Amid Hostile Rhetoric, Indians And Pakistanis Light Candles For Peace

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - As India and Pakistan marked their separate independence days this week after months of hostility, a group of ordinary people gathered on either side of a checkpoint on their tense common border to call for peace between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

At the stroke of midnight on Wednesday - the moment linking the independence days of the two countries - hundreds lit candles at a checkpoint called Wagah.

Owing nothing to politicians in Islamabad and New Delhi, the "people-to-people" event has been held every year for the past eight, at the original initiative of a noted Indian columnist, Kuldip Nayyar.

Academics and writers from both countries are involved, and this year's event also included well-known Indian personalities, including a judge, the head of an Indian Muslim women's group and popular folk singers.

The event was held amid tight security, and many participants were dismayed that the Indian Border Security Force prevented the group from approaching the "zero line" - or actual border.

The ceremony was instead performed at checkpoint' some 500 meters away.

Addressing the group, Nayyar called for a restoration of road and rail links with Pakistan, saying many on both sides were affected by their suspension, and were being kept from reaching their loved ones across the border.

A member of the "Indo-Pak Friendship Forum," Praful Bidwai, said the only way to stop the "dangerous course of confrontation" taken by the two governments would be for peace activists to capitalize on a "growing sentiment in favor of peace" among ordinary folk.

A message from across the border came from Imtiaz Alam, a representative of a group called the South Asian Free Media Association.

He praised the event at Wagah, saying it reflected the true aspirations of people who were victims of the "mutually-reinforcing animosity of the two establishments."

Muslim Pakistan was carved out of predominantly Hindu India in the middle of last century and celebrates its independence day on August 14. India marks its independence day the following day.

The former British colony was divided in 1947, with various regions voting on whether they should go with India or the new Pakistan.

Huge loss of life occurred during religious riots, and millions of Muslims left India for Pakistan, while millions of Hindus moved from Pakistan to India.

India and Pakistan have since then remained arch rivals, having fought three wars and come close to open conflict on several other occasions. Both had been declared nuclear powers since the late 1990s.

Hours after the candle ceremony, independence day celebrations were held elsewhere in India, amid exceptionally tight security.

In a speech delivered to the nation, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee criticized what he called Pakistan's double-standards when it came to terror, and declaring that India would "defeat the forces of terrorism."

India accuses Pakistan of allowing or even supporting militants to cross the border into the Indian-ruled parts of disputed Kashmir, where they carry out attacks on Indian targets.

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