AS Indo-Pakistani ties continue to deteriorate, around 120 Indian professionals, activists and academicians are headed for Lahore to make a determined pitch for peace. On the agenda is a meeting with Pakistani counterparts to chalk out strategies for mass peace campaigns. Each delegate has paid from his own pocket to attend the second convention of the Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy. The convention, being held from November 9 to 11, will be the biggest gathering of citizens from the two sides on Pakistani soil since the famous hockey matches of the 50s.
Among the delegates are former Punjab governor Nirmal Mukarji, former Bombay High Court judge H. Suresh, political scientist Rajni Kothari, poet Neeraj, Hindustani vocalist Satyasheel Deshpande, the Narmada Bachao Ando-lans Sripat Dharmadhikari and representatives of major trade unions, construction and fish workers federations and journalists.
"Almost all the states are represented, including Jammu, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Assam. Most delegates are associated with mass movements and will act as nuclei in spreading the philosophy of peace and pressurising the governments to shed the path of confrontation," says the conventions Indian co-chairperson Tapan Bose.
The delegates are likely to be exempted from mandatory police reporting. Given the tit-for-tat diplomacy, the move isnt surprising: India too had given non-reporting visas to the 100 Pakistanis who came to Delhi for the first convention last February. They too had borne their expenses and arrived despite the Pakistani press predicting a sell-out on Kashmir at an "India-sponsored gala".
Mubashir Hasan, former Pakistani minister and member of the organising committee in Lahore, says the February meet "demonstrated that a sizeable and vocal constituency for peace exists and that the people are far ahead of the governments and could arrive at broad common positions on issues like Kashmir, demilitarisation and religious intolerance. Even the Pakistani press has turned around and, except for a minority, supports the initiative."
The Lahore meet will focus on the need to boost economic ties and the concern of womens groups about the likely budgetary fallout of the arms race on health and education. Says Bose:
"Well assess the developments since February and work on formulating a programme of action on the earlier resolutions, as also strategies on how to cope with the recent escalation in the arms race. Our new regional chapters have proposed several resolutions such as a no-war pact and campaigning for a nuclear-free subcontinent. The Pakistanis too have undertaken similar exercises."
At Delhi, 34 resolutions had been adopted and the delegates were unanimous in recognis-ing Kashmir as the biggest hurdle to peace. Any meaningful solution, they agreed, would have to involve "the people of Jammu and Kashmir". The 200 delegates had urged both governments not to resort to war to resolve bilateral disputes.
But do such peace initiatives really help? Pakistani High Commissioner Riaz Khokhar, has reservations: "We have no problem in issuing visas to intellectuals to meet and try to contribute to a better understanding, but I dont think people in Pakistan are really bothered. Frankly, when 120 people from each side meet, what can they really talk about? Even the Nim-rana dialogue, which was much smaller, has not got anywhere. We dont mind them meeting, talking and getting to know one another, but I cant see how they can make a difference."
Bose disagrees: "Most of us arent intellectuals but are from mass movements. Ours is not a government-sponsored, US-blessed closed-door initiative like Nimrana. Ours is a meeting of minds. We aim to widen the constituency for peace. Hopefully, one day well be able to pressurise the governments to reduce tensions perpetuated by vested interests among the ruling elite on both sides."
Meanwhile, Pakistan International Airlines is having a hard time coping with the sudden rush of peacenicks. Reason: PIA normally has an 80-seater between Delhi and Lahore and has to now find a much bigger plane for the Lahore flight of November 9.