Presentation by Douglas M. Johnston
Thank you and good afternoon. It is a pleasure to participate in today’s deliberations and to share with you some of our Center’s thinking on how to move forward in achieving peace in Kashmir.
As has been made apparent by earlier speakers, the rivalry over Kashmir represents one of the world’s more intractable problems, both for those living in the region and for the international community at large. The threat of nuclear war stemming from the zero-sum competition between India and Pakistan coupled with issues relating to the global war on terrorism, problems of local governance and human rights, and considerations of regional stability round out this highly complex situation.
While recent overtures between India and Pakistan, including the restoration of diplomatic and transportation ties, have laid new groundwork for a meaningful dialogue, it remains to be seen if such a dialogue can resolve the political status of Kashmir and related local governance issues, such as the return of Hindu Pandits and Muslim refugees to the Kashmir Valley. Because of the deep, long-standing wounds that exist on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC), it is imperative that any new attempt to resolve the impasse take into full account these pressing grassroots concerns.
It is sadly the case that most peace agreements pay inadequate attention to the need for grassroots support of whatever political settlement emerges from the negotiations. A case in point is the resolution in 1972 of the 16 year civil war that took place between the North and South of Sudan immediately following independence in 1956. It was subsequently characterized by a leading Southern figure as an “agreement among elites;” and because nothing was done to cement the commitment at the grassroots, a second civil war broke out again in 1983 for precisely the same reasons as the first. That second conflict is now in its 20th year.
In Kashmir, because of the political gridlock that has prevailed since 1947, our Center has been working for the past three years to move toward “peace from within” by addressing the grassroots dimension of the confrontation. During this period, we have established relationships of trust with key religious and political leaders on both sides of the LOC, and have been conducting faith-based reconciliation workshops that are designed to resolve differences at the personal and communal level between Kashmiri Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
Together with the Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Developmental Studies in Srinagar and the Kashmir Institute of International Relations in Muzaffarabad, our Center is promoting faith-based reconciliation among next-generation leaders — ranging for the most part from their early 20s to their early 40s—in an effort to change the spiritual and political dynamics of the region. Our basic strategy calls for developing a cooperative spirit on each side of the LOC and then bringing seminar graduates from both sides together in a neutral location to begin rebuilding a sense of community across the line or – stated differently – to restore the inclusive spirit of kashmiriyat that prevailed in earlier times. As the reconciling spirit expands its reach, it is our hope that political leaders will be similarly affected. In other words, although our work poses no political solution to the problem of Kashmir, we have nevertheless found that when people begin to embrace a moral vision of reconciliation, new possibilities for a settlement begin to emerge.
Under the able leadership of Brian Cox, who serves as our Kashmir project director, and Dan Philpott, who assists him in this effort, we have conducted five reconciliation training seminars on the Indian side of the LOC and established an Institute for Reconciliation in Srinagar. In September, we will conduct our first seminar on the Pakistani side of the line.
These seminars, which typically involve 30 or more members of contending ethnic or religious groups, address personal and corporate needs for reconciliation through presentations and workshops on such themes as adopting reconciliation as a moral vision for society, healing the wounds of history, healing current relationships, and overcoming the obstacles to peace. During the seminars, close personal relationships are forged that often become a valuable networking resource for future initiatives. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these seminars bring the transcendent aspects of personal religious faith to bear in inspiring the participants to become instruments of reconciliation within their respective spheres of influence. And it seems to be working – we are already hearing more and more references to a “movement” of reconciliation among young Kashmiris.
In addition to conducting these seminars, we have:
established a core group of young Kashmiri leaders to provide indigenous leadership for the effort, including Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs (and women as well as men);
We have also established a number of cell groups to provide a “critical mass” for future expansion of the reconciling spirit;
At higher levels, we have secured support for the effort (1) from the top political leadership of Azad Kashmir, (2) from Islamic leaders and scholars on the Indian side of the line in Jammu and Kashmir, (3) from senior-level officials in Delhi who are involved with Kashmir, (4) from senior executive of the opposition Congress Party , and (5) from senior-level political leaders in Islamabad and Lahore;
Beyond that, we have developed strong relationships with each of the major ethnic groups and trained the Center’s indigenous associates (who provide ongoing local leadership) in faith-based diplomacy and international peacemaking at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and the Pepperdine University School of Law.
Finally, we have been very transparent about what we are up to, not only in one-on-one conversations with political leaders, but through various speaking engagements and targeted articles and opinion pieces in Kashmiri journals and newspapers.
Throughout this process, I have personally been very impressed by the deep degree to which the members of the core group have become committed to faith-based reconciliation—to the point where several have been able to forgive those who have caused the deaths of immediate members of their families (including, in one instance, the death of a son) and where all of them are strongly committed to facilitating the return of the Pandits, who fled the Kashmir Valley 13 years ago to escape the violence of a newly formed Islamic militant movement.
Each of these core group members is a leader in his or her respective sphere—lawyers, journalists, college professors, businessmen—in short, individuals who can effectively leverage the experience with others. And they are already having an impact on the community at large. In one such instance, the core group convened a “civil society” meeting last Fall with about 100 citizens-at-large of Srinagar to report the results of a fact-finding mission they had undertaken to the Pandit refugee camps and to test the general receptivity of the Muslim community to the idea of inviting the return of the Pandits. The meeting went exceedingly well and fortified the core group’s resolve even further. Not only were the Muslims willing to invite them back, they wanted them back. Most felt that they had lost an important part of their culture when the Pandits left.
Clearly there are serious economic and security issues to be overcome that can only be resolved with government assistance. Nevertheless, we are doing all that we can to create momentum on both sides for their return. In the Valley this involves creating a dynamic of “welcome” and “repentance” among Muslims for past militant attacks against the Pandits. Among the Pandits, it involves creating a new dynamic of hope based on the effects of the workshops and instilling a sense of repentance for their past participation in regimes that oppressed the Muslims. For India and Pakistan, it involves reframing the issue to involve the return of all refugees to the Valley, including those Muslims in the refugee camps of Azad Kashmir. We have visited both sets of camps, and the conditions are equally deplorable.
The effort to secure the return of the refugees is only one piece of a larger mosaic of confidence-building measures that will be needed if Kashmir is to escape its perpetual cycle of violence. But once we can get beyond the political posturing and begin focusing on the common ground; once reconciliation becomes widely accepted as a moral vision for the region, then political and religious leaders should feel inspired to begin working together to create a better future. If Kashmir can become a model for conflict transformation between and among elites and those at the grassroots, the India-Pakistan dispute will be largely defused and one day resolved. Only time will tell if we are up to the task.
Presentation at International Kashmir Peace Conference in Washington, DC
July 24, 2003