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.

Give peace a chance: Activists urge India, Pakistan, to step up for #SouthAsia

The Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) has begun a series of online discussions aimed at reclaiming the people’s narrative. The PIPFPD The page has several video excerpts from these and other discussions. Below reports on both discussions by Neel Kamal, published in Times of India and Aman Ki Asha.

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Tribute to a nationalistic hawk-turned-peacemonger with a SouthAsian vision

Lahore, 1992: Dr Syeda Hameed with Dr Mubashir Hasan, uncle, comrade and mentor. Photo by Reza Kazim.

With the world in the grip of the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to find space for anything else. As horrors unfolded in country after country, exposing the hollowness behind military might, glittering capitalist facades, and exploitation, a gentle soul slipped into the hereafter at his house in Lahore. At 98, he had spent the last half of his life fighting for exactly the kind of egalitarian, people centered system that would have mitigated the ravages of Covid-19. There have been some wonderful tributes to Dr Mubashir Hasan. Two of the best I’ve seen are by his old friend I.A. Rehman and Indian journalist Nirupama Subramaniam in Indian Express, also published in Aman Ki Asha.

Below, my tribute to Dr M. in The News on Sunday last weekend, a follow up to my piece in The Wire earlier. Also below, two previously unpublished pieces I am honoured to present here — a powerful, poignant poem in Dr M’s memory by his niece in Delhi, and a lively little remembrance by a 12-year old based on her memories of the Chaukas collective meetings she attended with her mother, that led to A New Social Contract published by Dr M, 2016. Also linking here this tribute in Mainstream Weekly magazine, Kolkata, founded by Dr Mubashir’s friend Nikhil Chakravartty — “one of the greatest journalists of the subcontinent” as Dr M called him — now edited by his son Sumit Chakravartty.

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Farewell Dr Mubashir Hasan: A Nobel Peace Laureate Remembers His Old Friend

In the midst of coronavirus madness, March 14 brought the sad news of Dr Mubashir Hasan’s passing. Wrote this piece published in The Wire a few days back. Reproduced here with additional pix and links.

Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, a legacy of Dr Mubashir Hasan, continues to speak out for Kashmir.
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Detained fisherfolk: Denial of consular access is denial of justice

It is beyond belief that Pakistan has STILL not nominated members to the joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, which India did in 2018. I have personally sent notes to several members of the ruling party through various contacts. They say they care but there are obviously more important matters to worry about than poor imprisoned fishermen. The Judicial committee, instituted in 2007, has been virtually defunct since the end of 2013. Cross-border prisoners completing their sentences continue to languish in prisons across the border because of lack of consular access. This wouldn’t happen if they were rich and powerful.

Arrested Indian fishermen in Pakistan lockup. File photo. Getty images
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PERSONAL POLITICAL: Rest in peace, comrade Kutty. The struggle continues

I wrote this piece a few days back – the second of my occasional syndicated columns. Published in The Wire, Naya Daur, Mainstream, The Citizen among others.

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Early Sunday morning in Karachi, a little over a month after his 89th birthday on 18 July 2019, B. M. Kutty slipped into the ever after. Lifelong activist, trade unionist, political worker, peacemonger, humanist. I like to remember him as I last saw him in Karachi – his big smile, deep voice with its powerful timbre, intense gaze behind the glasses, dapper as usual in bush-shirt and trousers.

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Cricket World Cup and the spirit of South Asia – #SouthAsianUnion

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M. Bashir ‘Chacha Chicago’ cheers for both teams (for details see this report)

I wrote this piece published in The Wire 6 June 2019, Letter From a Pakistani to an Indian Friend: Can We Please Have a South Asian Union? — pegged on Eid at the time. Posting it here on the eve of the Cricket World Cup match between Pakistan and India in Manchester Sunday. As Admiral Ramu Ramdas says in his little video message, treat it as a game, not a proxy war… And we want a South Asian spirit (also see Himal SouthAsian map and caption below)

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Remembering Kuldip Nayar, journalist, activist, peacemonger

Kuldip, Nandita, Asma J

A precious photo: Kuldip Nayar, Nandita Das and Asma Jahangir at Wagah border. Photo: courtesy Seema Mustafa, The Citizen

I was sad to hear about the passing away of veteran journalist and peacemonger Kuldip Nayar, 95, in Delhi. His passing in general evoked great sadness — as well as a resolve to keep working for his values — not only in India but the land of his birth, Pakistan. I had got to know Kuldip ji over the years through the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) that I joined as a young journalist from Lahore when it was launched in 1994-95, as the largest people-to-people organization between the two countries. The last time I met him was at Allahabad train station a few years ago. The lawyer S.M.A. Kazmi and our family friend Zia ul Haq — the comrade, not the general, himself now over 90 were dropping me off and picking him up. He got the surprise of his life. We didn’t have much time to chat as my train was about to leave but I treasure that memory.

Sharing here the two pieces I put together for Aman Ki Asha (hope for peace), the India-Pakistan website I edit. One is pegged on a tribute from Dr Syeda Hameed in Delhi his long-time friend and fellow-activist, former member of the Planning Commission of India and founder trustee of the Women’s Initiative for Peace in South Asia (WIPSA) and the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. She aptly termed him the “gentle giant of India Pakistan peace” in her wonderful piece in The Citizen. See also her account of the Aman Dost Yatra (peace and friendship march) at the border. In the other piece, I put together other tributes paid to him by Pakistanis.

Here are links to both pieces: Remembering the ‘gentle giant of India Pakistan peace’,  and Pakistanis pay tribute to Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar.

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(L-R) Dr Syeda Hameed, Navaid Hamid, Kuldip Nayar, Maulana Syed Jalauddin Umari. File photo – Indiatomorrow.ne.

It all comes together: Kashmir Day, banned organisations, and a warped narrative

DIG Khalique Shaikh and PPP leader Sharmila Farooqi negotiating with protesters outside CM House, Karachi. PPI photo

DIG Khalique Shaikh and PPP leader Sharmila Farooqi negotiating with protesters outside CM House, Karachi. PPI photo

It all comes together. When the Sindh government agreed on Tuesday to the demands of the citizens observing a sit-in for over 30 hours in protest against the Shikarpur blast, probably everyone forgot about Kashmir Solidarity Day. It has been observed annually in Pakistan every February 5 since 1991 when the Nawaz Sharif government during its first stint in power demarcated it as a national holiday. Continue reading

India, Pakistan: Moving on the right track

May 25, , Puri beach, Odisha: Sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik's image of India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi and the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made in sand, with the message ” Peace gets a chance’.

May 25, , Puri beach, Odisha: Sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik’s image of India’s Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi and the Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made in sand, with the message ” Peace gets a chance’.

I don’t have any great expectations from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s upcoming visit to Delhi for PM designate Modi’s inauguration but it’s good that he’s going (despite all the pressures) and that contact is being initiated. Hopefully this contact will lead to steps being taken to implement agreements that have already been signed (re: trade, travel) that are in limbo. In that spirit, a re-plug for the Aman ki Asha petition against visa restrictions. Please sign and share if you haven’t already. Also, a very positive step ahead of the Modi-Sharif meeting is that, as a goodwill gesture, Pakistan has ordered the release of over 150 Indian prisoners, mostly fishermen, from Pakistani prisons. And for the first time, they are also releasing fishing boats. This is the first time in years that any side has decided to release fishing boats – kudos to Pakistan for taking the lead in this direction.

PIPFPD welcomes fishermen’s release, participation of Sharif in Modi’s swearing in ceremony

Modi’s invitation to Nawaz Sharif – a welcome move: Justice Markandey Katju Continue reading

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