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Call for Free Movement of People, Goods and Information

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By A Correspondent

Speakers at a seminar called on India and Pakistan to lift barriers to the free movement of people, goods and information, revive traditional trade routes and form a South Asian Tourism Union.

Historian Dr Ayesha Jalal, economist Dr Akmal Hussain, human rights campaigner I.A Rehman, SAFMA India General Secretary Satish Jacob, Indian journalist Seema Mustafa and South Asian Women in Media president Pamela Philipose spoke at the seminar arranged by South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) in partnership with Hind-Pak Dosti Manch. Delegates from India and Pakistan attended the seminar named “In Pursuit of Shared Destiny in the Sub-continent” as a part of the Independence Day celebrations.

SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam said improvement in relations would help India and Pakistan overcome issues of poverty, hunger, energy and backwardness. He spoke about how trade, tourism and free movement of people across borders between the two countries could create a great economic uplift in the region.

“Let possibilities be explored to get South Asia emerge as a tourism union. This will strengthen social, economic and political bond amongst the people of this region,” Alam said.

“Extremism is a great threat to Pakistan, India and Afghanistan and only through unified efforts we could eliminate it,” he said.

SAFMA had been advocating ‘liberal’ visa regime in the sub-continent to encourage people to people contact for long lasting peace and understanding.

Alam demanded that journalists, artists, writers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals should be granted a similar visa as being given to businesspersons.

Historian Dr Ayesha Jalal wished the Indian delegation a happy Independence Day. She shared her views about the 1947 partition and what the aftermath of the division caused in the South Asian region.

Taking a critical stance on the paradigms of nation and national sovereignty, she emphasized the need for making the notions of sovereignty adjustable to change and subservient to the aspirations of the people.

She said India and Pakistan have lost a lot by not being open minded and reaching an understanding about their important issues, especially the Kashmir one.

Dr Jalal said both the nations should try their best to achieve some type of long term, progressive understanding which would help all future generations of South Asia. She ended her speech by saying that if Pakistan and India did not want to be swept away by the West’s ‘New World Order’ ambitions, they must start building bridges between their nations.

Economist Dr Akmal Hussain said both the nations, by objectively re-examining the past and by reconstructing the present ideas about each other, can improve the chances for a better future of the region. “South Asia is at a conjunctional shift. If proper and foresighted decisions are made and implemented, Pakistan, India, along with China will become a global economic power.

He warned about the impending global warming crises, saying that South Asia is the most vulnerable region to the consequences of climate change.

Dr Hussain, quoting reports of intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) in his address, said South Asia with its heavy reliance on monsoons, its critical dependence on agriculture and persistent mass poverty is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change.

“Managing population dislocation, natural disasters, instability of water supply and food shortages resulting from climate change, will require a high degree of interstate cooperation in South Asia. The integrated ecology of South Asia, its mountains, rivers, forests and top soils constitute the basis of sustaining its economy and social life. Cooperation, not the conflict, is the key to building a better future for South Asia,” he said.

Dr Hussain said that all countries in the region, especially Pakistan and India, must work together to fight away the imminent environment catastrophe. “The floods in Sindh and drought in Balochistan are examples of the impending crisis. South Asia is facing a severe water stress crisis, which can only be resolved through cooperation between the two countries. If not, this crisis would affect one billion people in the region.”

He said sovereignty could not be seen as an abstract ego controlled by the government and bureaucracy.

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Director I.A Rehman said India and Pakistan shared a lot of problems such as illiteracy, poverty, corruption and even extremism. He said hopes for the region’s shared destiny had been kept alive in 1985’s Non-Alignment Movement charter. He said the biggest problem for peaceful ties between the two nations had been nationalism and egotism, which created even more divisions among the people than before.

Rehman said that a sustained and progressive dialogue was greatly needed to resolve all important problems and issues in the region. “Nothing would be achieved if we continue to stick to our decades long nationalistic, stubborn positions.”

[Source: SAFMA Sri Lanka]

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