Saturday, 21 May 2011

Bringing peace in pieces won't work

Bringing peace in pieces won't work
Published:5/20/2011 12:00:00 PMUpdated: 5/20/2011 11:24:26 AMBy: BY BASHIR ASSAD Filed Under: opinion

To establish a peaceful South Asia, the major manifestation of mistrust, the issues plaguing the entire region for over 60 years need to be resolved to the satisfaction of all the stake holders. However, peace in the true sense will continue to be illusive, if it is pursued in pieces. Peace, which is essentially a state of mind has to be discussed in its totality, a mechanism that has been ignored by the actors in play.

Deceptive and fragile state policies have achieved nothing and the policy makers at the highest level in South Asia have now themselves realised the futility of pursuing peace in pieces. Since September last year, peace messengers from across the country have been visiting Kashmir valley off and on for assessing the ground situation and for exploring people-to-people contacts to remove the distrust. Conferences, seminars and conventions are being held to spread the message of peace.

I as an ordinary Kashmiri having stakes in peace, appreciate the Indian civil society for taking initiative to reach out to their fellow brethren in Kashmir. The members of Indian Civil Society, who claim to be the real face of Indian democracy, have of course, turned a new-leaf of peace building in Kashmir. However, to feel difference on ground certain things need to be taken care of for clarity in thoughts and approach to get desired results.

First, there are umpteen organisations claiming to be working for peace and reconciliation. All of these aim at the civil society in India and Pakistan. The track-II, the back channel, and the overt and covert diplomacy. No matter how hard one tries the civil society fails to muster the strength to over ride the internal political compulsions on two sides. The vested interests on two sides are more powerful than the civil societies. Having said, the way forward is not interaction of high flown civil society but the coming together of common people. We have to go beyond the symbolic confidence building measures presently being implemented for diplomatic and political consumption. The elite society on two sides has no mistrust. They share the same tastes, cocktails, and other fads. It is the common people who need their mistrust, created by the propagandist media, to be removed. Once in a blue moon lectures and seminars may highlight the problem but the real road to peace is removal of unreasonable restrictions on travel and trade. It is the everyday travel by thousands of common people which will ease the situation. Peace in South Asia is possible only if the civil society musters the power of the common people to break the barriers of mistrust.

The irony of our polity is that South Asian countries try to befriend people in distant lands and totally neglect the neighbours. It is a pity that due to mutual bickering among the South Asian neighbours, outsiders from distant lands are getting a chance to come here as global peace brokers. We fail to realise that the so called peace envoys are in fact the very people who are responsible for the discord in this part of the world. They know that we have failed to look within and are looking outside for establishing peace in this region. In fact, they create as well as manipulate the situations to suit their own self-interest. How can one discuss peace in South Asia when the governments in the area are looking at war mongers who have unleashed a rein of terror on many civilisations in and outside this part of the world.

Second, we have been repeatedly pronouncing that the idea of war is preposterous as it will destroy not only the sub-continent but the entire South Asian region. At the same time we keep all our options open by overtly and covertly promoting animosity between the neighbours in media. I am afraid that the foreign policies in at least our two countries of India and Pakistan are determined by corporate houses enjoying control on media. This is height of hypocrisy! In such a situation the civil society has to play its vital role.

Third; the events of past orchestrated by the vested interests rather the enemies of peace have derailed the once declared "irreversible peace process" between the two countries and the vested interests still have the potential to create a wedge between the peace loving people. We all know that the political leadership of the times lack courage to withstand the pulls and pressures. The peace process which had been meticulously built over the years by the efforts of the progressive people on two sides as well as by the active participation of the civil society received a tremendous set back by the events of past couple of years. Peace has to come from below and the people's yearning for peace should be the bed-rock.

