South Asian Free Media Association’s ‘peace caravan’ arrives in Lahore from Amritsar
* Indian PM plans to visit Pakistan ‘with something concrete
in his bag’ when new government is in place
By Tariq Farid
LAHORE: The South Asian Free Media Association’s (SAFMA) “peace caravan” comprising participants from all the South Asian countries arrived here on Monday from Amritsar with a loud message of “opening minds and borders”.
Over 200 delegates from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives entered Lahore through the Wagah border to participate in the remaining sessions of SAFMA’s 8th regional conference, themed “A South Asian Vision and Union”. “We want peace and harmony in the region. Please remove barriers in the way of people-to-people contact and promoting trade. Open minds and relax borders,” the delegates appealed unanimously to the governments of SAARC countries.
The delegates, who were very excited when they crossed the border and entered Pakistan, said that Pakistan and India should soften their borders, because the people were looking forward to the day when they could have breakfast in one country and lunch in the other. Talking to Daily Times, SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam said that the Indian foreign minister had promised to talk with his colleagues on SAFMA’s demand to issue two-year multiple visas to journalists.
He said that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf would reciprocate during his address to the conference delegates today (Tuesday). “Our message is not India- and Pakistan-specific. We are promoting the SAARC’s agenda of increasing connectivity, building up communication network and encourage greater regional bonds,” he said. He said that the aim of holding the conference in Amritsar and Lahore was to promote regional cooperation and strengthen cultural bonds. “We are not against borders, but we want borders should not create hindrance in the way of people-to-people contact,” he said. Najia Ashar, one of the delegates from Karachi, said that the conference provided them a platform to interact with the journalists from other South Asian states and come to know their views about Pakistan. “The conference has broadened our vision and opened our minds and hearts. It was exciting and informative to meet people from other countries,” she said.
“During our interactive discussions with foreign delegates, we were able to shove away some misperceptions they had about Pakistan, and gained first hand knowledge about the social and political situation in the other SAARC countries,” she said. Indian journalist Suhasini Haider said that Pakistan and India could dilute their differences by encouraging maximum contacts among people from all walks of life belonging to both countries.
In the spirit of one of the conference’s main themes — open borders — its two-day second segment will begin in Lahore on Tuesday (today). Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira will be chief guests at different sessions.
Meanwhile, welcoming the completion of five years of democratic government in Pakistan, Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid has said that the Indian prime minister has plans to visit Pakistan “with something concrete in his bag”, when the new government comes in force in Pakistan. Talking to Daily Times after his speech at the 8th SAFMA Conference in Amritsar on Sunday, the minister said that they were waiting for the general elections in Pakistan and coming into power of a new government.
“Prime Minister Manmohan wants to go to Pakistan with something concrete in his bag,” he said. He congratulated the democratic government of Pakistan for completing its term. Promising to take forward the visa regime relaxation process in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, Salman Khurshid said he would look forward to the day when people could have breakfast in one country and lunch in another.