August 2005 News

Intra-Kashmir Dialogue

19 August 2005
The News International
M. Ismail Khan

Islamabad: As the delegates of the first ever intra-Kashmir dialogue huddled together to discuss peace at Shere Kashmir Conference Centre, right next to Srinagar's picturesque Dal Lake on July 29, 2005, hardly a few kilometres away guns were roaring for two days where security forces and armed fighters were exchanging fires at the famous Lal Chock in the city centre. Kashmir is indeed a problem beset with multiple layers of insecurities, promises and contradictions. Many of us who took part in the dialogue with high hopes soon found ourselves grappling with more questions and confusions. Many participants highlighted the need for resolution of the dispute to establish peace; many others argued that establishment of peace is prerequisite to enable a settlement of the long drawn, complex and bloody conflict. Finally all 53 civil society participants coming from current and former parts of Jammu and Kashmir agreed that peace is indispensable, and that the peace process should not be postponed, halted, or reversed at any pretext. The dialogue was jointly organised by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, Delhi Policy Group and Forum of Regional Voices, Jammu and Kashmir. Even though many similar Kashmir conferences have been held in the past and in various parts of the world, this was a unique occasion. Never before have people from the three divided parts of Kashmir had the chance to sit together and reflect on past, present and future aspirations. Never before had India and Pakistan allowed civil society members from Azad Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir and the Gilgit-Baltistan region to interact and debate the Kashmir issue in Srinagar. Never before has an attempt been made to elicit the opinion of ordinary local folks; intellectuals; lawyers; judges; poets; journalists; development experts; peace activists; peasants; labour; politicians. It has always been a top down approach where both India and Pakistan have been fighting over an exotic piece of land, or an unsettled dispute for inheritance. In the process, public voices on both sides got suppressed or wilfully discredited by the competing parties, which meant that the just cause and struggle of the people of Jammu and Kashmir lost out amidst the grinding forces of military repression and Jihad international. The Dialogue reviewed confidence-building steps taken by the two governments such as the Srinagar-Muzafarabad bus service, the Hurriyat's visit to Pakistan, media exchanges and other bilateral actions. The participants critically analysed the impact and constraints faced by the confidence building measures (CBMs) designed and mutually agreed on by Delhi and Islamabad and what these CBMs have come to mean to people on the ground. Another important theme broached was the recognition of cultural, historical, geographic and religious diversity of the people living in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It sought an intra-Kashmir reconciliation and understanding to further the peace process. The delegates coming from Azad Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit and Baltistan adopted a resolution hailing the peace process, and urged the governments of India and Pakistan and the militant groups to move forward, and give Kashmiris a break from perpetual torture and terror. The declaration issued at the end of the conference called for more intra-Kashmir people to people contacts, trade and exchanges, and urged 'the governments to implement the agreements they made on reopening the Poonch-Rawlakote, Mirpur-Jammu and Kargil- Skardu routes. Deadlines were set for some of these but were not met. Additionally, these agreements should cover all citizens of the erstwhile state, including Gilgit and Baltistan.' The Intra-Kashmir conference also noted the political alienation of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Northern Areas of Pakistan and recommended that they should be provided the same level of administrative status and political arrangement being enjoyed by other parts of the erstwhile state like Azad Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir. The joint statement expressed concerns at the slow pace of progress, which meant the benefits are yet to be felt on the ground. It urged the governments to work together to end the violence, as was promised by both then-Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf, and now by Prime Minister Singh. 'Their unspoken commitment was that Pakistan would push for an end to militancy, and India for a reduction of forces and an end to human rights violations - including custodial deaths - by security forces.' The joint statement also asked militant groups operating in Kashmir and the governments of India and Pakistan to enter into a ceasefire. Whatever the joint declaration of the first intra-Kashmir dialogue managed to say, or did not say, it was a worthy process to initiate a new beginning. It was a rare opportunity for people from the streets and villages to sit around and raise their voices. At a time when Delhi, Islamabad and political leaders and fighters in Srinagar are stuck in a kind of psychological status quo, it was a decent exercise to involve non-traditional leaders to brain storm a way out of the Kashmir quagmire. It also turned out to be a useful platform to reconcile the emotions and ideals of Azad Kashmiris to the suffering and concerns of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. On the other hand, the complete harmony and commonality of views between participants from Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh region, despite meeting each other after a gap of 57 years, contained many lessons for future peace-makers: at the end of the day peace cannot be enforced by an army or presented in the form of concessions by intruders, it has to come from within, particularly when it concerns the worlds simultaneously most beautiful and terrible place called Kashmir. Let the people of Kashmir talk more, listen more and understand more to enable peace. The writer, an analyst from Skardu in the Northern Areas, represents Asia at the board of directors of the Mountain Forum.


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