Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Kashmir Conference Delhi

Kashmir Conference Delhi
Dr Shabir Choudhry 01 June 2006

Another ‘successful’ International conference on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir has ended. The organisers and the participants are all upbeat that it was a successful conference. May be it was, as I am no one to pass - on a judgment that it was not so.

I have yet to hear about a conference on Kashmir which has not been ‘successful’, and despite these ‘successful conferences’ on Kashmir we are still no where near in resolving the Kashmir dispute to the satisfaction of all the parties to the dispute.

There are many ‘experts’ on Kashmir and list of these ‘experts’ is growing especially with addition of non - Kashmiri and Western ‘experts’, who in some cases have limited knowledge and only encompassing some aspects of the subject. They tend to meet many Kashmiri ‘experts’, sponge off their ideas and experience and present them with a new label.

These ideas with new dressings, like many other commodities from the West, are welcomed in many quarters. Some of these ‘experts’ are more concerned in defending and promoting interests of either India or Pakistan, rather than to speak for rights and suffering of the forcibly divided and oppressed people of State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite my research and practical experience directly associated with the issue of Kashmir, I regard myself as a student of Kashmir history, especially current affairs. I feel I got a lot more to learn in order to make some positive contribution to the debate on Kashmir.

I have attended many conferences on Kashmir, and have read details of those which I did not attend. New Delhi based Institute of Conflict Management organised a two days conference which took place on18th and 19th of May 2005. I was honoured to receive an invitation to take part in this conference. Apart from me Dr Nazir Gilani, Professor Nazir Ul Nazish, Adalat Ali and Abbas Butt traveled from the UK to make very valid and notable contribution on the Kashmir dispute.

In this conference no ‘experts’, be them Pakistani, Indian or Western, were invited. All the Participants, apart from the host Dr Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of ICM, were from the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Absence of ‘experts’ meant that people of Jammu and Kashmir, who might not be experts on the issue but they have serious and sincere concern about the situation in their homeland, could talk freely and without intimidation.

All the participants spoke their hearts without any fear or intimidation. There was no predetermined agenda or directions which people had to follow. If anything agenda and resolutions and recommendations gradually evolved, discussed, analysed, changed and finalised.

Some participants from Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan expressed their surprise when they experienced free and frank discussion, as they were led to believe that they might not have a free choice to express their views.

Abbas Butt, President of JKLF, after thanking Dr Ajai Sahni, went as far as saying that he could propose and discuss issues, but he had no right of vote on the topic. He said this right to determine future of Jammu and Kashmir is vested with the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Dr Ajai acknowledged this fact without showing and displeasure, and added that it was in the interest everyone that we learn to resolve disputes by a process of dialogue.

It was IKA (International Kashmir Alliance) which managed to assemble people of Jammu and Kashmir representing all five regions under one roof in its London Conference which was also attended by former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto. Now it was ICM which managed to do the same on the Indian soil, and full credit goes to the institution and it dedicated staff.

There are many positive aspects of this conference and it is not possible to encompass them all in one article. One dominant feature was commitment to non violence and resolution of the dispute through a process of negotiations. Potential of ‘Kashmiri Diaspora’ and their ability to make a valuable contribution is search of a viable and just solution to the Kashmir dispute was also noted.

The presence of five member strong delegation from the Gilgit and Baltistan made enormous contribution on the debate of the future of Jammu and Kashmir. The delegation included Wajhat Mirza, Muzaffar Ali Relay, elected member from Astore, Haji Gandal Shah, Shafqat Inqilalbi and Manzoor Parwaana. It was first time that so many people from these areas were allowed to take part in any international conference on Kashmir, and that again on the soil of India.

Pakistani authorities, especially secret agencies normally get a bit of hammering from Kashmiri nationalists, but one needs to appreciate this change of heart that this time they allowed these representatives to travel to New Delhi. It was not difficult for them to stop them, and even put them behind the bars, as they are ‘government within government’ with very little checks on their enormous powers.

To the surprise of many on their return the participants of the conference from Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan were not harassed or arrested. This, I think demonstrates a change of heart in thinking of Pakistani establishment; and we must not hesitate to encourage and welcome this new and positive approach.

It was IKA and Dr Nazir Gilani who coined many new phrases in the Kashmiri politics, and helped to bring issue of Gilgit and Baltistan on the agenda. Prior to that Gilgit and Baltistan was, seen by many and projected by the Pakistani authorities as Pakistan’s Northern Areas, and not part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

There are many positive aspects of the ICM Conference on Kashmir. In view of some analysts it has strengthened and promoted the process initiated by the IKA three years ago. It has also managed to create more space for those who promote culture of peace and tolerance; and has reinforced position of Gilgit and Baltistan.

These representatives from Gilgit and Baltistan, especially Shafqat Inqillabi and Manzoor Parwana, spoke very boldly and criticised both India and Pakistan for their miseries. During their stay in New Delhi they made many headlines because of their criticism and boldness, and many thought that they will have to suffer for this when they return home.

Now that we know these young men are safe and are not harassed by the secret agencies, we appreciate the attitude of the authorities and congratulate the ICM for successfully ‘cultivating goodwill’ of the Pakistani establishment. We need to build on the success of this conference and expand the constituency of peace and tolerance for the betterment of people of South Asia.

This Conference was different from many others I have attended. Time is the best judge and only time will tell if it has made any ‘difference’ to the debate on the dispute on Kashmir; and especially if it has made any progress in reducing the miseries of the Kashmiri people. And, moreover, if it has identified a way forward which could help us to resolve the Kashmir dispute.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs, Spokesman IKA and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at: drshabirchoudhry@hotmail.com

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