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A summit of a different kind

Sheela Bhatt in Islamabad | January 06, 2004 01:49 IST

They remained unsung till they left Pakistan.

On Monday, when two heads of States were stealing the limelight in front of TV cameras, around 120 prominent personalities belonging to SAARC countries left Islamabad.

The SAARC summit: The Complete Coverage

They were grassroots workers who were in the Pakistani capital to attend the 4th South Asian people's summit, on the sidelines of the 12th SAARC meet.

South Asia Partnership had organised the summit with the help of other non-governmental organisations.

"For media the hard news is Kashmir and news concerning poverty, inequality and injustice to marginal people are soft stories," said Achyut Yagnik of SETU, an Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation.

He presented the travails of Gujarati and Pakistani fishermen. While participating in the summit, he said, "In September 2003, 22 boats and 47 fishermen were arrested by Pakistan marines. There is no mechanism in place to set innocent fishermen free. At the same time around 80 Pakistani fishermen are in Indian jails."

He said such arrests are routine because India and Pakistan have not resolved the issue of Sir Creek in Kutch. "Since both sides have a dispute over Sir Creek, waters are not demarked and both sides' guards are routinely arresting innocent fishermen."

People who rubbish people-to-people contacts are unaware of the ground realities, said Mohammed Tahseen, executive director, SAP.

"In last 56 years both sides have spread so much venom against each other that it will be a Herculean task to counter it," he said. "The warmongers are not only there but they are dominant too."

Tahseen said one of the Pakistani participants who is teaching psychology was surprised to see Yagnik, a Gujarat-based social activist. He told Tahseen, "Yaar, he is like us only!"

People have very strange notions about each other, according to Tahseen. It is very necessary to increase people-to-people contacts, he added.

One of the participants from India said that an Indian refused to attend the SAARC meet because he did not want the red-coloured Pakistan visa seal on his passport!

Participants from Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka complained of lack of attention given to issues concerning their countries.

The issue of desertification, uneconomical farming, cheap labour, child and women's issues and the threats from the World Trade Organisation to SAARC countries were debated in the summit.

I A Rehman, director, Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, who concluded the summit, told rediff.com: "The problems of human rights are quite grim in SAARC countries. We need joint efforts to bring about changes. But things are moving very slowly."

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