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Indians, Pakistanis March for Peace

Peace activists in India and Pakistan are urging the governments of the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors to take urgent steps to avert the prospect of war amid reports of a military build-up along the shared border.
A series of peace campaigns was launched on both sides of the border this week as fears mounted that an increasingly tense stand-off could lead to a war which the feuding nations have both publicly opposed.

Among the many organizations that linked up to form a human chain in India's capital New Delhi Tuesday were the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the India-Pakistan Soldier Initiative, and the All India Christian Council.

"The peace campaign is all about forcing the two governments to take all necessary steps to avoid a war," said former PUCL president Rajinder Sachar. "The first thing that the leaders of the two nations can do is stop making provocative statements," he said.

A joint statement issued at the New Delhi event called on the people of India and Pakistan to speak up for peace. "The silence of the majority is being misinterpreted as a popular endorsement of war-mongering," it said.

Members of the Citizens' Peace Committee in Islamabad said Pakistani campaigners would stage a series of rallies across the country this coming weekend calling for restraint, combined with firm action against terrorist groups.

The committee also urged activists to take part in torch-bearing peace marches on both sides of the Atari-Wagah border on December 31. The campaign would press for a de-escalation of tensions through dialogue, it said.

However, campaigners from both sides stressed that firm action against terrorist groups was necessary for peace in the region.

Tension has been building between the two nations after a December 13 attack on the Indian Parliament left 14 dead. India claims that Pakistan's spy agency sponsored the attack with the help of two groups--Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammed--which are fighting to end Indian rule in Kashmir.

Though the leaders of both countries have spoken out against the prospect of war, military aircraft and troops have been mobilized at the Indo-Pakistan border and there have been widespread reports of missiles being moved into position on both sides.

The two countries--which have gone to war three times since they became independent nations in 1947--exchanged heavy mortar and machine-gun fire Tuesday.

Last week, the Indian government recalled its high commissioner from Islamabad and expelled a Pakistani diplomat. It also announced a suspension of cross-border train and bus services.

"The armed forces of Pakistan and India are standing face to face on the borders, but we need peace, not war," a joint statement by three former leaders of Pakistan, including former Prime Minister Malik Meraj Khalid, said on Saturday.



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