A New Turn In Indo-Pak Commercial Ties

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Long viewed as permanent enemies, it is going to take a while before the world is convinced about India and Pakistan being keen to “normalize” their ties. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani met recently in Maldives on sidelines of the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). They held delegation-level talks, followed by one-to-one meeting which lasted for around 45 minutes. Acknowledging that a lot still needs to be done, after their talks, both leaders expressed their desire for strengthening Indo-Pak relations on a positive note (November 10).

“We have wasted a lot of time in acrimonious debate in the past. The time has come to write a new chapter in relations between India and Pakistan,” Singh said. The next round of talks “should be far more productive and result-oriented and bring the two countries closer to each other,” Singh said. Similar sentiments were voiced by Gilani, who said: “We had a good meeting. I hope the next round of talks will be more constructive and open a new chapter in relations between the two countries.”

The stage for opening a new chapter in Indo-Pak ties was set when the Pakistan cabinet recently declared its decision to give India status of a Most Favored Nation (MFN) for increasing trade relations between the two countries. India had accorded Pakistan this status around 15 years ago in 1996. The decision of Pakistan was preceded by visit of Pakistan’s Commerce Minister Makhddoom Amin Fahim to India. This was the first visit of a Pakistani commerce minister to India in 35 years. Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma is expected to lead a trade delegation to Islamabad next February at invitation of his Pakistani counterpart Fahim. Besides, this week has been marked by two-day talks in New Delhi between commerce secretaries of the two countries, Rahul Khullar (India) and Zafar Mahmood (Pakistan).

Displaying optimism on the outcome of Indo-Pak talks, Mahmood said: “We will have interactions in the spirit of mutual cooperation and confidence so please have trust and faith in the process (as) times have changed and the world is coming closer. Through this meeting we want to create an atmosphere through which the composite dialogue can go forward.”

“Our business communities, our politicians and our citizens are looking to both our delegations to deliver a substantial breakthrough — not only for full normalisation of our trade relationship, but to go beyond and lay a strong foundation for preferential trading arrangements,” Khullar said.

At present, business between India and Pakistan amounts to less than $3 billion. During their talks, the two commerce ministers expressed their desire to increase this to $6 billion per year. Besides, it takes place through third countries via Dubai and Singapore. Once India is formally granted MFN status by Pakistan, it is expected to removal of many barriers and also lead to direct trade between the two countries, which would play a major role in cutting down the transportation costs.

It may take some time before Pakistan actually grants MFN status to India. The fact that Pakistan has voiced its decision to do so is by itself a major development. Not too long ago, Pakistan gave the impression of not even considering this till the two countries resolved their problems. Undeniably, India and Pakistan still seem to be a long way from reaching any agreement on certain major issues, including Kashmir. Against this backdrop, the decision of Pakistan to consider India as MFN is indeed a major development.

Once India and Pakistan reach the stage of exploiting their economic interaction “totally,” according to an American think tank, the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) gravity model, the Indo-Pak trade can “expand to as much as $42 billion.” One of the constraints in trade potential having not been exploited, according to PIIE, is that Pakistan has not yet granted MFN status to India. If India and Pakistan decide to pay greater attention to exploiting their trade potential, it is believed that the step would lead to lowering of tension between the countries. In this context, it may be noted that though Kashmir-issue may remains unresolved the two countries have implemented the agreement to open the controversial Line of Control (LoC) at a few points to facilitate trade and travel. They began the bus service in 2005, across the LoC between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, capital cities of Indian Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir, respectively. The Poonch-Rawalkot bus service began in 2008.

The strengthening of economic ties between India and Pakistan is also expected to play a major role in enhancing commercial interaction between members of SAARC. Indo-Pak tension has hampered economic interaction between SAARC members and has also prevented its development as an important regional organization. Critics have frequently raised the question as to why has SAARC not progressed as have other regional organizations, such as NATO and ASEAN.

Against this backdrop, India and Pakistan may perhaps never accept each other as close friends, but as latest developments suggest that now they have begun serious talks to facilitate economic interaction between them. And once Indo-Pak trade takes off, it is expected to have a major impact on South Asia as a whole and also convince the world that the two countries can no longer be viewed as permanent enemies!

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How India Alienated Kashmir

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aijaz Zaka Syed, Arab News

Kashmir_mapAN unjust law is no law, warned Martin Luther King, the celebrated US human rights icon. The Kashmiris have been living with such laws for decades. At least one in every five Kashmiris has at some point or another in his/her life suffered violence, humiliation, torture and old-fashioned abuse at the hands of security forces without any recourse to justice or a distant promise of retribution.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been a license to abuse, torture and kill the Kashmiris in their own land. A law that confers “special powers” on men in uniform to do as they please and get away with it; a law that the UN says violates “contemporary international human rights standards” and a law that cannot be challenged in any court of law no matter how grave the crime.  

Following the division of the subcontinent in 1947 when India and Pakistan actively courted the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, it was promised a “special status” and special treatment by New Delhi. The Article 370 of Indian Constitution was supposed to protect that “special status” of Kashmir.  We made a lot of other promises as well that are too familiar to revisit here.      

And we have ensured and protected that “special status” of Kashmir by gifting them the AFSPA that offers sweeping powers to the security forces while ensuring their total immunity. This special law has turned the Vale of Kashmir that the Moguls believed was paradise on earth into a beautiful hell.

Is it any wonder then the Kashmiris today find themselves hopelessly alienated and persecuted even as our politicians never tire of pronouncing the state an “integral and inseparable” part of India?
How did we end up here? Who lost the paradise? The answer is out there and everyone knows it. In our desperation and determination to keep Kashmir with us and away from our neighbor, we have ended up losing the Kashmiri people.

Of course, the role played by Pakistani agencies, not to mention groups such as the one led by Hafiz Saeed, who have made a business enterprise of jihad, in adding to the woes of Kashmiris isn’t in anyway insignificant.

But if an entire generation of Kashmiris has grown up loathing all things Indian it is because of the excessive presence of the security forces in the Valley and their heavy-handed approach to the local population. And if there is one thing that epitomizes all that has gone wrong with India’s Kashmir affair, it is the AFSPA. This black law has created a dangerous, ever deepening disconnect and gulf between the Kashmiris and the rest of India. A draconian law that belongs in a police state, not in the world’s largest democracy.

Thanks to these “special powers”, just about anybody could be picked up from anywhere any time, kicked, abused, raped, killed in broad daylight or simply disappeared and no one including the state government can do anything about it.

Security forces are a law unto themselves. And you see their power in full display all across the state including in capital Srinagar. There are more soldiers than tourists or even locals constantly reminding the Kashmiris of the original sin of being born in this land of incredible beauty. Peaceful protests last year saw scores of young people, some of them as young as nine, felled by the bullets of the forces that are supposed to protect them. In the course of fighting terrorists and cross-border infiltrators, we have turned this beautiful land into a permanent war zone and its proud people a hostage in this never-ending conflict with the neighbor. This war has claimed more than a hundred thousand Kashmiris over the past two decades, not to mention the tens of thousands who have gone “missing.”

If the 2,730 unmarked mass graves recently discovered across the state had been found elsewhere they could have shaken the world, as they did in Srebrenica, in Iraq and Rwanda. But they were met with stony silence in the ever-shrill Indian media and its self-righteous Western counterparts.

