South Asian journalists call for declaring Kashmir nuclear-free zone
11 October 2004
New Delhi: A conference of South Asian journalists urged India and Pakistan on Monday to address interests and aspirations of the Kashmiri people , consult their representatives and declare the disputed Himalayan region a nuclear-free zone. A declaration issued after a two-day regional conference on 'Inter-state conflicts in South' held in New Delhi on Oct 9-10 by the South Asian Free Media Association (Safma), a non-governmental organisation, also called for flexibility and innovation in approaching outstanding issues, especially Kashmir. It said South Asia had lagged behind the rest of the world in resolving regional disputes which threatened its peace and economic integration as envisaged by the seven-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). 'There is a need to address these disputes urgently in order to stop a virtual proliferation of ancillary disputes, especially in a changing regional ecological and global environment,' said the document released after several sessions where politicians, former bureaucrats and diplomats, commentators and journalists spoke on various issues such as the Kashmir dispute and India's relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal and the Sri Lankan conflict. It said the renewed India- Pakistan dialogue had ushered in a 'period of unprecedented hope' on both sides of the border but called upon the two countries to respect the 'desire for peace of their respective peoples and not let them down by slipping back into their old official postures'. 'This would require approaching the outstanding issues with flexibility of approach and innovation, especially in regard to Jammu and Kashmir,' it said, adding 'The lesser differences should be quickly resolved to create an environment favourable to the resolution of the main (of Kashmir).' On India-Pakistan relations, the conference said it hoped while taking confidence-building measures, the two countries would simultaneously examine 'various proposals regarding the Jammu and Kashmir issue with a sincerity of purpose'. It said a stabilisation of the India-Pakistan relations and CBMs would 'deepen trust (between the two countries) and facilitate progress on Kashmir'. 'There was consensus that Kashmiri interests and aspirations needed to be addressed by both governments,' the declaration said, reflecting the impressions of a group of Pakistani journalists that made a path-breaking trip to the Indian-ruled part of Kashmir last week. 'It was felt that the representatives of Kashmiris from both parts should be consulted by the respective governments,' it said. 'The Safma conference generally agreed that only a solution from which all parties felt they had gained would be viable in the long run.' Appreciating measures already agreed upon between the two countries to stabilise the South Asian nuclear regime, the conference said 'Kashmir should be declared a nuclear-free zone through a bilateral Indo-Pak agreement.' It said both India and Pakistan should ensure that the deployment of conventional and nuclear-capable missiles 'do not directly threaten the other side' and a direct communication channels between them remained functional in a crisis situation and delegates to the conference agreed that India should make more efforts to discuss bilaterally with its neighbours problems relating to river waters. 'A new regional understanding of the riparian issues is essential to resolve Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bangladesh and Indo- Pakistan water disputes,' it said.