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Seeking peace in times of war-mongering

Amritsar: Raising a voice for peace in times of war-mongering seemed to be a great risk. But the peaceniks who gathered at an Indo-Pak peace conference in Amritsar were applauded by the audience for their display of amity and solidarity among people across the borders. It seems that people are now fed up with the continuing tension along the borders, despite being held hostage by the jingoists in the Subcontinent.

Soon after the showdown between Pakistan and India at the Heart of Asia Conference on Afghanistan in Amritsar, the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) in Indian Punjab, the Folklore Academy and the Hind-Pak Dosti Manch organised a peace moot last Sunday in the holy city of the followers of the revered saint of peace, Baba Guru Nanak. The city witnessed peace activists from both sides of the border who spoke out against the hate and xenophobia being spread by the mainstream media and extremist chauvinist forces. And the dos and don’ts presented by me, as the secretary general of Safma, were fully endorsed by both the hosts and a vocal audience.

Despite threats from violent extremists in both countries, who reinforce each other, the peace conference called on all peace-loving people and democratic forces to take a stand against continuing ceasefire violations, proxy wars and the repression of the people. They cautioned against the spiralling conflict that can escalate into mutually assured destruction and result in a horrible nuclear winter.

The conference called on politicians, the media and the security forces to observe restraint and take the ultimate route of resolving bilateral disputes through peaceful means. It urged them to support the resumption of multi-layered comprehensive negotiations, which must be unconditional, uninterruptible and complement one another’s concern. The conference emphasised adopting a course of normalisation and confidence-building for conflict resolution.

The broader consensus reached among the participants proposed a two-pronged strategy: using the preventive measures as a prerequisite of multiple initiatives for confidence-building and the restoration of the dialogue process.

The first of the don’ts is that both India and Pakistan’s governments, agencies, mainstream political parties and the media must put an end to war-mongering. Second, ceasefire violations along the LoC must cease immediately as the people living on both sides of the dividing line are suffering immensely due to the perpetual cross-border exchange of fire. The continuing border skirmishes and impetuous temptations of ‘surgical strikes’ are inherently escalatory and can turn into a limited war that may eventually trigger a full-fledged war. This could further escalate into a devastating nuclear conflict with no victors left to celebrate the annihilation of the other.

Third, terrorism and proxy wars through non-state actors, with the backing of the hostile security apparatuses, have become the principal security threat to the peace in the region. They have also made it difficult to develop normal inter-state relations between Pakistan and India, and Pakistan and Afghanistan. Instead of indulging in a blame game, the governments of these countries need to agree on a joint strategy to counter terrorism and take all-sided measures to bring to an end the proxy wars they are, in one way or the other, promoting against each other. Facilitating cross-border terrorism and patronising proxy wars only serve the purpose of terrorists who threaten all the countries of the region.

Fourth, suppressing the rights of minorities and violently repressing the resistance of people who are fighting for their democratic rights must stop. It can neither be justified on the pretext of ‘national security’ nor should violent elements be permitted to hijack the peoples’ peaceful struggle for their inalienable rights. Fifth, the diplomatic bellicosity of putting a core issue of one side against the core concern of the other – Kashmir as Pakistan’s core issue and terrorism as India’s core concern – should give way to the mutual and simultaneous consideration of all issues that are of utmost concern to each side.

Sixth, all countries of the region must avoid promoting their respective security agendas in Afghanistan; this further destabilises a war-torn country, which has dangerous consequences for the region and the world. Seventh, the hurdles that have come in the way of the free movement of people and goods – and have increasingly become quite prohibitive – must be rolled back. These are some of the measures that are necessary for confidence-building and providing essential prerequisites for a sustained and productive comprehensive dialogue process.

The participants of the peace moot were unanimous in proposing certain dos for the resumption of the peace process in the Subcontinent. One of the proposals was that the comprehensive dialogue process must be conducted at two levels. The security issues – including terrorism and proxy wars and Kashmir – can be conducted at the level of national security advisers, including the security agencies of the two countries. All other issues can be addressed within the framework of comprehensive dialogue agenda.

The two tracks should complement each other rather than hinder progress. If the don’ts, as mentioned earlier, are strictly observed, then it would not be difficult to address easy-to-resolve-issues to create a conducive environment to tackle difficult-to-resolve-issues. Both India and Pakistan must agree to an authoritative joint-security commission to tackle terrorism and proxy wars. They should also agree to a permanent commission to find ways to resolve the Kashmir issue. The comprehensive dialogue process must continue in an uninterruptable and productive way.

Another proposal is that both the countries should agree to a permanent and inviolable ceasefire agreement and establish mutually monitoring and preventive mechanisms to maintain normalcy at the borders while ensuring a safe and normal life to people on both sides of the border. In addition, a special group of experts and concerned citizens must be formed to evolve a nuclear stabilisation regime in the Subcontinent that may present its recommendations to prevent a nuclear war, ensure the safety of nuclear weapons and to subscribe to various non-proliferation regimes.

The participants also proposed a grand consensus among the countries of the region to stabilise Afghanistan and ensure the territorial integrity of all the neighbouring states. They also suggested that India and Pakistan must maintain the enviable record of keeping the sanctity of the Indus Waters Treaty while observing the binding obligations of the treaty. Another proposal includes the formal signing of the last accord reached on bilateral trade and the relaxation of visa regimes to allow more people-to-people contact and cultural exchanges.

While allowing Saarc to achieve its fullest potential for regional connectivity, economic cooperation and trans-regional trade, as envisaged by successive Saarc summits, India and Pakistan must work together to strengthen relations between South and Central Asia, besides cooperating at the Heart of Asia Conference, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and other international forums. They should work along with Iran to make the Gwadar and Chabahar ports complementary to each other. Participants also agreed that both countries should explore the possibilities of working together to evolve a security regime for the greater region.

This is not a mere wish list. These are the ultimate goals that we have no option but to follow. The choice is between continuing conflicts and increasing the miseries of the people and ensuring peace and progress of all the peoples of the region – above all in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.