Civil society organisations welcome Pak-India negotiations

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Civil society organisations have welcomed the Pak-India foreign ministers’ meeting that is being held at a critical time when both countries are facing the worst form of terrorism at home.
Pakistan Peace Coalition’s Karamat Ali, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum’s Mohammad Ali Shah, former mayor of Karachi Fahim-u-Zaman, Human Right Commission Pakistan’s Iqbal Hyder and others at a press conference held at the Karachi Press Club said that peace activists of India and Pakistan are organising peace vigils in many cities of both countries on the eve of the meeting between the foreign ministers of the two countries – Pakistan’s Hina Rabbani Khar and India’s SM Krishna – in New Delhi.
“We welcome the foreign ministers’ meeting. We believe that the occasion is a good opportunity for moving forward towards lasting peace. We hope that the peace process would be pursued with renewed vigour after this meeting,” they said.
The representatives of civil society bodies said that people of both countries have been demanding uninterrupted dialogue on all issues, but unfortunately, those talks were suspended after the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
“We have been told by both the governments that they had almost reached a settlement to solve the Sir Creek, Siachen and some other issues before the Mumbai attacks, but after that, the dialogue process was suspended. We demand both the governments to sign agreements on such issues without wasting any further time. The Sir Creek issue is also related to fishermen’s plight because presently both countries are arresting each other’s innocent fishermen and confiscating their boats,” they said.
They also pointed out that these fishermen are kept in jails without any trial for years. “We have been demanding that this inhuman practice of arresting each other’s fishermen should stop. We urge both the foreign ministers to sign an agreement in this regard and adopt a procedure of releasing the fishermen after issuing them warnings.”
They said that people of both the countries have also been demanding easing restrictions on visas, but due to the strained relations, the governments have been reluctant to move forward on this issue. “The city-specific visas are issued after an arduous procedure and formalities. We believe that through people-to-people contact, the bilateral relations between the two countries would improve. The visa issuing process should be made simple and easy so that the divided families, peace activists, students and tourists can travel without any unnecessary hassle of police reporting. We demand normalisation of visa regime and promotion of tourism in both the countries.”
They maintained that trade between Pakistan and Indian is another serious issue that needs to be resolved on urgent basis. “The bilateral trade is already restricted to certain items through the Wagah-Attari borders. We believe under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement, both countries can explore possibilities of increasing trade. We demand to open the historic and traditional border trade routes including Khairpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Khokhrapar-Monabao routes for the movement of trade goods. Presently there is a weekly passenger rail service on Khokhrapar route. The frequency of this train service can be increased on a daily basis and a bus service can also be initiated on this route. Similarly this important route can also be used for transportation of goods. We also demand that both countries should also allow transit trade within the SAARC countries. Presently, Pakistan has allowed India to use its land for trade with Afghanistan, which is also quite restricted, but this type of facilities can be allowed for Pakistani land route trade with Bangladesh and Nepal,” they added.