New Delhi: South Asian human rights activists and journalists have expressed concern at the rising “war hysteria” in India and Pakistan and have called on both countries to engage in dialogue.
The two countries have been engaged in an escalating verbal spat since the current round of unrest began in Kashmir earlier this year. The situation turned worse after militants attacked the Indian army’s brigade headquarters in Uri, leaving 18 soldiers dead.
On Thursday morning, India retaliated by conducting surgical strikes against terror launch pads in Pakistan’s territory, killing several terrorists. Pakistan summarily dismissed Indian claims, claiming there were no surgical strikes conducted in its territory but that heavy cross border firing resulted in the deaths of two Pakistani soldiers. Meanwhile, an Indian soldier ‘strayed’ into Pakistani territory on the same day, but Islamabad is yet to officially acknowledge his presence.
The SAARC summit, which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad between November 9 and 10, has been one of the diplomatic casualties of the rising bilateral tension. After India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka pulled out of the summit claiming that the environment was “not conducive” for the meeting, the host country Pakistan decided to postpone it indefinitely.
South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a Colombo-based regional human rights body, noted that SAARC, as the only state level body in the region, has been “instrumental” in developing cooperation amongst member states especially in trade and culture.
“Therefore, SAHR would like to call upon the SAARC member states to recognise the importance of SAARC for fostering cooperation among member states,” said a statement issued by the organisation on Friday.
Stressing the need for cooperation to maintain regional peace and harmony, SAHR urged “India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue and also ensure that SAARC is not weakened by their actions”.
South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), a body of women journalists from SAARC member states, also appealed to India and Pakistan to “de-escalate” tensions and “immediately begin the process of diplomatic engagement through dialogue to address their respective concerns”. The group emphasised that Kashmiris should also be included in this process.
SAWM also condemned the “escalating war hysteria in Pakistan and India, and all kinds of violence in word and deed” and demanded that governments and politicians “play a responsible role”.
“We also urge our colleagues in the media to play their role as responsible journalists and work towards de-escalating rather than fanning tensions,” said the statement.
At the same time, SAWM expressed support for the “sane voices in both countries, including our colleagues in the media who are trying to shape a sensible narrative that rejects outright war and adheres to factual reporting rather than regurgitating militarised discourse”.
The journalists who signed include Jyoti Malhotra (freelance journalist and president SAWM India), Marvi Sirmed, op-ed writer for Pakistan Today, Nirupama Subramanian, The Indian Express, Beena Sarwar, editor, Aman ki Asha, Pakistan, Tanzeela Mazhar, Pakistan Television, Muslim Jan, editor at media department, University of Kashmir, Mannika Chopra, independent journalist, New Delhi, Bachi Karkaria, columnist, Times of India, Arfa Khanum, Rajya Sabha TV, Farah Zia, editor, The News on Sunday, Pakistan, Syeda Afshana, media department, University of Kashmir, Sevanti Ninan, The Hoot, New Delhi, Najiba Ayubi. Killid Group Afghanistan, Dilrukshi Handunnetti, consultant editor, Weekend and Daily Express, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Anita Katyal, freelance journalist, New Delhi, Nivedita Jha, freelance journalist, vice president, SAWM India, Patna, Teresa Rehman, managing editor, Thumbprint, Guwahati, Nasim Zehra, Islamabad, Shuma Raha, New Delhi, Ramya Kannan, The Hindu, Chennai, Madhumita Datta, Ebela, Kolkata, Kalpana Sharma, Mumbai, Neena Gopal, Deccan Chronicle/The Asian Age, Bangalore, Uma Sudhir, NDTV, Hyderabad, Sarada Lahangir, Kalinga TV, Bhubaneswar, India, Mehmal Sarfraz, Pakistan, Saroj Razdan, Srinagar, Ammu Joseph, Bangalore, Shruti Ganapatye, The Asian Age, Mumbai, Anuradha Bhasin, executive editor, Kashmir Times, Saroj Nagi, New Delhi, Maya Mirchandani, NDTV, Munizae Jahangir, Aaj TV, Islamabad, and Swati Bhattacharjee, Ananda Bazar Patrika and general secretary SAWM India, Kolkata.