Human rights groups including the State Human Rights Commission that finally acted on the complaints of thousands of families of “disappeared persons” unearthing graves with hundreds of bullet riddled bodies fear this may be a tip of the iceberg. The dead in Kashmir have finally begun to speak up, as Arundhati Roy so evocatively puts it.  But justice may still elude the victims as long as the AFSPA reigns in Jammu and Kashmir.  And India’s powerful security and defense establishment, including the army, are determined to retain it. And why wouldn’t they? It’s this law that allows the security forces to rule and treat Kashmir as their fiefdom without anyone, including the elected government, questioning their authority and excesses. Despite being a fine and vibrant democracy with robust democratic institutions and judiciary that we can justifiably be proud of, we are yet to realize that no people can be governed at gunpoint. Not in this age and time. Not with black laws like the AFSPA and not by constantly waving half a million guns that have contributed to the alienation of Kashmiri society and radicalization of its youth.  If India is to win Kashmiri hearts and minds, it could do so only with love, compassion, respect and justice.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Middle East-based commentator and can be reached at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

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Study: Kashmir Mass Graves Hold Thousands

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Lydia Polgreen

Kashmir-ProtestsNEW DELHI — Thousands of bullet-riddled bodies are buried in dozens of unmarked graves across Kashmir, a state human rights commission inquiry has concluded, many of them likely to be those of civilians who disappeared more than a decade ago in a brutal insurgency.

The inquiry, the result of three years of investigative work by senior police officers working for the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, brings the first official acknowledgment that civilians might have been buried in mass graves in Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan where insurgents waged a bloody battle for independence in the early 1990s. The report sheds new light on a grim chapter in the history of the troubled region and confirms a 2008 report by a Kashmiri human rights organization that found hundreds of bodies buried in the Kashmir Valley.

Tens of thousands of people died in the insurgency, which began in 1989 and was partly fueled by weapons, cash and training from Pakistan.

According to the report, the bodies of hundreds of men described as unidentified militants were buried in unmarked graves. But of the more than 2,000 bodies, 574 were identified as local residents.
“There is every probability that these unidentified dead bodies buried in various unmarked graves at 38 places of North Kashmir may contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances,” the report said.

The report catalogs 2,156 bodies found in graves in four districts of Kashmir that had been at the heart of the insurgency. It called for a thorough inquiry and a collection of DNA evidence to identify the dead, and, for the future, proper identification of anyone killed by security forces in Kashmir to avoid abuse of special laws shielding the military from prosecution there.

Thousands of people, mostly young men, have disappeared in Kashmir.

Some went to be trained as militants in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir and were killed in the fighting. Many others were detained by Indian security forces. The wives they left behind are known as half-widows, because the fates of their husbands are unknown. Parents keep vigil for sons who were arrested two decades ago.

Parveena Ahanger’s son Javed was taken away by the police on Aug. 18, 1990, and never seen again. An investigation found that he had been killed by security forces, but they have not been prosecuted, she said.

“I never got any response from the government,” she said. “I never got his dead body.”

After years of fighting in the courts to find out what happened to Javed, Ms. Ahanger was skeptical that the human rights report would get her son’s body back, or bring her justice.
“If the high court doesn’t give any justice on this issue, what will the state human rights commission do?” she said.

Zahoor Wani, an activist who works with the families of people who disappeared during the insurgency, said that the report was a welcome first step but that the government must identify the dead and allow families to bury their relatives.

“It is a very good thing that they acknowledge it,” Mr. Wani said.

“These families have been living in a hope to see these people again.

“They are neither dead nor alive,” he said. “We need to move them to one pole or the other.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

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Security / Insecurity in South Asia, and American Interests

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Richmond (Va.)–Last week we discussed the current crisis in the Indo-Pakistani space.  This week we shall move on to reflect upon a more theoretical approach to the long-running dilemma we considered eight days ago that the most recent manifestation is only the latest in a series of events that stretches back to 1947, and the Partition of British India into the autonomously independent States of India and Pakistan.

Vadana Asthana with Majid Sharif’s presentation made here at Virginia Commonwealth University of the chapter that they wrote for a projected book with various authors about several Southern Asian Security complications, sheds much light on the ever-looming recent Mumbai crisis of the preceding fortnight.

There are several constant issues in the construction of political thought.  After the expiration of the U.S.S.R., the termination of the heir of the Nineteenth Century Russian Empire, new imperial imperatives sought to preserve or destroy Subcontinental prerogatives.  (This includes the considerable Islamic populations of the region.)  “The Regime of [contemporary] Empire” has generated ever new “actors.”  The U.S. is a performer in this scenario, also, although still not the dominant one.

