Overview: Tenth International Kashmir Peace Conference, Washington DC, USA
by Victoria Schofield
There was no shortage of words spoken at the tenth international Kashmir
peace conference held on Capitol Hill, in Washington DC on 23rd and 24th
July 2009. Hosted by Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai of the Kashmir American Council and
Dr Karen Parker, chairman of the Association of Humanitarian lawyers, over
350 attended the conference in order to listen to 55 delegates from India,
Pakistan, and the state of Jammu and Kashmir had assembled to discuss the
vexed Kashmir issue, which has been on the agenda of the United Nations for
nearly 62 years.
Among the topics discussed on the first day were the regional and
international dimensions of the issue; breaking the deadlock over Kashmir in
terms of Indo-Pakistani relations; 'militarisation and impunity' in Jammu
and Kashmir, and the centrality of Kashmiris' rights. On the second day, the
delegates discussed the Kashmiris' aspirations: innovative models and fresh
options; they also considered what might happen when peaceful protests fail
and what impact confidence buildings measures between India and Pakistan had
had on Kashmir.
The final session involved representatives looking to the future and 'the
way forward'. Among the 'sons of the soil', who attended the conference and
yet who have been unable to visit Kashmir for many years, was veteran Yusuf
Buch, former senior adviser to the UN secretary-general, Dr Khalid J Qazi,
clinical professor of medicine at the University of Buffalo, New York, Dr
Ghulam N. Mir, President of the World Kashmir movement. Raja Zulqarnain,
President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir was among the delegates as well as
Mushahid Hussain, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in
Islamabad. Congressmen Jim Moran and Dan Burton and Congresswoman Yvette
Clarke also addressed the meeting.
In his opening remarks, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai said that the conference aimed at
discussing how there could be a peaceful resolution of the dispute in which
the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir were paramount. The
objective, he said, was to achieve the Kashmiris' aims 'in the spirit of
reconciliation not confrontation, through equality not discrimination, and
with hope not despair.' Although views inevitably varied among the
delegates, some central themes emerged. Firstly, in the wake of the recent
rape and murder of two young women in Shopian in May 2009, the issue of
human rights abuses in the Kashmir valley featured high on the delegates'
list of concerns. Dr Angana Chatterji, scholar-activist, circulated a
detailed report, which together with other conveners of the International
People's Tribunal on Human rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir
(IPTK) (Advocate Parez Imroz, Gautam Navlakha - also present at the
conference -, Zahir-ud-din, Advocate Mihir Desai and Khurram Parvez,) she
had recently compiled entitled 'Militarization with Impunity'. The
conclusion in the report - and whose sentiments were reiterated by Chatterji
at the conference - placed the onus firmly on the Indian government to
ensure that, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pledged, there would be
'zero tolerance' for human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir. 'A will to
peace in Kashmir requires an attested commitment to justice, palpably absent
in the exchanges undertaken by the Government of India and its attendant
institutions with Kashmir civil society. The premise and structure of
impunity connected to militarization, and corresponding human rights abuses,
bear witness to the absence of accountability inherent to the dominion of
Kashmir by the Indian state, and a refusal to take seriously the imperative
of addressing these issues as the only way forward to a just peace.'
Of significant interest, during discussions about the Kashmiris' right of
self-determination, Dr Karen Parker outlined how important it was for
Kashmiris themselves to recognise that 'self-determination' was a legal
phrase embodying certain elements. Firstly there had to be a definable
territory: 'this is what distinguishes people with the right to
self-determination from minorities.' Secondly, there has to be a history of
previous governance; thirdly, the people must exhibit a distinct identity,
'which can be linguistic, religious or cultural.' Fourthly, there has to be
a will for self-determination: 'the international community will not
acknowledge peoples' right of self-determination if they don't want it.'
Finally, it was important to emphasize that those people demanding their
right of self-determination were indeed capable of self-governance. In
Parker's opinion, all criteria were met by the Kashmiri situation but she
highlighted that it was important for Kashmiris to be aware of these
elements in order to argue them forcefully with Congressional friends 'so
that they in turn can convince non-friends.'
Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Husain Haqqani
recommended that the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan must
re-start and that discussions must involve the aspirations of the Kashmiris.
