Kashmir Project Faith-Based Reconciliation

By Brian Cox

Distinguished guests, members of the diplomatic community, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Brian Cox and I am the Senior Vice President of the International Center For Religion and Diplomacy based in Washington DC and ICRD’s Project Leader in Kashmir. I am a trained professional in international faith-based conflict resolution with experience in such places as Bosnia, Kosovo, Burundi, Sudan as well as Kashmir. I have some twenty years of international experience in such places as Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. I am a person of faith from the Abrahamic tradition who is a follower of Jesus. However, my most important qualification for this project is that I have a heart and love for the Kashmiri people. For me this is not a job, but a passionate advocacy on behalf of the Kashmiri people who have suffered so much, particularly over the past fourteen years.

The International Center for Religion and Diplomacy is a Washington DC based NGO that receives all of its funding from private sources, from individual donors and foundations. It receives no funding from the U.S. government. ICRD is committed to the concept and practice of faith-based diplomacy. As such we serve as a bridge between religion and politics in support of peacemaking. In our work we seek to draw upon the teachings and practices of the various faith traditions and integrate it with diplomacy and peacemaking.

Let me now speak about ICRD’s history of involvement in Kashmir on the Indian side of the Line of Control. From the very beginning, it was our hope and intention to work on both sides of the Line of Control. However, as people of faith, we know that the timing is in God’s hands. I arrived in Delhi in September 2000 with no appointments, no meetings planned, only a few names and phone numbers provided to me by a Pakistani political leader. I began to contact people and our first meeting was with a professor from Jahawarl Nehru University, a prominent human rights activist who had written extensively about human rights violations by Indian Security forces. He provided names and contact numbers for a broad spectrum of Kashmiri leaders in the Valley, from Hurriyat to National Conference. Of all the meetings, the key encounter was with a young Kashmiri leader who was President of a Kashmiri NGO. He caught the vision of faith-based reconciliation! This led to cooperation in putting on the first faith-based reconciliation seminar in Gulmarg in June 2001 for thirty Kashmiri Muslims. It represented a bold but calculated risk. From that seminar, we began a small core group of individuals who had also caught the vision and were willing to dedicate their lives to working for faith-based reconciliation in Kashmir. In July 2002 we took the next bold and calculated risk by bringing together some 50 Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits in Gulmarg for our third reconciliation seminar. An initially awkward, tense and angry atmosphere was transformed by God into a time of healing, forgiveness and a commitment to work for return of the Pandits to the Valley. Our most recent seminar in Ladakh, our sixth, was with Muslims and Buddhists from both Leh and Kargil.

From the beginning of my involvement in Kashmir I talked to senior level leaders on all sides; Srinagar, Jammu, Delhi, Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, and determined that there was complete gridlock as far as a political settlement. Hence, we developed the strategy of working on the civil society level with middle and grassroots leaders to create a movement of faith-based reconciliation among the younger generation. We utilize the faith-based reconciliation seminars as a mode of conflict intervention by imparting vision, teaching principles, providing training skills and creating an environment for God’s work of transformation. We have developed a core group of some twenty seven leaders; Muslims, Pandits and Buddhists; men and women. We have also begun a network of cell groups in Kashmir Valley and Jammu region. We presently have some twenty cell groups involving 250 – 300 people. The cell groups involve a three fold commitment; submission to God (consistent with one’s own faith tradition), commitment to each other, and commitment to the work of reconciliation. We have conducted civil society forums in Srinagar, Jammu and Leh. We have established an Institute For Reconciliation in Srinagar. We have become involved in fostering momentum for the return of all refugees, both Muslims from Azad Kashmir and Pandits from Jammu to the Valley if they so desire. Our hope is to bring civil society leaders from all the various regions together for a faith-based learning conversation in a neutral location as an important next step in the healing process.

Let me now turn my attention to ICRD’s involvement on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control. In September 2000 during a visit to Islamabad I met Shah Ghulam Qadir who at that time was the President of the Kashmir Institute. In our conversation we discovered both a common vision and a personal chemistry. I returned to Islamabad in February 2001 and met with a wide spectrum of leaders in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad to speak about the concept of faith-based reconciliation and its application to the conflict in the Kashmir region. At that time polite interest was expressed by most of the leaders but there clearly was not an open door or momentum for such a work to begin on the Pakistani side of the LOC. Shah Qadir and I kept in contact with each other and in January 2003 I returned to Islamabad with my colleague, Dr. Douglas Johnston, the President of ICRD. Once again, we met with a wide spectrum of Kashmiri leaders in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad. This time, however, we encountered an entirely different atmosphere, an openness and enthusiasm to the concept of faith-based reconciliation in Kashmir and the work of ICRD. Both the President and Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir expressed the government’s welcome to our efforts. As a result, Shah Qadir, Amjad Yousuf and I arrived at an agreement for KIIR and ICRD to work together.

Since the concept of faith-based reconciliation is central to our approach to the conflict in Kashmir perhaps it would be helpful to clarify what is meant by that. Our work is “faith-based” in three important ways. First of all, as people of faith we look for God’s active intervention in human affairs. From a strictly human perspective there seems to be little cause for hope in Kashmir. Scholars and policymakers would seem to agree in that they described the conflict in Kashmir as “intractable”. Kashmir has been described in various journals and publications as “the world’s roughest neighborhood”. And, yet, as a person of faith, I feel great hope because I never forget that ICRD’s work in Kashmir is not just a humanistic undertaking but ultimately is grounded in the belief that God can and does work in human hearts and situations.

Secondly, at the core of this work is the expectation of God’s work in changing hearts. The conflict in Kashmir will not be resolved by third party intervention by the best and the brightest. It will not be resolved by some brilliant proposal for a negotiated settlement. It will require changed hearts. People of faith understand this. During our first seminar in Gulmarg in June 2001, there was a Kashmiri Muslim man whose brother had been killed in a militant clash. He himself had been shot in the face, which required some nine separate surgeries. In his heart he had made a vow to kill the man who had killed his brother. When he came to the first seminar in Gulmarg in June 2001, he felt challenged at the core of his being by the teaching on forgiveness. How could he possibly forgive the man who had killed his brother and caused him such suffering? However during the Service of Reconciliation, God changed his heart to such an extent that he publicly forgave that man and he discovered that an enormous burden of anger, hatred and revenge was lifted from his shoulders. During our fourth seminar in Jammu in January 2003 a Pandit leader stood up on the first day of the seminar and delivered an angry and strident diatribe against Kashmiri Muslims because of the suffering that he and his family experienced in 1989 with the expulsion of Pandits from the Valley. A combination of the teaching, small group experience and personal diplomacy by Muslim team members led to this same Pandit leader standing up on the final morning and apologizing to Muslims for Pandit insensitivity to Muslim suffering in the past and extending forgiveness in light of Muslim repentance for their own heartfelt actions. His heart was changed!

Thirdly, faith-based diplomacy means integrating the practices of one’s faith tradition with the conduct of statecraft. In many faith traditions the practice of prayer and fasting is an outward expression of submission to or dependence on God. Our work in Kashmir commonly involves a team of people who pray and fast during seminars, diplomatic meetings and public forums. Certain episodes of transformation, typically instances where an embittered person comes to express profound words of healing, apology, or forgiveness, bear the marks of the sort of divine assistance that can come as a response to prayer and fasting.

Another practice is that of engaging in spiritual conversations. Such conversations, hardly a tool of traditional statecraft, occur in meetings between unofficial emissaries and official political and military leaders. They enable the faith-based diplomat to go “below the line” in having “conversations of the heart”. On one occasion we were meeting with a senior level Hurriyat official and raised the subject of forgiveness to which he responded with a forty-five minute passionate and strident monologue about his sufferings and the suffering of the Kashmiri people. When he finished speaking, I thanked him for his willingness to trust us by sharing so deeply of his own suffering. He responded by saying, “You are the first people who have been willing to listen.” He later acknowledged that forgiveness would be an important part of the healing process in Kashmir.

A third practice is that of extending apologies and forgiveness. During our seminars, we include a Service of Reconciliation that provides a spiritual climate for healing broken relationships on a personal level and for communal healing through acknowledgement of wrongdoing, making apologies and conveying forgiveness. Time and again, we have witnessed walls of hostility being broken down between identity-based communities.

Our work focuses on reconciliation in place of the traditional conflict resolution model. As such, we take a holistic approach to the healing process in the conflict, a form of sociopolitical healing. A reconciliation framework or model has three basic objectives; resolution of the conflict, restoration of the political order that has suffered from war and injustice, and the reconciliation of people groups.

A reconciliation framework or model has five basic elements; imparting moral vision, building bridges between estranged groups, establishing a lasting peace, social justice, promoting political forgiveness and healing the wounds of history.

Faith-based reconciliation is based on eight principles or core values: pluralism, inclusion, peacemaking, justice, forgiveness, healing deep wounds, sovereignty and atonement.

In conclusion, I am here because I believe it is God’s will for me to be here. For that I pay a price; absence from family, long travel, criticism and misunderstanding. I am here because of my care for the Kashmiri people. I hope that our efforts together will be used by God to create a reconciled Kashmir for your children and grandchildren.

I believe that Kashmir can become a model for the world. Kashmir is a small region in the world’s eyes. However, perhaps we are creating a model here that can be utilized in other places around the globe. So let Kashmir serve as a beacon of hope and let God have the glory!

 

—-

This address was given at a public session on September 12, 2003 at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Bhurban, Pakistan

Comments are closed.