December 2005 News

Kashmir's Ideas Man Coming

17 December 2005
The Indian Express

Srinagar: The man who is widely seen as being behind the emerging new ideas on the resolution of Kashmir, like demilitarisation and self-rule-Farooq Kathwari-is visiting J&K. He is coming to the state directly from Pakistan where he met President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shoukat Aziz as part of the relief mission for quake-hit Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Though ostensibly also for relief work in Kashmir, Kathwari's visit, possibly on Sunday, is firing speculations in the state. His visit comes at a time when the debate on Kashmir has forcefully veered round the demilitarization and self-governance, with Pakistan and most of Kashmiri leadership playing along whole-heartedly. And Kathwari is the brain behind these ideas. He left Pakistan, where he was accompanied by former US Ambassador to India Frank Wisner, on Friday and is scheduled to meet several politicians in New Delhi before he arrives in Kashmir on Sunday. Here, sources said, he will hold discussions with both Hurriyat and the mainstream leaders, including Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and PDP leader Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. Over the past decade, Kathwari, a US-based Kashmiri expatriate and the chief executive officer of Ethan Allen Inc, a major international manufacturer and retailer of furniture and furnishings, has become known in the sub-continent as the propagator of various formulae for Kashmir solution. He also heads Kashmir Study Group (KSG), a think tank he founded in 1988 with American South Asian experts, including all former US Ambassadors who served in Delhi and Islamabad as members. Since the mid-nineties, KSG has come up with several roadmaps for the Kashmir resolution. These have invariably attempted an imaginative, practical solution to Kashmir short of the absolute positions of the parties to the dispute. But the lack of support from India and Pakistan ensured they remained as part of the intellectual discourse on the state. However, after 9-11, the KSG proposals too underwent a shift. The solutions suggested by the think tank, say Kashmir observers, have now a geo-cultural basis rather than the earlier ethno-religious basis. It advocates a creation of five geo-cultural autonomous entities straddling the Line of Control, with the regions free to maintain their association with India and Pakistan. It also wants demilitarisation in all the entities and suggests that neither India nor Pakistan could place troops on the other side of the LoC without the permission of the other state. KSG terms it a new approach to the intractable Kashmir problem and believes 'the proposal represents a practical framework that could satisfy the interests of the people of the Kashmir region, India and Pakistan'.


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