to invite me to discuss the peace march along with Pakistani activists clearly indicated that the Government of Pakistan was viewing this march positively. We, the peace activists of India and Pakistan, independently and jointly, have been opposing the nuclearization of the sub-continent and advocating for peace even when the relationship between the two countries was very hostile. We peaceniks, on both sides of the border, are often dismissed as a bunch of idealists and often accused of playing into the hands of elements against the interest of our respective countries or sometimes we are directly accused of being anti-national. The governments obviously don’t take us very seriously. Hence it was a welcome surprise that the Pakistani Prime Minister was full of praise for initiatives taken by peace activists and hoped that more such initiatives would bring about a lasting change in the situation in South Asia. He acknowledged the role of peace movements in having a decisive influence over their Governments.

Shaukat Aziz expressed the commitment of Government of Pakistan towards building an atmosphere of peace in the sub-continent and the willingness to do whatever was necessary to achieve this objective. He said that this vision was shared by President Musharraf. He was quite candid about the contentious issues and hoped that through dialogue each of them could be resolved. He claimed that no past Government of Pakistan had been so open about this objective and for the first time there was no fear about discussing the issues. He was happy with the way peace process was moving but was disappointed over the lack of progress on resolving the Kashmir dispute. In his view resolution of Kashmir issue was key to establishment of permanent peace between India and Pakistan. He was also disappointed over the non-holding of SAARC meeting and said that Pakistan was ‘hurt’ on the Baglihar Dam issue. Water was emerging as a contentious issue between the two countries. Although he seemed happy and took credit for allowing the power corridor to materialize in the interest of India.

I was impressed by the forthrightness of Shaukat Aziz. He said that unlike the past this Government was not interested in merely the containment of the problems but was actually committed to resolving the outstanding issues. And it clearly showed in his approach while talking about various issues. He spelt out the position of Government of Pakistan on each of the issue and hoped that on bilateral matters India would respond positively. He was full of praise for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his positive attitude in resolving issues.

Security, however, is one issue which makes the leadership of the two countries nervous. During the interaction Shaukat Aziz pointed out the necessity for Pakistan to keep arms for its security. He also admitted the compulsion of Pakistan to match the capability of India whenever it decided to procure any new category of arms leading to an unavoidable arms race. There exists tremendous confusion regarding more dangerous arms giving a sense of security. If we were to think about the issue with a cool head the relationship between security and more dangerous arms is inverse. You become more insecure as you possess more dangerous arms. The peace activists from Pakistan and India have been advocating the unilateral, or with bilateral agreement, renunciation of dangerous nuclear weapons by the two countries and downgrading of armed forces at the border. Only a border free of army and arms can provide us a sense of true security on both sides. I hope this logic, which is as clear to the peace activists as water, will get into the heads of our Heads of State and will find official approval followed by concrete action in terms of getting rid of weapons. The common poor people will be the winner that day on both sides, as much wanted resources being diverted in the name of their security today, will be free for their development. In the times of globalization when economic progress has become more important then the military security, I think the leaders of the two countries have realized the futility of arms race and have therefore decided to pursue the road to peace. The times are changing. The concept of jingoistic nationalism is going out of date and this is a welcome development. The economic development of the people who comprise a nation is getting centre-stage on the political agenda, as it should be.

I still find it difficult to believe that I was easily let into the office of Prime Minister of a country which until not long ago was considered an enemy country and got to listen to his frank opinion on all issues of relevance between the two countries. His approach clearly reflects the commitment of Government of Pakistan to bring about peace and normalcy in the region.

Thank you, Mr. Shaukat Aziz, for making my visit to meet you possible and if your Government allows the India Pakistan Peace March to take place, your initiative will go a long way in opening the doors for normalization of relationship between citizens of the two countries and establishment of durable peace and harmony, something which has become very elusive but which the people most definitely desire on both sides of the border.

By Sandeep Pandey