Conference on Kashmir highlighted peace trends
28 July 2003
WASHINGTON: The two-day international conference on Kashmir has ended in Washington without achieving its main objective reaching out to the Indians and Americans with an appeal to help resolve the 56-year dispute. Contrary to its agenda 'Beyond the blame game grounds for peace and justice in Kashmir' the conference often turned into an 'India-bashing' exercise, as an Indian journalist observed. At one stage it became so embarrassing that elder Kashmiri leader Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan had to remind the participants that 'allegations and counter-allegations will not lead them anywhere.' Some participants tried to counter the Indian effort to present Kashmir only as a security concern caused by cross-border infiltrations by Pakistan-backed guerrillas. Instead they presented Kashmir as a human rights issue, made worse by the atrocities committed by the Indian security forces. They also argued that it was wrong to use the international outrage against terror, caused by the 9-11 terrorist attacks in the United States, to crush genuine freedom struggles like that of the Kashmiri people. Some thoughtful papers, based on persuasive arguments, were presented on this issue. But unfortunately, the organizers ended up preaching to those who already shared their views because more than 90 per cent of the audience comprised overseas Pakistanis and Kashmiris. 'If they wanted to preach to their own, this conference could have been held in Islamabad to a much larger audience and at a fraction of the cost incurred here,' said a member of the audience. Although at a pre- conference briefing, organizers claimed to have invited 'a large number' of Indian and American scholars, politicians and journalists, including two former Indian prime ministers, only a handful attended. Some prominent American experts on South Asia, such as Stephen Cohen and Marvin Weinbaum, did attend the first session but they chose not to participate. India officially boycotted the conference, although some Indian scholars and journalists attended all the five sessions and the round table discussions on Friday, which was also the concluding session. Prominent among them were Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatama Gandhi, Subramniam Swamy, a former commerce minister, and Ved Bhasin, editor-in-chief of the Kashmir Times, Jammu. Mr Gandhi spoke on the difference between political ideals and realities and warned the Kashmiris, as well as the Pakistanis, that India will not accept any territorial change in Kashmir. Mr Swamy went a step ahead and said that India was strong enough to deploy 'a million troops or more' to suppress the current uprising. That's why, he said, the Kashmiris would be better off if they gave up armed struggle and discussed the issue peacefully with India. But the conference's most objective and neutral speaker was Mr Bhasin who explained how Indian troops were 'torturing, killing and raping innocent civilians in Kashmir.' He also blamed India for exaggerating the sufferings of the Hindu pundits and said that what the Muslims were facing today in Kashmir was far worse than the sufferings of the Hindu pundits.