There has been a revision of the Eastern “Other” (that includes Muslims) from the Colonial “Oriental” to the tribal. Curiously–despite the fact that their modern borders were defined by earlier International Empires–the modern demographics of developing societies are at disparate levels of cultural sophistication and organization; a Muslim  example is the difference between the tribal societies in the Af-Pak region verses Andhra Pradesh’s high-tech environment (which, also, comprises the Muslim-founded [Indian city of] Hyderabad]) which is still 40% Islamic.

This historical verity of the contemporary Americo-European perspective mentioned previously frequently has divided peoples from each other, creating sub-nationalities; and thus, they often create liberation movements.   Of course, the most critical in South of Asia is the flashpoint of Kashmir that could create another nuclear confrontation between the two nation-States of India and Pakistan pulling in diverse international participants; i.e. a possible World War.  For the Occident, many newborn nations’ citizens have become the “indigenous natives.”

Majid describes the new Imperial as (an economically) “Liberal” Global Metropoles (an Empire’s Center). Majid and Asthana’s paper reflects upon liberalization in the Arab west as well as the Islamic east (South Asia):  To the Europeanized West “their regimes require enemies – consequently, Al’Quaeda and the Taliban.”  Therefore, for the Northern Americas, this process is “not in the National Interest [of the United States].”  Sharif considers it to be a problem of “over kill,” for N.A.T.O. (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-) allied countries of which, further, encompasses the United States and Canada.

The categorization that the States employ was developed by the British (over the previous past three centuries) in the geographical zones we are scrutinizing.  The U.S.A. utilizes them to exploit the “Other” (especially in the Third or developing World which includes most Muslim Islamic homelands).

In a satiric sense, the “Liberal Imperialistic” is benign, for it, historically (merely) retains the patterns of past ascendancies. Your author here would conclude that the complex and problematic disputes within the extent of the expanse of the Subcontinental zone are intricately involved in imperialistic politics from outside their neighborhood.  These competing imperialistic politics are fighting over those post-Colonial spaces.

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Indo-Pak Talks: Positive Move

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the fact that India and Pakistan are still a long way off from settling their disputes over several important issues, including the Kashmir-problem, they must be credited for adopting a cordial diplomatic approach towards each other. This is marked by recent Indo-Pak meeting, between foreign secretaries of the two countries, being viewed as “positive.” The amiable note on which the meeting was held between Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in Islamabad is marked by their addressing a joint press conference and issuing a joint statement (June 24).

Without sidelining the “complexities” in Indo-Pak relationship, after the meeting, Rao told media persons: “We are inspired by our goal of the eventual normalization of the India-Pakistan relationship and the resolution of outstanding issues through peaceful, sustained and serious bilateral dialogue.” Spelling out India’s vision of bilateral ties with Pakistan, Rao asserted: “The ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship in the 21st century. Indeed, this relationship should be characterized by the vocabulary of peace,” in the interest of “our peoples” and “in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.” She described the meeting, spread over two days, as “positive” during which the two sides had “constructive and substantive discussion.”

“We have had a very productive and constructive engagement which was forward looking and imbued with a sense of purpose,” Bashir said. He pointed out: “I must underscore here that the quality of the engagement really matters and we have every reason to be satisfied with that quality.” Earlier, while welcoming Rao, Bashir said: “We welcome her for many reasons. It was some years ago that we started a process and I think that process is now well on its way.”

The comments made by both Rao and Bashir are suggestive of India and Pakistan’s keenness to continue their dialogue process with the aim of improving their bilateral ties. This is further highlighted by certain points included in the joint statement. The bilateral talks on peace and security, including confidence building measures (CBMs), Jammu & Kashmir as well as promotion of friendly exchanges were, according to the statement, “held in a frank and cordial atmosphere.” The two sides “reiterated their intention” to continue “the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner.” They discussed the issues in a “comprehensive manner” and both sides “emphasized the importance of constructive dialogue to promote mutual understanding,” the statement said. This suggests India and Pakistan’s intention to backtrack from their stand of firing verbal missiles at each other, particularly on issues they entertain different stands on. This is further supported by their reference to the Kashmir-problem in the joint statement.