He also reminded listeners that the unresolved conflict over Kashmir had
hindered the economic prosperity of all of South Asia. 'The Kashmir dispute
is eminently solvable but vested interests had been created that would
prefer the continuation of conflict.'
Harinder Baweja, Editor, of Tehelka magazine in New Delhi, also emphasised
the fact that Kashmir was not a piece of real estate but involved the rights
of people. Citing a report prepared in India on what motivated militants,
she said that its findings indicated that in general young men were more
motivated by economic backwardness, political oppression and a reaction to
corruption than because they had been incited to take up the gun as 'holy
warriors'. In her opinion, confidence building measures had done virtually
nothing for the Kashmir issue. 'The only CBM in the last 20 years which kept
Kashmiris' interests in mind,' she said, was the opening of the line of
control in 2005 for the bus service. 'I was in the valley at the time and
saw the spontaneous outbreak of joy on peoples' faces that for the first
time New Delhi is thinking of us as people.'
However, Pakistan's former High commissioner to the United Kingdom (and also
a former Ambassador to the United States), Dr Maleeha Lodi, urged delegates
not to 'throw the baby out with the bath water', suggesting that just
because CBMs might not yet achieved anything significant for Kashmir, they
should still continue to be pursued. She also pointed out that it was
difficult to 'trump' India's resistance to a solution of the issue which
involved an alternative scenario to recognising the line of control as the
A founding member of the Plebiscite Front, G.M. Mir, maintained that it was
easy to resolve the Kashmir issue. 'Both the forces of India and Pakistan
can withdraw their armies and then the Kashmiris can govern themselves.'
Quoting John F. Kennedy, Mir reminded the audience that: 'The most powerful
force in the world is neither communism nor capitalism, it is not the
hydrogen bomb, not the guided missile, it is man's eternal desire to be free
Speaking in the session, 'Peoples' Aspirations, Innovative Models and Fresh
Options,' the total independence of the state was endorsed by Ved Bhasin,
Editor-in-chief of the Kashmir Times, Jammu. 'The only solution is an
independent state in South Asia. The status quo is not a solution; the
division of the state is not a solution.' His suggestion was for a
two-phase withdrawal by India and Pakistan from the whole state.
Recollecting that he had made a similar proposal in 1994, he said that there
should be elections for the two assemblies, on the Indian and Pakistani
sides of the state and the institution of a common council to discuss common
issues such as tourism. The governments of India and Pakistan would only
have jurisdiction over defence and foreign affairs. The line of control
would be made porous and there would be free movement of people and goods.
This, Bhasin suggested, could be tried for a period of five years after
which there could be an election for a united Constituent Assembly for the
entire state, whose members would then determine the state's status as part
of India, Pakistan or whether to become independent. 'We should be,'
reiterated Basin, 'like the Switzerland of South Asia: that situation will
fully satisfy aspirations and will lead to peace in India and Pakistan.'
Zahid Muhammad, columnist and writer in Srinagar maintained that the
aspirations of Kashmiris did not differ from people in all parts of the
world: 'They want liberty. The liberty to decide their future as promised by
the comity of nations, the United Nations Security council, India and
Pakistan.' In view of signs already given by the new Barack Obama
administration, he believed that there was renewed US interest in Kashmir
'more particularly' US recognition that Kashmir cold be 'a portal to peace'
in the region.
Amongst the delegates, there was a general reaction against the Indian
government's persistent insistence that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was
an integral part of India. There was also a strong demand for
demilitarisation, which Angana Chatterji emphasised must not just be a
'token withdrawal', the release of political prisoners and the repeal of
laws which enabled the security forces in Kashmir to act with impunity.
Speaking in the session, 'When Peaceful Protests Fail, What Next?', Gautam
Navlakha, editorial consultant of the Economic and Political Weekly, New
Delhi and one of the conveners of the IPTK, warned that if the aspirations
of Kashmiris continued to be ignored, the armed struggle could start again
'which will have repercussions for all of South Asia.' Reminding listeners
of the 'tens of thousands' who took to the streets last summer in protest at
the grant of land around the Amarnath Shrine to the Shrine board, he said
that their reaction 'shook the Indian state' as a warning of further
protests to come.
