External Affairs

Indians, Pakistanis Ask Governments to Set Up ‘Uninterruptible’ Bilateral Dialogue

A group of 250 prominent citizens from both countries have issued a statement asking that the governments stop fighting “proxy wars” and focus on people-to-people contact.

The statement urged “both governments and their security establishments to take all steps possible towards improving relations”. Credit: Reuters/Mohsin Raza

The statement urged “both governments and their security establishments to take all steps possible towards improving relations”. Credit: Reuters/Mohsin Raza

New Delhi: A group of 250 prominent Indians and Pakistani have called on both governments to start a dialogue process that will be institutionally “un-interruptible” and urged them to renounce all “proxy wars”, “human rights violations” and support for “non-state actors”.

The two South Asian neighbours have not been on talking terms since the January 2016 terror attack at the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot, which derailed the resumption of a comprehensive bilateral dialogue. While Pakistan says that there should be unconditional talks, India has said that it was ready to talk on all issues, but only if there was a suitable ‘terror-free’ environment. The relationship continues to go south, with troops exchanging fire at the border, Kashmir mob incidents enflaming emotions and increased finger pointing.

The signed statement expressed deep concern at “current rise in animosity and antagonism between India and Pakistan” and urged “both governments and their security establishments to take all steps possible towards improving relations”.

Condemning “all forms of violence regardless of its objectives”, the statement noted that those who suffer most due to tensions and conflict between the two South Asian rivals are “ordinary people denied visas and those in the conflict zones, especially women and children as well as fishermen who get routinely rounded up and arrested for violating the maritime boundary”.

Whenever there has been an opportunity to improve relations, the statement said, the process has been disrupted by militant attacks or jingoistic statements. “The traditional response to such disruptions only strengthens those who want continued tensions between our two countries,” it said.

The resolution suggested eight recommendations, which included setting up an “institutionalised framework” for “uninterrupted and un-interruptible” talks between India and Pakistan. “Ensure that political leaders, diplomats and civil servants from both countries conduct talks on the side-lines of all international and multilateral forums,” the statement added.

Further, the resolution asked the governments to recognise that the Kashmir dispute “concerns the lives and aspirations of the Kashmiri people” and asked them to resolve it “through uninterrupted dialogue between all concerned parties”.

It also asked for both sides to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire agreement. While 2014 had the smallest number of ceasefire violations in three years, 2015 witnessed more than a doubling in cross-border firing across both LoC and International Boundary at 229 violations. According to the database of the South Asian Terrorism Portal, the border calmed down a bit in 2016, with 103 violations. So far, more than 20 ceasefire violations have been recorded, with India also having summoned the Pakistani envoy over the alleged mutilation of two Indian soldiers patrolling the LoC by the Pakistan army.

The group of  urged both governments to “renounce 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 statement said that people-to-people contact should be encouraged by removing visa restrictions and allowing for “visa-free” travel between the two nations. Trade, economic and cultural exchanges should also be increased, it added.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, the media was the focus, with the signatories, many of them journalists, pledging to “uphold the principles of impartial reporting”. They also urged media houses on both sides of the border to prevent the growing “militarisation of debate”.

“We must act responsibly and stop broadcasting hate speech and creating public hysteria aimed at the other country and/or vulnerable communities,” said the statement.

The signatories include eminent Pakistani activists, academics and journalists like Asma Jahangir, Ayesha Siddiqa, Bushra Gohar, Adil Najam, Mohammad Jibran Nasir and Afrasiab Khattak.

From the Indian side, the supporters of the statement included filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, Saba Dewan and Rahul Rao, activists Salman Anees Soz, Tapan Bose, Shabnam Hashmi, Kamla Bhasin, Anuradha Bhasin and Congress politician Mani Shankar Aiyar. There was also support from retired Indian military officers, including Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, Admiral L. Ramdas and General Tej Kaul. Organisers of the statement also said that retired Pakistan officials could not be reached and may be added later.

The statement was also signed by citizens from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, to demonstrate that the rest of South Asia also feels the strain due to the tense ties between its two largest countries.