They “exchanged views” on Kashmir and “agreed to continue discussions in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences,” according to the statement. This suggests that continuing dialogue on Kashmir is their priority and neither India nor Pakistan wants to the stall the bilateral dialogue process despite their entertaining differences on Kashmir. This is further supported by their agreement to consider measures for “strengthening and streamlining the existing trade and travel arrangements across the Line-of-Control (LoC) and propose modalities for introducing additional cross-LoC CBMs.” A meeting of a working group on Cross-LoC is expected to be held this July, the statement said.
The statement on terrorism too indicates a major change in India and Pakistan’s diplomatic stand towards each other. Refraining from blaming each other, they agreed that “terrorism poses a continuing threat to peace and security.” They “reiterated firm and undiluted commitment” to “fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations.” Besides, they agreed on the “need to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism.”

Defeating apprehensions of their being any nuclear tension between India and Pakistan, they decided to consider mutually acceptable measures to discuss implementation and strengthening of existing nuclear and conventional CBMS to “build trust and confidence and promote peace and security.”

India and Pakistan expressed satisfaction on progress made on finalization of Visa Agreement, which will “help liberalize visa regime” and “facilitate people-to-people, business-to-business and sports contacts,” the statement said. They also discussed measures to promote cooperation in various fields, which include, “facilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, holding sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.” In addition, they agreed that “people of the two countries are at the heart of the relationship and that humanitarian issues should be accorded priority and treated with sensitivity.”

The foreign secretaries are scheduled to meet again in New Delhi, ahead of the meeting Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers, which is expected to take place this July in the Indian capital city. Undeniably, the two foreign secretaries’ comments and the joint statement indicate the seriousness of India and Pakistan to improve their bilateral ties at various levels. Now, it is to be watched whether this “constructive” approach is seriously retained for a substantial period or not!

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Sania & Shoaib’s Marriage

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2010-04-12T135448Z_616342459_GM1E64C1OVD01_RTRMADP_3_INDIA-PAKISTAN-WEDDING

NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD: Though theirs is a love marriage, with full support of their family members, it certainly has not been an easy “game” for either the Indian tennis star Sania Mirza (23) or Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Iqbal (28). Beating even Bollywood movies and Indo-Pak diplomatic “feuds” over the drama staged from day one, the “news” generated has had the media and public across the sub-continent “united” at least in being totally interested in developments regarding this wedding.

Soon after their engagement was formally announced, in addition to the media coverage and congratulations the couple received, strong objections were raised from several quarters. The primary one being from Ayesha Siddiqui, claiming to be Shoaib’s first wife. She is also said to have furnished substantial evidence of being married to him through the telephone. Though Shoaib claimed to have been tricked into having married Ayesha, over telephone, the matter continued to hit headlines, till the former finally signed the divorce papers.

Interestingly, while most politicians across the sub-continent have described the Sania-Shoaib wedding as their “personal” decision, a few with an anti-Pakistan attitude have gone overboard in criticizing it. These include Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who expressed apprehension over Sania’s marrying a Pakistani. Despite Sania having clarified that she would continue playing for India, the likes of Thackeray said that after her marriage she would cease being an Indian.  

Of course, Sania-Shoaib’s wedding is not the first instance of a marital bond between families from India and Pakistan. Numerous marriages between Indian and Pakistani Muslims have continued to take place, even though Indo-Pak ties have often been fairly tense. Nevertheless, theirs is one of the few weddings between celebrities and one that has had people with the media keeping a track of developments taking place. 

Credit must be given to Sania and her family for having virtually remained unfazed by hue and cry raised over Ayesha’s claims and objections to her marrying a Pakistani. Defending Shoaib, Sania even said that her family had been aware of Ayesha’s stand from the beginning.

