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Self-proclaimed Peacemongers Push India, Pakistan to Talk

  • Ayesha Tanzeem

FILE - Indians burn an effigy of Pakistan and shout anti-Pakistan slogans during a protest in Ahmadabad, India, May 3, 2017.

More than 900 people, most of them from India and Pakistan, have signed a resolution calling on the two governments to decrease hostilities and resolve their differences through dialogue.

Drafted by Boston-based Pakistani journalist Beena Sarwar and Indian academic Anish Mishra, who is based in Singapore, the resolution aims to reduce the increased tensions between the two South Asian nuclear-armed rivals that have already fought five wars since their independence from the British in 1947.

Signatories include well-known artists, authors, journalists, politicians, activists and even retired armed forces personnel. Names like internationally renowned linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, Bollywood stars Naseeruddin Shah and Nandita Das, famous Indian film producer Mahesh Bhatt, poets such as Gulzar and Kishwar Naheed, and historians like Ayesha Jalal and Romila Thapar join the ranks of retired generals Mahmud Durrani and Talat Masood and admiral L. Ramdas as "peacemongers," a name they have chosen for themselves.

Endorsements from other regional countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, indicated how people in the region "feel impacted by relations between the two South Asian giants," stated a web post announcing the resolution.

"The peace constituencies on both sides have to raise their voices," said Pakistani politician Afrasiab Khattak, who has endorsed the resolution. "If they're silent, they leave the field open for warmongers and no one challenges the stereotypes they create."

FILE - In this photo released by Press Information Department, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, reviews guard of honor with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in Lahore, Pakistan, Dec. 25, 2015.
FILE - In this photo released by Press Information Department, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, reviews guard of honor with his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, in Lahore, Pakistan, Dec. 25, 2015.

Short-lived efforts at peace

Hostilities between India and Pakistan have been high ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014. He had campaigned on a platform of creating a "muscular India" that was tough on its rival, Pakistan. New Delhi often accuses Pakistan of harboring anti-India militants who carry out cross-border attacks on Indian targets.

Several apparent attempts by both sides at breaking the ice have been frustrated by subsequent events.

A surprise visit by Modi, for example, to attend the wedding ceremony of the granddaughter of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in December of 2015 was supposed to act as a reset button. The euphoria was short lived.

In January 2016, heavily armed militants attacked an air force base in Pathankot in the Indian state of Punjab. India blamed Pakistan-based militants and the relationship soured.

More recently, India sent back 50 Pakistani students who had been invited to the country by a nongovernmental organization after accusing Pakistan of killing and mutilating the bodies of two Indian soldiers on the Line of Control or LoC, a de-facto border in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Pakistan denied the allegation.

Taking account of such instances, the resolution notes, "Whenever it seems that relations might improve, some form of disruption takes place ranging from jingoistic statements to militant attacks."

FILE - Indian Muslims pay tribute to Indian soldiers killed in the recent Pathankot air base attack, outside a mosque in New Delhi, India, Jan. 8, 2016.
FILE - Indian Muslims pay tribute to Indian soldiers killed in the recent Pathankot air base attack, outside a mosque in New Delhi, India, Jan. 8, 2016.

For this reason, the peacemongers have demanded that the two countries design a framework for dialogue that is "uninterrupted and uninterruptible," words first used by Indian diplomat-turned-politician Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Aiyar signs, but remains skepical

The former diplomat was less enthusiastic about the resolution's prospects for success.

"The bureaucracy completely closes its ears to anything that does not come out from within," he said. He added that the Bharatiya Janta Party of Prime Minister Modi was increasing its vote bank as a result of hostilities with Pakistan.

"I don't think they'll even read the resolution, let alone be influenced by it," he added.

Still, Aiyar endorsed the resolution because he believed "peace lovers on both sides should stand by their convictions," no matter what.

The organizers admit the resolution might not affect policy, but say they are hoping for a ripple effect of "a pebble thrown in a pond."

Sarwar, one of the initiators, maintained the peace constituencies on both sides were large but not represented in mainstream media.

"When Indians and Pakistanis meet in a third country, they mostly become good friends," she pointed out.

"Even the soldiers at the Wagah border who put up a show of hostility rehearse that show together," she said, referring to a flag-lowering ceremony at the India-Pakistan border in which soldiers from both sides growl and wave fists at each other but do it in unison.

FILE- Indian and Pakistani flags are lowered during a daily retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan joint border check post of Attari-Wagah near Amritsar, India, July 21, 2015.
FILE- Indian and Pakistani flags are lowered during a daily retreat ceremony at the India-Pakistan joint border check post of Attari-Wagah near Amritsar, India, July 21, 2015.

The media, she said, represented voices that were loud, even if they were a minority.

The resolution also calls on both sides to "[r]enounce all forms of proxy wars, state-sponsored terrorism, human rights violations, cross-border terrorism, and subversive activities against each other, including through non-state actors or support of separatist movements in each other's state."

The initiative comes at a time when fears of Indian-Pakistani hostilities leading to a wider conflict are high. In testimony in the United States before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the director general of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, expressed fears of a further strain in ties between the two South Asian nations.

India has sought and continues to move to isolate Pakistan diplomatically and is considering punitive options to raise the cost to Islamabad for its alleged support of cross-border terrorism, he said.

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