Despite visa and travel restrictions and the hostile attitude of government officials, Indian and Pakistani peace activists are moving ahead in a bid to help the people of Gaza.
The Wagah border, dividing India and Pakistan
Relations between India and Pakistan have been tense since the Mumbai attacks in 2008
The Indian and Pakistani delegations are now going to join together in the Iranian city of Zahidan, from where, along with peace activists from other Asian countries, they will continue their journey towards Gaza. The caravan is scheduled to reach the Palestinian territories on December 27.
Mire of Indo-Pakistani politics
Indian peace activist Rakhi Sehgal condemned the behavior of the Indian and Pakistani governments towards the convoy. She told Deutsche Welle that initially 51 peace activists from India had applied for a Pakistani visa, out of whom only 34 finally received the visa after days of protesting outside the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi.
"We had planned to travel over land from Delhi to Wagah, and then from Wagah to Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Zahidan, in Iran. However, we were not allowed to go beyond Lahore. On December 4, we reached the Wagah border and were informed that the Indian government had not given us permission to cross the border. After unsuccessfully trying to contact the Ministry of External Affairs, we held a demonstration at Wagah. It was on December 5 that we got word from the Indian officials that we were being allowed to cross the border."
Despite the fact that the convoy has nothing to do with Indo-Pakistani security and peace issues, its main purpose is to help the people of Gaza, it has been dragged into the mire of Indo-Pakistani politics. Pakistan Labour Party's Farooq Tariq, who is one of the main organizers of the Caravan in Pakistan, believes that US pressure on Pakistan and India has probably led to this crisis.
"Both the Indian and Pakistani governments have close ties with the US, and they would obviously not want to displease the US, which has cordial ties with Israel."
Israeli commandos on 31 May 2010 stormed a flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip
However, the symbolic union of Pakistanis and Indians for the Palestinian cause might be enough to enrage the authorities on both sides of the border, who have almost stopped people-to-people contacts since the Mumbai attacks of 2008. The combined journey of Indian and Pakistani activists to Gaza could have eased the tense relationship between India and Pakistan. Sehgal was ecstatic about the manner in which the Indian activists were received in Pakistan.
"We were received with a lot of warmth in Pakistan. There was a huge reception for us in Lahore. People from all walks of life came to meet us, including students, trade union activists, lawyers, and journalists. Everybody was as excited as we were."
Farooq Tariq is also of the view that even the short trip of the Indian activists to Pakistan carried immense symbolic significance.
"The Indians got a real message of friendship in Pakistan. The Pakistani media also gave a lot of coverage to them. Apart from that, the Indian delegation handed over the Palestinian flag to their Pakistani counterparts, and now we are going to join them in Iran."
From there, the peace activists of several Asian countries will embark upon the journey to Gaza and are hoping that they won't at least be shot at, as in the case of the Gaza aid flotilla in May.
Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein