Monday, August 10, 2009

David Wolfe: Kashmir Peace Conference Remarks July 24th The Gold Room, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC

This is the first time in my four-year involvement with the KAC, and as a coordinator of this conference since 2005, where I have been asked to express my views regarding the subject of Kashmir. For those of you who don’t know, I was a NE Asian Human Security, Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Specialist, who speaks Japanese and can have a lengthy discussion regarding history, literature, non-proliferation etc, regarding the East Asian region. However, I feel blessed to have come into contact with the Kashmir issue via a chance meeting with Dr. Fai at the United Nations in February 2005, whom I consider my mentor, and dear friend. This then led to working with Dr. Angana Chatterji and Dr. Richard Shapiro who have both given me guidance, knowledge and support despite professional setbacks I have endured due to my commitment to the Kashmir Issue, it is worth it. So my remarks today will be a meeting of my two worlds, but comes after a year long reflection following my trip to IJK, my experiences I encountered both positive and negative, and the understanding of how a people can be on the brink of violence at any moment, which I eerily felt for the five weeks I spent on the ground.

Earlier this year while accepting an award in Israel for achievement in literature, the famous Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami gave a compelling analogy meant for Israel-Palestine, however I believe will give you an understanding of where I stand in terms of non-violence, and specifically the Kashmiri people. Murakami said: "Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg. Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide.”

When I traveled and in a sense lived with a family in IJK, I was the guest of my very dear friend Mohammad Yasin Malik and and lived with the family of Ghulam Rasool Dar, whom will be in my thoughts for the rest of my life. Yasin, without manipulation gave me free reign to seek out for myself what the people felt with regards to occupation, violence, non-violence and the fears that came with daily life in the valley. I also spent time with Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, whom I also consider a dear friend, in order to understand all perspectives of the separatists, as I learned from the common shop-keeper, professor, student, both male and female, or house wife to gain a well rounded perspective in an attempt to form my own assessment of reality. In fact, I was placed under house arrest and roughed up a bit by SP and CPRF personnel for doing so. However I feel I was able ascertain most of the answers to the questions I had asked myself. I raised this very question to all of them. “Do you ever feel as if the non-violent movement will fail?” The answers varied. Mirwaiz, of course, as a religious man, stays the course he always had. Though he does live a sheltered existence, he stands with the non-violent movement, but knows at anytime he could summon the youth to pick up arms and fight once again.

Geelani-sahib, as most of you know, does not advocate violence, but reserves the right to retaliation and self-defense. A point that he and I disagreed. This experience is the core reason why the Murakami quote resonated with me so deeply. I am a believer in nonviolence. However, if Geelani decided violence is the only answer to solving the problem, no matter how much I vehemently disagree with his assessment, I will stand with him. In the end Geelani-sahib did kiss me on the forehead and called me his son, which in my own heart felt like I had been baptized again, and will forever be highlight in my life. By the way, I was raised Christian and spend a lot of time with Muslims so I have my own internal struggle as well…

Yasin Malik for me is one of the few who can legitimately answer this question. Yes I have my bias, however he has tried the strategy of ending the non-violent movement and pick up the gun, and returned to non-violence. He understands first hand that this is a losing proposition, and continues this as justification for his continued stance despite the continued house arrest, detention and violence by the Indian Military against the Kashmiri people, and himself specifically.

However, the Kashmiri people left me with a feeling of indifference. They were exhausted by the occupation, yet not spiritually broken. They resisted violence, but understood it’s possible necessity should that time come. And finally, they were unsure of the commitment of the separatist leadership, with the exception of Yasin Malik, whom everyone across the board felt had served his time, given his sacrifice and had accepted possible death for his non-violence struggle since he had faced while serving as a militant leader.

As a specialist in Conflict Resolution and Human Security, there are indicators that signify the core of why violence exists in any given area. That armed conflict and violence are not inherently found in any culture, religion or political movement.

You see violence is cyclical in nature. Unless the cycle can be broken, there will never be a viable solution. I firmly believe that the people in IJK have been able to disrupt that circle, and start a new line outside of the circle with their non-violent movement surviving the violence of last summer perpetrated by the Indian Military. Remember, 68 people died during non-violent protest, including Sheik Aziz.

I also believe, that India and Pakistan are the only actors in this conflict that are keeping that circle in motion. Whether it be ISI and Pakistani military funded militants who commit what I like to call “mosquito” attacks on the military, the Indian military using fake encounters to justify killing an innocent, or the occasional skirmish that happens when two militaries face each other down with soldiers who are brainwashed into false pretenses about the other. When violence does occur in Kashmir, the recipient of the response regardless of who initiated the violence, are the people of the Valley, and no one else. With all do respect to people in AJK, please dismantle and demobilize the militants in AJK. Their actions are continuing the suffering of the very people they supposedly are fighting for, and a people who have given employing violent struggle as a means to an end. It’s time the people of AJK, the ISI and the Pakistani Military got with the program. I hear your cries of injustice, but are you achieving any form of justice for the people in the Valley?

The people in the Valley receive the cyclical retaliation from the Indian Army due to, frankly speaking the actions of an outsider who obviously does not share the same value as the Kashmiri in the Valley. If the people in AJK did share that value and a belief in non-violent struggle, then groups like Lashkar e Taiba, Jaish e Muhammad and Hizbul Mujahideen would no longer be carrying out operations in IJK. This might be naïve to believe, but I put my faith into the actions of those on the ground, and what I have continued to witness is a failure to fundamentally support the people in IJK with their continued efforts, despite being labeled militant, terrorist or extremist, when those labels are meant for the actual actors of the violence, who do not come from the Valley, but from the other side of the LoC, or the Indian Military and government.

I know the non-violent struggle has taken it’s toll on the Kashmiri people to the point of exhaustion, but giving up on non-violence is to give up on the principles that they continue to stand for, and serve as an example that sets the Kashmiri apart from any other party in a conflict in the world today. In my opinion, there is no “what next” or “then what” to the question posed to this panel. The non-violent struggle is painful, it comes with sacrifice, it comes with death, torture, rape and the most despicable acts that human beings can perpetrate. Agreed, these are words that come easy from an American whose struggle is to lose twenty pounds or quit smoking cigarettes, but I have seen the resolve in the faces both young and old. It’s that face that keeps me from abandoning the issue regardless of the professional price I may pay for doing so.

If the Kashmiri were to once again start an internal uprising, pick up arms and fight the Indian occupation, I would not be surprised, and I can assure you I would support their cause for self-determination regardless because of the just nature behind its meaning, but I would be disappointed that they failed in what they have continued for so long and serve as an example of strength, courage, honor and dignity. As previously stated in the Murakami quote, “the egg may be wrong” and this is what I mean because I believe in the real power rests with those who practice non-violence. However, I will stand with the egg.

The Kashmiri have stared humiliation in the face, and smiled that innocent smile that you see on all their faces knowing that they are right, which forever guarantees their dignity. That the egg may appear to be broken, but the wall will never be justified in not allowing flexibility or padding to prevent it from doing so.

So to some up my opinion, the response of “then what” or “what next” would be to accept violence as an option, or logical next step. In my opinion, this is a short cut, an easy answer that will only score low marks on the exam of life. You are either non-violent or you are not. If people are martyred as part of the movement, then their place in heaven will be solemn and beautiful. Can any religious person honestly go to the pearly gates and justify breaking the second commandment handed down to Moses, “Thou Shalt not Kill.” For a religious person, this is part of God’s test, God’s rules, God’s “Bill of Rights”. To turn to violence in my opinion is to fail God’s test, and a continuation of the evil and ills that have continued for the past 62 years.

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