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Joint Press Release:
Friends of South Asia and Qaumantri Punjabi Bhaichara Group Of California

GLOBAL VIGILS FOR INDO-PAK PEACE CONTINUE IN BAY AREA

Fremont, CA, February 25, 2002

As the governments of India and Pakistan continue their stalemate and the tense situation between these two nations threatens to spiral out of control, alarmed at these recent trends, peace loving people all over the world continue their simultaneous monthly global vigils for peace, urging the two governments to desist from war. On February 23, the beautiful Central Park in Fremont, California, was the site of the second of a series of monthly vigils, organized under the banner of "People for Peace between India and Pakistan". More than 70 people assembled at the park besides the Lake Elizabeth to recite poetry, sing songs and shout slogans affirming their faith in peace.

The first of these monthly vigils was held on January 27, in 18 cities all over the world in India, Pakistan and the US, attended by thousands of people. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the call for peace was supported by two local South Asian groups, Friends of South Asia (FOSA), and the Qaumantri Punjabi Bhaichara Group (the Punjabi International Friendship Group). Both groups have organized similar peace demonstrations earlier in the area.

Nikhil Krishnan, a student from Berkeley, started the rally with a melodious song, "Hamako manakii shakti denaa" which means "Give us the strength of mind". He also recited a beautiful poetry namely, "Stream of Life" from "Gitanjali" written by Rabindranath Tagore. This was followed by another famous peace song "Hum Honge Kamyab" sung by Hemkumar Joshi, a professional from the Silicon Valley. This was followed by slogans for peace led by Prashant Jawalikar, a software professional from the East Bay, with slogans such as, ""What do we want? We want peace!".

Satnam Singh Chahal of the Qaumantri Punjabi Bhaichara Group, who also participates in the peace vigils held at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan on the 14th of August each year, said, "We believe that this war-like situation on the Indo-Pak border is a political game of political leaders and we cannot afford to play this game." He added, "India and Pakistan are on the brink of war. It is incumbent upon all people who are concerned with India and Pakistan to bear upon the respective governments to step back and rethink their approach."

"We organized this rally in the Bay Area today as part of a Global Peace Vigil," explained Akhila Raman of the Friends of South Asia. "This is an effort across several groups in different cities in the world to hold peace rallies on the same day, and have a common memorandum to present to the two governments," she said. She added, "The aim of this initiative is to put continuous and ongoing pressure on the leadership of both India and Pakistan to resolve [their] disputes by dialogue and peaceful means, and to avoid war at all costs."

Ali Hasan Cemendtaur, a Pakistani writer based in San Jose, said "We must be determined in our peace efforts and we must promise ourselves never to give up". He also added "We must remember the message of love and tolerance towards people of other faiths and cultures and we must be brave in the face of concerted attacks by war-mongers". He also commented that people gathering for the vigil may disagree on how the issues need to be resolved, but they all agreed that the process of resolution should be peaceful and inclusive.

The common memorandum prepared by these groups is addressed to both Pakistani and Indian governments and urges them to take concrete steps to deescalate the current tensions in the region and establish long-lasting peace. The memorandum advocates the reopening of all trade and travel links between the two countries and urges the two nations to sign a No War Pact. As Girish Agrawal from FOSA pointed out, over 10 million people in India and Pakistan have close relations living in the other country but travel between the two nations is very difficult because of restrictive regulations, and has become almost impossible since all bus, train and airplane services between the two countries have been suspended following the Dec 13th attack on the Indian parliament.

The memorandum also included requests for a permanent dialogue process to be set up between the two governments which would allow them to hold negotiations on all outstanding issues such as that of cross-border terrorism and the self-determination of Kashmiris; and also a plea to reverse the arms race and participate in global nuclear disarmament measures.

Other speakers also noted the contrast between prevalent poverty in the two countries on the one hand, and the billions of dollars being spent on state-of-the-art weaponry on the other. Forty percent of India’s population lives below the poverty line, yet 20 percent of the nation's budget was spent on defense in the year 2000. "If the disputes are resolved by peaceful means, both India and Pakistan can achieve significant phased cuts in defense expenditure and channel the much-needed money to the social sector," noted Raman.

Judy Zlatnik the Vice Mayor of Fremont, reiterated that India and Pakistan should resolve their differences by peaceful initiatives and dialogue.

Several of the demonstrators carried home-made signs with slogans such as ‘Cowards Make War, the Brave Make Peace’, ‘When Governments go to War, Citizens Die’ and ‘No one wins a Nuclear War.’ In recent days, the ‘nuclear option’ has been verbalized by many policy makers in India and Pakistan even as their armies are lined up eye-ball to eye-ball along the long common border. Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been scaled back following the recall of the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan by the Indian Government. India has accused Pakistan of harboring terrorist organizations and has repeatedly spurned all offers for dialogue. On January 25th, India test-fired its intermediate range nuclear capable missile, Agni II. Pakistan has also reciprocated its readiness for the madness of nuclear war by deploying massive formations of troops and armaments along its border with India, and shortening the time required to arm its missiles with nuclear warheads to a mere three hours. Pakistan insists that India should pull back the troops from the border first and then engage in peace dialogues including Kashmir issue; India remains skeptical and unresponsive.

The crowd gathered for the rally reflected the ethnic, religious and professional diversity that constitutes the South Asian diaspora in the Bay Area today. There were taxi-cab drivers and attorneys, high school students and university professors, Silicon Valley professionals and housewives. Many visitors to the park also joined in, enthusiastically taking up the sloganeering and the singing of songs.


2002 - Friends of South Asia (FOSA). Site hosted by ektaonline.org