Now coming to the peace in Kashmir, needless to say that it is the people of Kashmir who have suffered most in this violent conflict. Though the people of Kashmir from both sides played a role during the last peace process set in motion by the two countries in persuading both India and Pakistan to find ways for a win-win people centric resolution of the conflict, but they were never included in the process. The process got disrupted despite the people in Kashmir yearning for peace. So we as Kashmiris can hope for peace but cannot bring it without the support from the two countries. At the same time, there can be no peace without a peaceful Kashmir and peace in Kashmir is illusive unless you address the issue. True that the peace process particularly on the Delhi-Islamabad track has helped in building up capacity and confidence of average Kashmiris to dwell on issues crucial to both development and peace. In the above context one is prompted to draw certain insights from 2002 peace-process. First it was by any yardstick a composite dialogue process moving forward tangibly on all fronts. Second the benefits of this process were useful in further deepening the process as the Kashmir problem was somehow put in a rationale context by the then leadership of the two countries. The process had in a way straightened certain sharp curves in the Kashmir conundrum.

In 2002-2003, both the countries resumed talks that had been stalled after the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001; in April 2005 the first bus rolled out from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad, in October 2005 both the countries opened the LoC to facilitate relief operations and later for movement of the people. The earthquake in October 2005 in a way showed the necessity of joint cooperation to tackle many issues of common concern. It was a tragedy for both, but it was a tragedy with lessons. Both the countries seemed to realise the necessity of peace than to indulge in political bickering. Pakistan giving up its insistence on the UN resolutions and India's softening stand towards making the LoC 'irrelevant' are among the remarkable developments that could have been hardly imagined possible a decade earlier. Both India and Pakistan came to realise the value of living in peace, because the peace-dividends are more valuable than the results of war and violence. India and Pakistan should develop confidence to resolve issues without making United States as the court of appeal. For this to happen greater responsibility lies on India with the great power ambition. The elite in India holding important positions in security and strategic establishments will have to narrow down the distance between great power ambition and small power mentality.

On the other hand, the recent shift in Kashmir movement from an armed struggle to a political struggle gives a whole new dimension to the dispute in which civil society has a greater role to play. Instead of adopting a top-down approach of directly moving towards conflict resolution a bottom-up approach by creating political awareness among masses, should be adopted to pave way and prepare conditions and environment conducive for amicable resolution of the problem.

When minds open, old vistas expand, new ones appear and then things start moving. Searching minds go near the goal of understanding. Understanding itself is a destination. Unless one reaches it, one cannot win a victory. In diversity lie the gems of universality. Unresolved issues have an in-built explosive potential. It is everywhere in the world. The land of Kashmir is no exception to this norm. Therefore, 1 would like to conclude that South Asian peace remains in the lockers of Kashmir. Only honest resolve can unlock the sixty years old stiffened lockers to usher in an era of peace.

Any Kashmir-centric peace process must require the participation of all sections of the people from all the regions of the state on either side of the LoC. There lies the opportunity and the challenge. The popular demand for peace would likely pressure the two governments to work for a peaceful and amicable win-win solution of the Kashmir issue.

Cooperation in furthering trade and tourism between the two sides is a key peace-builder. There are several joint bodies for intra-Kashmir trade which could be involved in this process. Tourism that involves both sides could be a major boost for joint growth of the two economies. Linking electricity grids could go a long way in meeting the power crisis and also provide a way around the current border issue. This would have to follow gradual demilitarisation which has been talked about for a long time. Creation of free trade areas or special economic zones which need not necessarily include the entire state can be a very useful peace building measure. Tax breaks given by India and Pakistan to their export businesses need to be extended to the other side as well. This could be a path breaking peace-building in Kashmir.
Destruction of infrastructure has been a problem and reconstruction is even bigger problem. Inefficiency, indecisiveness of administrative apparatus, rampant corruption is eating very vitals of Kashmir economy. Mis-governance is the major contributory factor to the growing alienation in Kashmir. The track-record of successive governments in Kashmir has been very disappointing, democratic institutions have never been allowed to grow and Delhi's intervention in local governance has been disgusting. To strengthen the democratic institutions in the state, outside intervention has to end and the local government has to be accountable before the people of the state not before New-Delhi.

No comments: