Members of civil society call for continued dialogue between India and Pakistan

It is in the best interest of both India and Pakistan if the two nations do not suspend talks and do not give in to the rhetoric of “action” and “aggressive replies” after the recent ceasefire violations along the Line of Control, said Member of Parliament Mani Shankar Aiyar on Tuesday.

Mr. Aiyar said both countries stand to lose if the governments pay heed to the suggestions made by “retired generals in TV studios”.

“If talks are not the solution, then what is? Letting the Army take aggressive steps is not a solution…and these people who are angry over the death of five [soldiers who were killed in the attacks on the LoC], what will calm them down? 50, 500, 5,000 or 50 lakh [more who will die, if there is a war],” he said.

Training his guns on the Opposition and the retired personnel, the senior Congress leader said: “In 1965, when the Indian army was much stronger than the Pakistani side, only 10-12 Gorkhas had managed to cross the Ichhogi Canal. The rest of the Army that had reached outside Lahore couldn’t. It is easy to speak in TV studios…but the government knows what to do when something happens. Laid-down policies should not be violated.”

Speaking at a seminar — India and Pakistan: Melting Tracks, Withering Freedom — organised by the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy , Mr. Aiyar said the armies of both nations should be kept in check and the governments cannot be expected to follow their orders.

He cited the example of the two countries nearly signing agreements on Siachen and Kashmir in the past, but the efforts came to nothing as both armies did not support the decision.

Mr. Aiyar referred to the plight of the fishermen who languish in jails on both sides of the border in the absence of an agreement between the two countries on the Sir Creek issue. He spoke of the ramifications to the environment and agriculture by the militarisation of Siachen to drive home the need to focus on issues that affect the common man instead of focusing on polemics.

Journalist and peace activist from Pakistan Karamat Ali questioned the outstanding border disputes in the region and asked why India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China have not been able to amicably settle the issue.

He criticised India and Pakistan for spending more on militarisation, instead of focusing on a permanent solution to the problems of fishermen being arrested and incarcerated for years.

Motup Chewang, a mountaineer and resident of Siachen area, said militarisation of the region is a threat to the glacier.

“The impact that military presence has had on the glacier in the past 30 years is beyond imagination. Earlier, we could reach the glacier within hours of walking from the snout of Siachen, now it takes four days of walking. This change has serious consequences for Pakistan as well. Siachen and the other glaciers are the main source of the Indus and its waters are the main source for farming,” he said.

Velji Bhai Masani, from Saurashtra in Gujarat, recounted how the fishing communities on both sides have been suffering in the absence of a common fishing zone as is being demanded in the Rann of Kutch.

“These days we have to venture deep into the sea to catch fish because there is not enough catch on our side. No fisherman from either side has till date been caught for anti-national activities. Earlier when fishermen were caught, they would be released within a few months, but now it takes years to get them out of jails. The communities on either side are not very well educated, there is little political guidance. It is now up to civil society to take up the cause of the community and the people.”

Reports, “Fishing in troubled waters: The turmoil of fisher people caught between India and Pakistan” and “Siachen: End to the Impasse?”, were also released at the seminar.

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