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Peace Caravan: Aman Ke Badhte Qadam
A 10-member India-Pakistan peace caravan went from Mumbai to Lahore, the first major people’s initiative after the terrorist attack on Mumbai, writes Sandeep Pandey, who was part of the team.
Indian and Pakistani currency bills come together as Siliconeer India editorial consultant Sandeep Pandey and fellow members of a 10-member Indian peace caravan share donations for flood victims with Pakistani friends in Lahore. The team helped raise Rs. 100,000 in Lahore, of which Rs. 25,000 was brought over from India.
An India Pakistan Peace Caravan by the name of Aman Ke Badhte Qadam which started from Mumbai July 28, concluded successfully on its due date in Lahore Aug. 15. It was the first major people’s initiative after the terrorist attack on Mumbai on Nov. 26, 2008, in the direction of peace and friendship between the two countries.
Mumbai was chosen as the origin of the caravan to convey the message that even after the ghastly act witnessed by people they wanted peace and friendship with Pakistan. It received warm response from people all along the way in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab and merged with the annual program of music and candle lighting at the Wagah border on the junction of Pakistani and Indian Independence Days. Over 100,000 people attended the musical night, which featured the charismatic singer Satinder Sartaj this year. Sartaj was as dynamic in his actions as his poetry. He covered the issues of open borders between the two countries, peaceful resolution of disputes, disarmament and dangers of nuclearization and oneness of people, the objectives of the India Pakistan Peace Caravan and all such people’s peace initiatives. Veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar from Delhi, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt from Mumbai, theatre artist Sheema Kermani from Karachi, politicians Shahid Siddiqui, Naresh Yadav, A.R. Shaheen, Sunilam from India and Aitzaz Hasan and Iqbal Haider from Pakistan participated in these events.
A similar caravan was initiated in Pakistan from Karachi on Aug. 7, but had to be abandoned by the time it reached Hyderabad as the flood situation had become too critical by then. A Pakistani delegation did come to participate in the events in Amritsar on Aug. 13th and Aug. 14. When the Indian delegation of 10 peace activists reached Lahore they were taken to the fund raising camps at Regal Chowk on Mall Road. They helped the activists of Pakistani civil society raise more than 100,000 rupees that day which included a contribution of Rs. 25,000 (in Indian currency) brought from India. It was decided earlier that the Peace Caravan on Indian side would raise money for flood victims in Pakistan.
A member of the 10-member Indian peace caravan talks to the Pakistani media during a fundraising drive for flood victims of Pakistan in Lahore.
The response that the Indian peace activists got on the streets of Lahore was tremendous. It also signaled the changing mood in the subcontinent in which people and governments seem to want to work together more than before. The globalizing world and the increased threat of terrorism is forcing the governments into closer cooperation.
Later in a meeting organized in the evening it was decided that the Aman Ke Badhte Qadam must go on. The immediate felt need was to send a team of Indian doctors and trucks of medicines from India. The Pakistani organizers of the caravan took the responsibility of hosting any Indian team of doctors. The governments must use this opportunity to relax their visa regime and allow teams of doctors and relief workers from India to enter Pakistan and move about freely to carry out the relief work. The city specific visas that the two governments have a practice of issuing won’t do for any meaningful relief work. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise and the two governments must reconsider their policies of restricting travel between the two countries.
Given a chance, many Indians, especially those associated with civil society organizations, would like to visit Pakistan and contribute towards flood relief efforts. But the Pakistani government has to be magnanimous enough to allow as many Indians to come into their country as would like to go. Even in other circumstances common people who want to visit Pakistan from India and vice versa, when denied visa or the permission to cross Wagah border from their own Home/Interior Ministries, get very disheartened. Most give up their efforts in very preliminary stages and never make it to the other country.
The Indian government has made a generous offer of aid towards flood relief to Pakistan. The government in Pakistan has accepted it after some dilly-dallying. It is a pity that U.S. had to step in to urge the Pakistani government to accept the Indian offer. It is a good example of how Indian and Pakistani governments, because of their lack of positive initiatives, have allowed a larger role for the U.S. in this area. U.S. interference anywhere in the world has not been beneficial for the people.
Two Lahore residents riding a motorcycle stop by to make a donation to a 10-member Indian peace caravan raising funds for victims of flood in Pakistan.
The Pakistani economy has been dependent on international aid for a long time. There was never a policy, like in the case of India, to strive towards self-reliance. India is also discarding its sovereignty and is increasingly more dependent on international aid. However, India also provides financial aid to countries like Afghanistan. So, if Pakistan needs help and India can provide that, it should be a mutually beneficial relationship. It will definitely reduce the atmosphere of antagonism that prevails in official interactions. Moreover, for Pakistan the relationship with India will be more democratic than with the U.S.
It was necessary that the Pakistani government accepted the hand of friendship offered by Indian government, if not for anything else, for the sake of millions whose lives have been devastated overnight by the floods. For the victims of floods the politics between the two governments has no meaning, even in relatively better times. The Pakistani government had to demonstrate that it cared for its people. Hopefully, more aid, government and non-government, cash and kind, doctors and relief workers, will follow from India.
Sandeep Pandey, a Magsaysay award-winning activist, is India editorial consultant for Siliconeer.