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Cross-border interactions
By dropping the only Pak delegate from media summit, India has sent a very wrong signal
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Dropping Moneeza Hashmi, daughter of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, right at the doorstep of a media summit organized by two autonomous bodies of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry signifies a new low in the India-Pakistan politics. Moneeza was invited, in her capacity as creative and media head of Pakistan-based KASHF foundation, as one of speakers on a panel discussion at the 3-day 15th Asia Media Summit from May 10 to May 13. However, she was barred from attending the conference at the last minute even as she was the only Pakistani to have been invited from among the 200 foreign delegates, which itself reflects poorly on the bias of keeping participants from the neighbouring country out at a continental level summit. The case of Moneeza Faiz being dropped as speaker at the summit and cancelling even her hotel room reservation is not just a case of violation of the rights of an honoured guest and basic hospitality, it is a revelation of an obnoxious policy of snapping ties with a country through its citizens. So far people to people interactions have been discouraged by the two countries, particularly India, in the last couple of years, through denial of visas. People to people mobility has always strengthened moves for peace and reconciliation and it is shocking that the governments on either side should go an extra mile in damaging such interactions that can contribute to the lowering of temperatures due to poor diplomatic engagement. While diplomatic relations have not been snapped, recently, the tit for tat bid by both the sides to harass each other diplomatic staff heralded the kind of atmosphere that the two establishments on both sides wanted to build. Silencing peaceniks within and outside the establishments is a systemic part of the process and it has dangerous ramifications.

Already, the continuing hostility on the borders matched with a war of words at the official level, almost on a daily basis, has contributed to the fragility of the mutual relations between India and Pakistan. The good thing is that while these bouts of jingoism and military chauvinism have been at their worst display, both sides have continued to reiterate their commitment to resolve several pending bilateral issues including the harassment of diplomats and the issue of prisoner and there is also keenness to resume economic ties. There have been other signs of optimism with Pakistan army general softening his rhetoric with respect to India and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi meeting his Chinese counter-part Xi Jinping without appending the word 'Pakistan' with either the economic relations or commitment to fight terrorism. These are healthy signs which stand in striking contrast to the Moneeza Hashmir issue and the constant denial of visas to ordinary citizens. Does this reflect dilemma or a deliberate attempt to derail any overtures for peace being pushed from outside? Such ambivalence can be addressed by beginning an immediate process of bilateral engagement. New Delhi and Islamabad must resume a structured dialogue alongwith the much needed confidence building measures to strengthen people to people exchange and trade. Dialogue is the need of the hour more than ever.

Facilitating people to people interaction and removing visa restrictions would in a big way create space for the peace process. The cross-border movement always helps to dilute animosity and give an impetus to the constituency of peace. This needs to be strengthened and civil society actors can become goodwill ambassadors from both sides. Unfortunately, the signs are ominous. The latest episode shows that there is a deliberate design to shrink this constituency and stonewall every possibility that can enable an internal push within the sub-continent for peace.

News Updated at : Tuesday, May 15, 2018
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