Floods in Pakistan: Many eager to help held back by restrictions

Suhasini Haidar’s report in Hindustan Times, 29 Augusst 2022

“Wish both India & Pakistan had friendly relationship I would have pledged all proceeds from the sale of book for the victims of disastrous floods in Pakistan” tweeted Raminder Jit Singh (@ramindersays), a “Sikh from Jammu & Kashmir” who has recently published a book titled Immaculate Thoughts. The scale of destruction “leaves one benumbed”.

How tragic is it that people who want to help, can’t.

The catastrophic floods in Pakistan have already claimed over 1,000 human lives, over 700,000 heads of cattle and destroyed millions of acres of crops. The situation makes it all the more urgent to ease restrictions between countries of the region and allow food aid and trade to take place. 

The destruction has caused food prices to rise, to the extent that Pakistan is considering opening duty-free import and even reviving imports through the land border with India.

The previous government headed by Imran Khan had cancelled trade ties with India in protest against the Modi government’s revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 in August 2019. There have been only two exceptions since then: to import pharmaceutical products during the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow India to ship 50,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Modi has tweeted his condolences to Pakistan for the losses caused by the floods and expressed “hope for an early restoration of normalcy”. This “normalcy” needs to include something that hasn’t been normal for the region – good neighbourly relations. Let people of the region meet – allow visa-on-arrival or a visa-free Southasia, like the European Union, or US-Canada as envisioned by Pakistan’s founding father.

Also read Neel Kamal’s article in TOI: Many hands rising from Southasia for flood-marooned in Pakistan – includes a mention of Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network that aims to make this happen.

Why should politics come in the way of people helping each other?

Please see and share this petition and bring friends, family and colleagues on board.

#FloodsInPakistan #Pakistan #India #Southasia 

02 Sept: Updated post to correct the figure of cattle lost to floods, had missed a zero.

India-Pakistan @ 75 and graphic images from Ukraine: Two articles and some context

Sharing two recent pieces, this time not part of the Sapan News Network syndicate. One commissioned by The Wire, and the by The Conversation.

Below – some context and what the editors wanted.

The “piano man,” a war refugee, became one of the symbols of resistance emerging from conflict. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images, Lviv, Ukraine, March 29, 2022.
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A peace pilgrimage from Pune, political prisoners, Bhutan, Gulzar and more

The latest syndicated pieces from our Sapan News Network: A report on peace pilgrims from Pune in Pakistan, a call to free political prisoners, an oped on why Bhutan needs a peace and reconciliation movement, an analysis of the early years of Independence, and a report on the poet Gulzar’s visit to the USA. Enter your email at the Sapan website www.southasiapeace.com to get the pieces sent straight to your mail box. For now, read on:

  1. On eve of 75th independence anniversary, peace pilgrims from Pune bring message of love to Pakistan: The three crossed Wagah border on 22 July for the first peace pilgrimage from India to Pakistan in a quarter century. After a week in Karachi, Shikarpur, and Lahore each, they return to India today after celebrating Pakistan’s Independence day with Pakistani friends at Wagah border. By Priyanka SIngh and Beena Sarwar. Read more here
From Dhaka, Khushi Kabir in conversation with Yogesh Mathuria, Nitin S., and Jalandarnath Channole in Shikarpur. Photo credits: @southasiapeace on Facebook

2. The world’s ‘happiest country’ needs a peace and reconciliation process – “Bhutan’s much-touted happiness rating lies atop a bed of pain. The pain of Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin. I know, because I am one of them,” writes Suraj Budathoki in this groundbreaking oped. Read more here.

3. “Free them all!” A call of solidarity with political prisoners in India, America, and beyond – Revolutionary poet Habib Jalib’s iconic 1962 poem Main Nahi Manta (I refuse to accept) still resonates beyond Pakistan. A report on a discussion on “Political Incarceration and Resistance in India and the USA organised by the Boston South Asian Coalition recently in conjunction with the Boston branch of the Jericho Movement. By Padma B. and Beena Sarwar. Read more here.

4. The years that were: Let lessons from the past inform the present, argues Tridivesh Singh Maini. “…f we just look back and study the 1947-1965 phase in our own region in terms of people-to-people exchanges as well as economic linkages, there is a lot to learn ” Read more here

5. A Southasian poetic giant tours North America Siraj Khan in Boston reports on Gulzar’s visit to several North American cities, in conversation with the writer Rakhshanda Jalil, and a talented musical team rendering his poetry. Read more here.

Subscribe to Sapan News Network by entering your email at http://www.southasiapeace.com to stay up to date with Sapan offerings.

A visafree Southasia? Really?

It’s a dream, and aspiration. To quote Gulzar’s beautiful poem, “Ankhon ko visa nahi lagta, sapnoN ke sarhad koi nahiN” (Eyes don’t need a visa, dreams don’t have frontiers)

So there’s this dream: Southasia is a region with soft borders, like the European Union, or like the Southasia region itself was, prior to 1965.

We’ve long been calling for dialogue to be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The call for soft borders and allowing people-to-people contact takes this further. Letting people meet, travel, and trade will benefit the region economically, as well as reduce misunderstandings and violent extremism.

Check out the list of demands – we know it’s a long shot, but we desis are used to bargaining – sign and share this online petition, coordinated by the Southasia Peace Action Network or Sapan. As of today, over 36,000 signatures and counting. Help us reach 50,000.

Here’s a compilation of the organisations collaborating on this so far. More are joining. Each person counts, like the drops that make up the ocean.

We may not attain the dream in our lifetime but let’s not let that stop us from trying.

Logos of participating organisations. Being updated on the petition site as more join.

The petition is addressed to the prime ministers and foreign offices of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Nepal and Sri Lanka allow visa-on-arrival. This is how it starts:

“This August marks 75 years since India gained independence from the British colonists and was simultaneously partitioned as the new country of Pakistan was born. In 1971, there was further independence and partition as East Pakistan became Bangladesh. These momentous events are marked with much blood and pain. 

“It is time to heal the pain. Let people meet, “milne do”. Let us ‘reclaim Southasia’, to quote the late journalist I.A. Rehman. 

“It is essential to allow people-to-people contact in order to fulfil the objectives of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which aims to “promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia” in all ways possible and to enable the peoples of the region to “live in dignity and to realise their full potential”. 

Details at the petition online at this link.

Need to promptly repatriate cross-border prisoners, especially if they die…

Over 30 organizations around Southasia and beyond have endorsed a joint statement about cross-border prisoners initiated and coordinated by Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network, calling for the humane treatment of cross-border prisoners and to decriminalise inadvertent illegal border crossings.

Titled ‘Release prisoners on completion of jail term, decriminalise inadvertent border crossings, especially for fisherfolk and minors‘, the statement draws attention to the death of two Indian fisherfolk in Pakistani custody this year, and the death of a Pakistani fisherman of Bengali origin in India’s custody last year.

All three had served their sentences but remained in custody on ‘the other side’. Compounding the tragedy, there are terrible delays in the repatriation of the bodies of such fisherfolk, notes the statement.

The statement also draws attention to some teenagers who remain incarcerated in juvenile centers in India, mostly without any contact with their families. One has already served his sentence but remains incarcerated. Details below – Statement text and endorsements:

Arrested fisherfolk in custody across the border, far from home, no consular access until after sentence is over, often kept in custody even after serving their sentences. File photo. Getty images
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