David Wolfe, South Asia international human security specialist, who had
himself been placed under house arrest and accused of 'uniting separatists'
during a recent visit to Kashmir, maintained that the armed struggle was not
the way forward. 'The non-violent struggle has been painful, but the
Kashmiris cannot give up on it. You only have to see the resolve on their
faces.' He also pointed out the detrimental effect of armed fighters coming
across the line of control from Pakistan. 'The only people who get hurt are
the Kashmiris they are supposedly coming over to help.'
Altaf Qadri, member of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, also endorsed
a non-violent struggle. 'The armed struggle is not the ethos of the Kashmiri
people. If we continue to fight through violent means, the Government of
India will be only too happy because it gives them the opportunity to kill
When discussing a 'way forward', Dr Idrisa Pandit, educator and consultant,
who lives in Canada, but whose extended family is still living in the
Kashmir valley, suggested that a 'social, psychological and economic model
has to be developed for the accommodation of all people irrespective of
their faith. There has to be a model for the protection of rights for all
minorities of all faiths in all regions. 'Kashmiris first have to engage in
a process of self examination and introspection. They will have to ask what
is the struggle for Kashmir all about. Is it a religious struggle, it is a
Tapan Bose, filmmaker and human rights activist, and one of the earliest
people to highlight human rights abuses in the valley in the early 1990s,
believed that the way forward was for a real genuine mass movement to be
instigated. But he also saw the difficulties of mobilising people given the
lack of unity in the current separatist leadership. 'We have to have a road
map Ð unless you have a road map there is no way that you will be able to
put pressure on the government of India. Kashmiris must develop a common
strategy and plan.' In relation to Confidence Building measures, he endorsed
the bus service.
Professor Ghulam Rasool Malik, former head of the English Department at the
University of Kashmir and currently a member of the committee for
Educational Reform set up by the government of Jammu and Kashmir, reminded
the audience that addressing the Kashmir was 'addressing a human tragedy.'
At the same time, over the years, the issue had 'got converted into a
mind-boggling tangle.' His suggestion was for a five year period for
creating 'a conducive atmosphere for a solution of the tangle to take
effect. In generating such atmosphere all the stake-holders Ð India,
Pakistan and Kashmiri people Ð shall have to sincerely and actively
A lone voice came from the Northern Areas of Pakistan, that of Ismail Khan,
who was the only delegate from that region. An expert on media, public
policy and development in Skardu, and peace activist, Khan was critical of
both India and Pakistan: 'Peace processes don't fail, it is the people
behind the peace process who fail,' he said. He also regretted lost
opportunities: 'The biggest failure has been India's failure in
understanding the stakes. Despite being a major democracy, the leadership
has failed because it has not been able to capitalise on the opportunities
which presented themselves during the first few years of Musharraf's
leadership in Pakistan.' Pointing out the suffering of the people of the
Northern Areas because they had taken the brunt of the wars fought between
India and Pakistan, most recently the Kargil war in 1999, he reminded the
audience that, in view of the state of Jammu and Kashmir's unresolved
status, the people in Gilgit and Baltistan 'had no representation anywhere.'
He also highlighted problems of climate change. 'The melting of the glaciers
is going to impact the health of the entire globe.'
At the end of the conference, Dr Karen Parker, recognised that during two
days' of discussion, 'we have scratched the surface but we have also dug
deeply. We are at a junction right now with a new President [in the United
States] and a possible new agenda. If there is any time for us to push the
issue harder, it is now. We will not get a more favourable time than now. If
we lose this opportunity we might have to wait a really long time.'
Although Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai recognised that 'nothing new' might have been
achieved by the conference, it had been important to enhance understanding
of the issue. Furthermore, he pointed out that amongst the delegates, there
had been 'no disagreement that the rights of the people of Kashmir,
irrespective of their religion or regions, must be respected.' This
important principle, he said, 'was unanimously presented and conveyed and
adopted by everybody.' He also affirmed that, much as it was a 'healthy
sign' when there were peace talks between India and Pakistan, 'we really
want them to talk sense.' Finally, he highlighted what he believed was an
important change both in the attitude of Indian intellectuals and also that
of the international community, which could be used as a tool to further the
objectives of the Kashmiris.
The delegates unanimously adopted the 'Washington Declaration', which
noted that the 'egregious violations of humanitarian norms' had induced a
culture of crisis and urged that the inalienable right to self determination
of peoples of Jammu and Kashmir, as it stood on 14 August 1947, should be
recognised and instituted.