SAFMA underlines historical, cultural and social ties


Journalists from SAARC countries met at SAFMA’s 8th South Asian Free Media Conference, A Vision for South Asia and Union: Opening minds, Opening Borders, in Amritsar on January 6 and Lahore on January 8-9.
In a joint declaration, they underlined the historical, cultural, social and economic ties across South Asian borders, and after having carried out exhaustive deliberations on various issues of great significance to people, put forward the following views.
“We express our dismay over the bottlenecks in the way of implementation of the 14 SAARC declarations on connectivity, 17 SAARC declarations on South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Thimpu Declaration on Environment and the agenda set by the SAARC Information Ministers Conference.”
They also said, “We are dismayed at the continued failure of the region’s states to address violations of basic rights and to further strengthen democratic institutions and processes. We are deeply concerned at the rising wave of terrorism and religious extremism in various parts of South Asia – Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular – which spills over boundaries and is aimed at bringing neighbouring states into conflict with one another.”
They showed their concern about the variety of extreme religious, ethnic and communal/sectarian narratives that are dividing societies, peoples and the states.
They also said poverty and underdevelopment continued to plague the vast majority of citizens in South Asia to the extent that the region has some of the lowest human development indices in the world.
They, however, praised the increasing interest in the idea of a vibrant South Asian community, South Asian union, and mutually beneficial cooperation as opposed to nationalistic and security-centric approaches that have kept the countries of South Asia from pursuing their common destiny.
They said they welcomed trade liberalisation between Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, adding that they condemned atrocities against women, minorities and children as represented by the attack on an icon of hope, Malala Yousafzai, the vicious rape and murder of a brave-heart in Delhi, and all such other instances across the region.
The declaration took serious exception to attacks on the freedom of expression in various countries; attacks on and killing of journalists, social activists, and NGO workers engaged in the uplift of our people (such as vaccine campaign workers and teachers imparting education to girls and boys); and the ethnic/sectarian cleansing of minorities being witnessed across South Asia.
The declaration also condemned the killing of 23 journalists in South Asia – including 13 killings in Pakistan – and the culture of impunity that appears to have become a hallmark of the character of various actors in the countries of the region.
The members welcomed visa liberalisation between India and Pakistan, although it was still prohibitive and did not match good examples of open borders practiced by Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
They said they were critical of the excessive commercialisation and sensationalism being exhibited by sections of the media, regardless of objectivity, neutrality, professionalism, and ethics.