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Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA)
4410 Verda Lane NE, Keizer, OR 97303, USA

India-Pakistan Peace Day 2004

Ishtiaq Ahmed, Ph. D.*

The Partition of British India in 1947, which created the two independent states of Pakistan and India, was followed by one of the cruelest and bloodiest migrations and religious and ethnic cleansing in history. It resulted in the forced transfer of an estimated 14 to 18 million people between the two countries. The ensuing religious animosity and communal strife caused the deaths of an estimated one to two million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs and abduction, rape and killing of countless women and children. It was indeed one of the most inhuman manifestations of religious and communal intolerance with few parallels in history.

Those who survived were brutalized and traumatized and still carry the scars of their suffering which, in so many ways, have continued to dictate the relations between the two countries for more than half a century. The pain and suffering of the time have been the subject of many a poignant work of prose and poetry in South Asian literature and more recently of some touching and sensitive films.

We sincerely feel that ways ought to be found to ensure that the suffering and humiliation of that period are neither forgotten nor allowed to occur ever again. Rather than the Partition leaving a legacy of perpetual animosity and conflict between Pakistan and India and between Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and others, it ought to be assigned a wholly different meaning and significance. It should instead represent the pain and agony of common humanity.

We propose therefore that, as a permanent symbol of the common suffering, an appropriate Memorial is built along the road in the no man's land between Pakistan and India at Wagah-Attari. There should be suitable provision for those crossing the two countries to make a brief stop and, in their own way, honour the dead and remember the surviving victims of the Partition.

It is our sincere wish and hope that this Memorial will help begin a new chapter in the history of the Subcontinent - one based on a better understanding of the past and on mutual trust and respect in the future.

While acknowledging that the South Asian Subcontinent consists of various independent states whose territorial integrity is inviolable, it is our hope that the South Asian countries would move away from the path of confrontation and war, towards a policy of cooperation and solidarity. It would be necessary to establish and expand trade relations based on mutual benefit.

Equally, it would be imperative that the existing disputes in the region are resolved in a spirit of mutual accommodation and benefit.

For such a vision to succeed, the present policy of restrictive travelling between them will have to be abandoned. It is our sad experience that in the last half a century and more the ruling elites in the region have failed to create a climate of confidence and trust – the necessary precondition for resolving the various disputes. It is, therefore, time that their citizens are involved in a direct dialogue. It is only when people meet each other and share their common experiences and concerns that lasting solutions to disputes are found.

It is therefore necessary that easy and quick visa facilities be established and people encouraged freely to visit each other across the borders.

The Wagah-Attari Memorial, built on the historic Grand Trunk Road connecting Lahore to Amritsar, would thus epitomize the true spirit of friendship and trust between the peoples of the Punjab in particular and South Asia in general.

We urge all peace-loving people of the Subcontinent and of the world to join us in persuading the governments of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh to acknowledge the collective responsibility of their recent history and facilitate the erection of these Memorials to mark the human tragedy of their peoples.

*Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed is Associate Professor of Political Science at Stockholm University in Sweden, and Co-Moderator of Asiapeace, ACHA’s worldwide electronic network of individuals and organizations dedicated to promoting working peace, social justice and enlightened humanism in South Asia and in the world as a whole.