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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 8, February 7, 2009

Need for Deeper Engagement in South Asia to Fight Terrorist Machinations

Wednesday 11 February 2009




The following is a statement issued at the conclusion of a “Peace Mission” from Pakistan to New Delhi on January 23, 2009. The Peace Mission was organised by the South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a network of human rights defenders in the region, and actively backed by the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). The Pakistani activists in the Peace Mission were: Haji Muhammad Adeel, Senator (ANP); Ms Farzana Adeel; Ali Haroon Shah, politician, PML-N; Ms Asma Jahangir, Chairperson, HRCP; Ibn Abdur Rehman, Secretary-General, HRCP; Ms Salima Hashmi, Co-chairperson, HRCP; Ms Syeda Maimanat (Jugnu) Mohsin, publisher and editor; Muhammad Tehseen, Executive Director, South Asia Partnership; Brigadier (Retd.) Rao Abid, peace activist; Dr Abdul Hameed Nayyar, educationist; Ms Samina Bano Rahman, Women’s Action Forum; Kamran Arif, HRCP and specialist on FATA and Northern Areas; Ms Mussarrat Hilali, Vice-Chair, NWFP, HRCP; Ms Chaudhary Manzoor Ahmed, politician, Ex-MNA, PPP; Imtiaz Alam, Secretary General, SAFMA; Nusrat Javeed, journalist; Mustansar Javed, journalist; Munir Ahmed (Munnoo Bhai), columnist; Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, independent political and defence analyst; Ms Phyza Jameel, Bureau Chief, CNBC Pakistan-Lahore; Ms Asma Sherazi, jouranalist. SAHR members from Bangladesh and Nepal, Ms Hameeda Hossain, human rights activist of Bangladesh and Co-chair, SAHR Bureau, and Devendra Raj Pandey, a top civil society leader in Nepal, also joined the delegation.

The 26/11 attack on Mumbai has caused deep shock to people in Mumbai, elsewhere in India and in fact in the entire South Asia region. There has of course been an outpouring of sympathy for the victims and their families; but the attacks have led to a serious questioning amongst many as to the planning and execution of this act of terrorism, and to interrogations of security and culpability. In addition, the rapidly growing militancy in South Asia, particularly in Pakistan, is extremely worrying. Governments must co-operate in dealing with this dangerous menance and the Government of Pakistan has an obligation to play a key role.

SAHR, a network of human rights defenders in the region, issued a press statement immediately demanding investigations into the Mumbai incidents and its likely causes. In the aftermath of the hostile comments from one side and evasion from the other, SAHR Pakistan took an initiative for a Peace Mission from Pakistan to India to engage in dialogue with different groups of political leaders, professionals, civil society leaders, to share concerns of the emerging threats to democracy and peace in India and Pakistan and to create a climate for shared solutions.

The SAHR initiative received immediate support from many organisations and individuals in Pakistan, particularly SAFMA. In India, over 20 groups of activists, who had been organising meetings and rallies for peace de-escalating the tensions, welcomed the initiative. Indian peace activists welcomed the group in Amritsar and Delhi and organised a full programme to maximise the effectiveness of this initiative. We are, in particular, grateful to ANHAD and SANGAT who joined SAHR in organising the Peace Mission. The Peace Mission does not represent any government or political party. This has been a total people’s initiative.

On January 21, 24 human rights defenders, including lawyers, political leaders, artists, writers, Members of Parliament from different parts of Pakistan crossed the Wagah border on foot and flew into Delhi, where we were joined by our counterparts. To express their solidarity two SAHR members flew in from Bangladesh and Nepal. Between January 22 and 23, the “South Asian Peaceniks” met with a large number of people. Before leaving Pakistan, we had met with the Pakistan Foreign Minister, and with leading political leaders from different political parties. In India, we had cordial meetings with Dr Karan Singh, the Chairperson, Foreign Affairs Department of the Indian National Congress Party, A.B. Bardhan, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the President, Samajwadi Party, Prakash Karat, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, and Shiv Shankar Menon, the Foreign Secretary. Views were exchanged at a Round Table and leading policy analysts, academics, former members of the civil service, journalists to analyse possible plans of action which could be taken to defuse the situation, to start peace talks again and to press for action against the perpetrators. At a public meeting, as well as meetings with artists, writers and cultural activists, several speakers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh affirmed the need for collective understanding.

The attack on Mumbai is not an isolated incident, similar incidents, not as well reported, have occurred elsewhere including several in Pakistan. In the Northwest of Pakistan, people are subjected to daily attacks by the Taliban, girls schools are being forcibly closed down. In Bangladesh too there have been grenade and bomb explosions. The threat of such attacks is to our entire region and not only to one country. Therefore it is important to share information, to build trust in each other and to act collectively. Most importantly, the Government of Pakistan and all major political parties in Pakistan whole-heartedly condemned the Mumbai carnage and remain concerned at repercussions it has had on the relationship between India and Pakistan.

We have sensed continuing doubts in India about action from the Pakistan Government and responses of the people of Pakistan. We share the anguish and trauma faced by the Indian people. We extend our sympathy and offer our cooperation. In fact, in many parts of Pakistan, even in small towns, there have been expressions of concern to protest the grenade attacks which have taken so many lives. In Bangladesh and Nepal there have been expressions of solidarity with the people of Mumbai and India.

During our meetings with different groups of people we have come across many diverse voices. Some have been negative and untrusting, some have talked of “surgical strikes”, but the overwhelming voices we have heard have expressed a strong need for peace and under-standing, despite the deep sorrow and anguish they continue to have regarding the Mumbai attacks.

The Peace Mission welcomes these voices because we are convinced that there cannot be a military answer, it would not only destroy Pakistan’s newly emerging democratic process, it would also set back all our societies economically and make us vulnerable to global power politics. Moreover, it would not affect the machinery of terrorists. On the contrary it would give victory to the authors of Mumbai. We call for a greater sharing of information and understanding amongst ourselves and call our governments to facilitate the process of cooperation. We call for a renewal of the peace process.

Despite the war mongering from different quarters within India and Pakistan we recognise and appreciate the restrained expressions from the Government of India. During our briefing with the Foreign Minister of Pakistan he too assured us that the Government of Pakistan will be thoughtful of its public statements. This is an encouraging sign but we realise that results alone will bring sustainable peace.

We thank the media which has given our mission of peace much space. We have been able to reach a wider public. At the same time we regret that the Press Trust of India circulated a report to different papers, covering a meeting where no journalist was present as it was a private exchange of views. We would urge the media to play a constructive and responsible role in promoting peace in the region.

SAHR will continue the process of deeper engagement between the peoples of South Asia so that decision-making in the region comes from within. We are encouraged that a similar mission will be visiting Pakistan.

Finally, SAHR will continue to call for all acts of terrorism including the one in Mumbai to be thorougly investigated and perpetrators of such acts be brought to justice in a free, fair and transparent manner. We believe that in order to sustain peace governments will also have to invest much more towards peace and make the process transparent so that the peoples of South Asia can enjoy its benefits and dividends.

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