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Punjab: Can It Be a Bridge to Peace Between India and Pakistan?

The Institute of Sikh Studies (IOSS), Chandigarh organized a public lecture on the topic: "Punjab: Can It Be a Bridge to Peace Between India and Pakistan?" on 5th May 2012 at its headquarters at Gurudwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Kanthala, Industrial Area, Phase 2, Chandigarh.

The Lecture was delivered by Mr. Tridivesh Singh Maini of The Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi, who has authored a number of books on Indo-Pak relations. He felt that there was a need to promote the common Punjabi identity without making it hostage to jingoistic nationalism. Religious tourism, educational exchanges and trade have gone a long way in normalizing Indo-Pak relations even when they had got strained post the Kargil war, the Mumbai terrorist attacks etc. Such exchanges take the interaction between the nations to the grassroots level and there is a need to further strengthen such exchanges. He also felt that collaborative efforts between the writers and regional presspersons of both nations can go a long way in improving relations between both the nations. Both the Punjab governments need to send recommendations to the Central Government to liberalize visa regimes between the two countries to promote more such exchanges. He appreciated the efforts of the Punjabi Diaspora of both countries who have been taking steps to improve Indo-Pak relations even during times of strained relations between India and Pakistan and felt that they need to be involved in any future efforts in this direction. He concluded by saying that there was a need to blend emotions with reality while devising a structure for further improving Indo-Pak relations.

Dr Sardara Singh Johl, an eminent economist and former vice-chairman of the Planning Commission of Punjab stressed on the importance of promoting common economic interests for improving relations between both the nations. He highlighted areas like collaborative agricultural research, trade of citrus fruits etc in which cooperation between India and Pakistan were possible. He also shared his personal experiences of interaction with local people during his visits to Pakistan.

Dr G S Kalkat, Chairman Punjab State Farmers Commission explained that the economy of Punjab can improve only if we have free trade with Pakistan. He informed the audience that other Indian states like U.P., M.P. etc were now increasingly becoming self-sufficient in producing wheat and rice. Hence, the farmers of Punjab have to diversify into growing vegetables and fruits and then export them in frozen form to Iran and Central Asia via Pakistan.

Dr Kirpal Singh, an eminent Historian, shed light on the role of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in promoting better relations between Sikhs and Muslims. He gave examples from his personal life to highlight the profound respect which Muslims have for Sikhs.

Mr. P.S.Pruthi, Chief Commissioner of Customs & Excise highlighted the painfully slow progress in economic integration between India and Pakistan. He explained that now-a-days products from distant states like Maharashtra, M.P., Rajasthan etc were being exported to Pakistan via Attari border. However, the state of Punjab was lagging behind in this respect.

Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Kartar Singh Gill shared his experiences from the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. He explained that the elder generation of India and Pakistan had lived together before partition and has a sense of shared heritage. The younger generation however is quite different because they have grown up under the belief that the other side is their biggest enemy. Therefore, there is a dire need to promote student exchanges so the younger generation can understand each other better and overcome any jingoistic indoctrination.

Prof. Nirmal Singh (USA) stressed the importance of focusing our efforts in the right place. He felt that one area where we need to focus our efforts is in educating the young Sikh kids in Pakistan. These kids are the future of our community in Pakistan but have very little exposure to the outside world and to proper education. Hence, it was incumbent upon the Sikh community to take steps towards ensuring a bright future for these kids.

Earlier, Principal Prabhjot Kaur (IOSS President) welcomed the audience and briefly introduced the speakers. She said that cordial Indo-Pak relations were very important for the Sikhs because only then they can realize the desire for proper upkeep and management of Gurudwaras in Pakistan by themselves which is expressed in their daily Ardas. Mr. Gurpreet Singh, treasurer of the IOSS was the stage secretary of the event. Bhai Ashok Singh read out the resolution passed (given below) by the gathering and delivered the vote of thanks on behalf of the IOSS.

Resolution

"Building up strong cultural and economic strength between India and Pakistan will be a positive exercise to maintain peace towards this the extent of contribution which that Punjab can make was the subject of a convention organized by the Institute of Sikh Studies. The august gathering demands from the Govt of India that:

1. A common Agriculture Research Station should be established by both the countries
2. Interaction between students of Pakistani and Indian should be increased
3. Kartarpur Corridor be opened and
4. Visa centers at Lahore and Amritsar invariably be established.

To make this southern part of Asia a world power, it is essential that India and Pakistan develop peaceful relations so that proper conditions are created for Punjab to contribution its possible might."

Ishwinder Singh
Media Incharge,
Institute of Sikh Studies

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