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the-south-asian.com                         7  August   2000

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The Agenda For Friendship titled "Together Towards Tomorrow" was presented by the expedition, on behalf of the youth of South Asia to the Prime Ministers of Nepal and Bhutan and to the Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Mr. Jigme Thinley, the Head of the Government of Bhutan offered to invite the expedition members to Thimpu for the SAARC Summit being held in the year 2001. 

The  Agenda appeals to the leaders of South Asia to  show  vision and  political courage and freeze all conflicts for the next  ten years,  reduce defence spending by 5% a year and  divert  savings for  development  works; fulfill the basic needs  of  the  masses during  this period; utilise our combined knowledge in  areas  of space and nuclear science for the benefit of all people of  South Asia;  expand employment opportunities for youth by  lifting  all barriers  to free trade; evolve a joint education  system;  allow unrestricted  travel;  and establishment of a  South  Asian  Sports Academy and a South Asian Development Corps.

According  to  Sonam Tashi, a young agricultural  scientist and the expedition member  from Bhutan," In South Asia, we are also united in our problems. So our future is also one. We will sink or swim together. Our people and leaders must realise this fact."

Suraiya Begum, representing Bangladesh, runs a NGO for  destitute women  and  children in distant Phulna. "Travelling  through  the length and breadth of South Asia I have observed how similar  all of us are. Why ? India seems to be a part of Bangladesh "  says Suraiya.

Representing  Sri  Lanka  was Asoka, who works  near  Colombo  for Sarvodhaya  Shramdana  Organisation, a movement inspired  by  the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave. "For me it has been an opportunity of a life time. Being a devout Buddhist, I worshipped at the Golden Tooth Relic in Kandy, the Mahabodhi Tree in Anuradhapura,  the temples at Kancheepuram, Tirupati,  Jagannath  Puri, Sarnath  and  Kashi; the Gurudwaras at Patna,  Anantpursahib  and Amritsar;  the chiilas and mazaars of Sufi saints in  Bangladesh, Ajmer  and  Fatehpur  Sikri; churches in  Dharamsala  and  Dadar, Nagar Haveli;  and meditated in Guru  Padmasambhava's  cave  in Bumtang  in Bhutan and the Ashrams in Sabarmati and Shirdi.  This expedition has made me aware of the shared heritage of the people of South Asia.," says Asoka reflecting on her experiences.

Veteran  film  personality Sunil Dutt was with  the expedition all along - through thick and thin. "I am a soldier of peace," he says. "When Akhil Bakshi gave the call for the  people of  South Asia to join hands and collectively work for peace  and development, I decided to support his initiative." Throughout the long journey, Dutt captivated large audiences with his  emotional oratory  that touched the hearts of the people. "Dutt  Sahib  and his deep commitment to the humanist cause enhanced the  creditability of our mission," remarks Bakshi.

Two days before the expedition was to enter Pakistan, the  Kargil conflict flared up and, after waiting for a week, the  mission was temporarily brought to a halt. The course of events that followed showed how important it is for the people of South Asia to launch a common struggle for peace and development.

When  asked  if the aims of the expedition will  be  met,  Bakshi narrates the story of a French Marshall who asked his gardener  to plant  a certain tree. The gardener objected saying that the  tree was  slow-growing and would take a hundred years to  bear  fruit. "In that case," said the Marshall, "we have no time to loose. Let us plant the tree this afternoon." Likewise, suggests Bakshi,  we all must plant our saplings of peace today.

"On  behalf of the youth of South Asia, I can say with  confidence that  we have had enough of warmongers. We would like  our  great role in history to be that of peacemakers," says the optimistic expedition leader.




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