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LAHORE: Maximum contact urged between two Punjabs

February 09, 2004

LAHORE, Feb 8: The need for allowing maximum people-to-people contact between the two Punjabs was stressed for boosting the ongoing Pakistan-India peace process at a Punjab-Punjab consultation arranged by the South Asian Free Media Association here on Sunday.

Farmers Associates Pakistan chairman and MNA Shah Mahmood Qureshi said a vocal minority had been jeopardizing the peace process between India and Pakistan in the past, which was started through the Simla Accord in the 70s and the Lahore Declaration in the 90s.

He said that agriculture sector was the best for cooperation between the predominantly rural Punjabs, both of whom were facing the problem of increasing poverty. Both Punjabs could benefit from each others' experience for boosting agricultural production.

Pakistan Peoples Party leader Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan said that both Punjabs would benefit greatly from cooperation but the monopoly business of Pakistan was opposed to it as it would have to compete with the Indian business in case of an open border. He said that people should not be made to suffer for protecting the interests of a few businessmen.

He said that the governments of India and Pakistan should allow maximum relaxation of visa restrictions to facilitate the people-to-people contact between the two countries. He said that the requirement of visitors reporting at police stations should also be waived. Universities in both Punjabs should reserve seats for each others' students.

Abida Hussain said that governments of India and Pakistan were continuing the cold war long after its end and had been compelled to make efforts for normalization of relations under public pressure. The restrictions on movement of people between two Punjabs should be lifted as millions of people who had migrated from the one to the other wanted to visit their old places of residence.

She said that language could play a significant role in bringing the people of two Punjabs closer. The Indian Punjab had made significant progress in teaching of Punjabi language by making it a medium of instruction. She said that agriculture had made tremendous progress in the Indian Punjab because of availability of free water supply.

Dr Salman Shahzad said that opportunities for travel between the two Punjabs would boost tourism and trade and create new jobs. He said that bilateral trade was in the interest of both India and Pakistan. A large number of Sikhs would visit their shrines in Pakistan in the event of relaxation of visa restrictions.

Former Supreme Court Bar Association president Hamid Khan said that visa restrictions should be relaxed for the offspring of people who had migrated from one Punjab to the other at the time of partition. Access roads to Nankana Sahib and Panja Sahib should be improved and five-star hotels built there to facilitate Sikh visitors. He stressed the need for land reforms in Pakistan and provision of free water and power like India for boosting agricultural production.

Ishaq Khakwani said that cooperation should start in agriculture, health and education sectors. The Pakistani Punjab could benefit from the advanced agricultural technology of the Indian Punjab. The high-yield seed varieties and cheap medicines could also be imported from India. Indirect bilateral trade of six billion rupees through different countries could be converted into direct trade. He said that group travel between the Punjabs should be allowed to encourage people-to-people contact.

Nadir Ali said that the privileged classes wanted to maintain tension between India and Pakistan in the name of religion. He said that people in the two Punjabs had suffered the maximum on account of partition but now wanted to normalize relations.