Monday, August 10, 2009

"Kashmir Issue: Regional & International Dimension"

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
August 3, 2009

With every passing conference, we have constantly strived to improve ourselves owing to a belief that stagnation leads to decline. Onwards from that, this Tenth International Kashmir Peace Conference shares the eternal commitment and resolve of encouraging a peaceful resolution to the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir in which the aspirations of the people of Kashmir may be paramount. However, it does so in the spirit of reconciliation, not confrontation; equality, not discrimination; and hope, not despair. It is our firm conviction that wisdom will guide decisions rather than myth, superstition or deceit.

Overall, our purpose is to encourage the bringing together of scholars, academics, diplomats, from India, Pakistan and Kashmir as well as policy making personalities in Washington, D.C. Our spirit is of understanding, our heart is motivated by justice for Kashmiri peoples’ right of self-determination and mind recognizes the necessity of building bridges of peace and avoiding war.

We are optimistic that this conference is only the first step, in the long journey towards peace, which may, realistically, only be achievable by establishing a peace process that includes the governments of India, Pakistan as well as the accredited leadership of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. This may not happen without the deeper engagement of the United States with both India and Pakistan.

We have invited distinguished delegates from India, Pakistan and from both sides of the Ceasefire Line in Kashmir. They undoubtedly have varied and diverse experiences and expertise. So we do expect different presentations during the conference. It is simply because there are more than one parties involved with the dispute. In having the distinguished speakers from India, Pakistan and Kashmir share the podium, we want the beginning of a dialogue that can truly lead us out of the terrifying situation into a peaceful and diplomatic resolution.

So the objective of the conference is to create an atmosphere for dialogue – the dialogue that should take place between people with different opinions and different sides in conflict. This means making sure that there is a peace process in south Asia and there is free exchange of views and opinions, however, different but in an atmosphere that is free from fear, terror, intimidation and most importantly devoid of any blame game and accusation.

Hence, the aims and objectives of this conference are not to speak against one government or another. On the contrary, our main purpose is to facilitate a sincere dialogue in the form of a peace process to resolve the Kashmir issue that will ultimately bring peace and prosperity not only to Kashmir but also to the region of South Asia – home to one fifth of total human race.

So our primary motivation is: to establish a peace process that includes major stakeholders along with the movers and shakers in Pakistan, India and Kashmir. In that regard, we are entirely aware that a peace process has been initiated between India and Pakistan. That peace process has chosen to emphasize confidence building measures, increased economic trade and bus travel between Srinagar and Muzzaffarabad. Following the first high-level meeting of government officials from both countries, some success was achieved in recognizing the following key principles:

First, a commitment to peaceful methods of conflict resolution in South Asia;

Second, rejection of all forms of extremism that are engulfing Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Kashmir;

Third, a just resolution concerning the Kashmir dispute in accordance with the will and wishes of the people of the territory.

The importance of these peace initiatives cannot be overstated, particularly when considering the link between stability and American socio-economic and geo-political interests. Sadly, the potential for violence is ever-present which could catapult South Asia towards uncontrollable de-stabilization.

The requisite need for Obama Administration with all other stakeholders is to prevent the further destabilization of south Asia and fulfill its moral obligation to mandate a peace process in Kashmir thereby, also protecting American interests in the region.

Here it is important to note that there has always been bipartisan expression of support for the U.S. position toward Kashmir. It is apparent from: When the Kashmir dispute erupted in 1948, the United States championed the stand that the future status of Kashmir must be ascertained in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of the territory. The U.S. was a principal sponsor of the resolution # 47, which was adopted by the Security Council on 21 April 1948, and which was based on that unchallenged principle. Following the resolution, the U.S. as a leading member of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan, adhered to that stand.

The clarification made by President George W. Bush on February 22, 2006 that the United States supports a solution of the Kashmir dispute acceptable not only to India and Pakistan but also to “citizens of Kashmir;”

As a candidate President Obama said “I will continue support of ongoing Indian Pakistani efforts to resolve Kashmir problem in order to address the political roots of the arms race between India and Pakistan;” He also mentioned on October 30, 2008, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants;”

US Under-secretary of State, William Burns, said in New Delhi on June 18th, 2009 that ‘“The US favours resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan and wants the Kashmir problem to be solved keeping in view the aspirations of the Kashmiri people”. And Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton said in Mumbai, India on July 18, 2009 in, “The decision (on Kashmir) has to be between India and Pakistan and it must take into account feelings of people of Kashmir.”

The urgent necessities to help put the issue of Kashmir on the road to a settlement are:

(I). India and Pakistan must include the genuine leadership of the State of Jammu and Kashmir in all future talks between these two countries. That means that talks need to be tripartite - India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.

(ii). Without detracting from the necessity of trilateral negotiations, Kashmiri leadership should be ready for a preparatory dialogue with the Indian Government provided an environment of non-violence is established. This can be done by:

a. The immediate and complete cessation of military and Para-military actions against the civilians’ population;

b. Withdrawal of the military presence from towns and villages;

c. Dismantling of bunkers, watch towers and barricades;

d. Releasing of political prisoners, including Mr. Shabir Ahmed Shah whose only crime is his reconciliatory efforts to bring two Hurriyet Conferences closer;

e. Annulling various special repressive laws;

f. Permitting to travel abroad without hindrance, Kashmiri leadership who favor a peaceful resolution;

g. Issuing visas to the Diaspora Kashmiri leadership to visit Jammu and Kashmir to help sustain the peace process.

(iii). There cannot be and should not be any condition from any party, other than commitment to non-violence and to negotiations.

(iv). In order to create a conducive atmosphere for talks, Kashmir needs to be demilitarized one hand and de-terrorized on the other.

(v). During the latest phase of the freedom struggle, in particular in 2008 & 2009, virtually whole population of Srinagar (capital city of Kashmir) - men, women and children - came out dozens of times on the streets to lodge a non-violent protest against the continuance of Indian occupation. At times, the number of people exceeded 1 million. Certainly, terrorists cannot compose the entire populations of the major towns of Kashmir. And one million people reflect the true nature of the spontaneous, indigenous, non-violent and peaceful Kashmiri resistance movement and not a movement of terrorism. This popular, indigenous and non-violent movement in Kashmir needs to be supported and acknowledged by the international community to help push a fair settlement of the lingering Kashmir dispute.

If we want the real peace, if we want the sincere settlement of the Kashmir problem then all parties to the dispute - India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir - will have to show some flexibility, will have to make some sacrifices and will have to modify their stand on Kashmir. It is almost impossible to find a solution of Kashmir problem that respects all the sensitivities of Pakistan, that values all the sentiments of India and that keeps in tact the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir. But does that mean that we cannot find an imaginative solution of the Kashmir problem. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. But that solution demands flexibility, sacrifices and modification of the stated positions of all parties concerned.

Now is the time for the Obama administration to develop its positive and principled approach to the Kashmir problem into a tangible strategy. In this regard, an appointment of a special envoy on Kashmir would go a long way to hasten the progress of peace and reconciliation in the region of South Asia, particularly India, Pakistan & Afghanistan.

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