Sania and Shoaib’s wedding is also one of the few ones that has kept the Indian Ulema (Muslim clerics) fairly busy. When Ayesha’s claims were in the news, clerics were busy answering questions on whether her nikah with Shoaib was valid or not. Interestingly, even though Shoaib has signed the divorce papers, doubts prevail over the authenticity of “evidence” provided by Ayesha. The intriguing questions raised are regarding identity of witnesses from the two sides at the time of nikah over phone in 2002; what prevented the two from living together since then and so forth. In general, it was held, irrespective of whether Ayesha’s claims were correct or not, Sania and Shoaib’s wedding could not be prevented by them. This is because, Shoaib can have two, three, even four wives at one time, as per the Muslim law. In this context, rather than encourage speculations about Sania being his “second” wife, by signing the divorce papers on April 7, Shoaib clearly laid out that she would be his only wife. Besides, as Ayesha had also filed an FIR against Shoaib, blaming him for fraud and criminal intimidation, he apparently was against the case getting more complicated and controversial.

Explaining his decision to finally sign the divorce papers, even though earlier he had claimed that Ayesha had tricked him into nikah over phone, Shoaid stated: “I am no one to judge what is wrong or what is right as the one above knows the truth. I have done what was the best amicable thing to do as it was getting beyond reasoning as each day unfolded.” “I have realized that media is part of my family, and request all of you to pray for me and Sania as we are embarking on a beautiful journey of marriage,” Shoaib said.

Seldom has any wedding created furor over fatwas, as that of Sania and Shoaib. It may be noted, in secular India, while the respected clerics have their right to issue fatwas on what they view as important, individuals are not bound to follow the same. A few clerics voiced objections to Sania and Shoaib appearing together for press conferences, before their wedding. They also objected to Shoaib staying at Sania’s residence. Describing these activities as “forbidden” in Islam, a Sunni Ulema board issued a fatwa against these and even asked Muslims to stay away from their wedding.

Sania’s family promptly responded to this fatwa, by issuing a statement: “We would like to clarify that there has been a misunderstanding in some quarters. The groom has not been staying in the Mirza residence for the last few days.” Shoaib had been staying there since his arrival from Pakistan on April 2. His family members, however, remained there while Shoaib moved out in keeping with traditional customs.

Meanwhile, when questioned on this fatwa, All India Sunni Ulema Board (AISUB) stated: “We have nothing to do with this outfit. Such fatwas cannot be issued.”
The date of the wedding also kept all wondering as to when would it take place. At one point, “reports” floated of their getting married on April 9, later the actual date was said to be April 15, while “news” also circulated about it taking place on April 13. These speculations were settled with their finally getting married on April 12.

Now finally wed, how far will the two succeed in easing tension between India and Pakistan, is the diplomatic angle being accorded to Sania-Shoaib’s “love-match.”

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Kashif Weds Komal

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

TMO Stringer

kashif-komal

Detroit–June 4–Kashif, son of Mohammad Saleem and Kishwar, and Komal, daughter of Syed Nisar (Arif) Akhtar and Dr. Nilofar Syed, enjoyed a unique wedding on the Detroit River Princess boat, with over 1,000 people in attendance.  The boat journey and wedding reception lasted for about 2 and a half hours.

The reception hall on the first deck of the boat was decorated elegantly for the occasion.  The 3rd deck was reserved for children’s entertainment, including a “magic show.”  A large number of guests from outside of Michigan, including California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and from overseas (India and Pakistan) were in attendance.

After a brief introduction and speeches, a delicious dinner was served, and people journeyed up and down on the boat through four different levels.  On the fourth level a lovely Mushaira was in progress, in the unseasonably cool Michigan breeze that wafted across the Detroit river.

The guests were entertained as they attempted to pray Maghrib and a person called out “The boat is turning, wait a minute…” and all the guests were forced to adjust their positions.

In their eagerness to attend, people arrived at the waterfrong before the boat’s departure–this is somewhat unusual for the Indo-Pak community.

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