Confidence-building Measures: a Help or a Hindrance?

Address by Dr. Douglas Johnston

Implicit in the title of the topic we are addressing this afternoon is the possibility that confidence-building measures may represent an unhelpful distraction to the extent that they divert attention from the overarching need for a final resolution of Kashmir’s political status. While there is certainly room to make such an argument, I personally don’t believe this has to be the case. On the contrary, effective CBMs can change public opinion and open the door to new possibilities. Under the right circumstances, they can even create positive momentum in moving toward a resolution, momentum that at a certain point becomes all-but-totally irreversible.

By the same token, it must be acknowledged that over the tortured history of the Kashmir dispute, a number of confidence-building measures have been proposed, a lesser number have been enacted, and almost all of those that were have failed to build any degree of real trust between India and Pakistan. Perhaps the most widely known of the enacted CBMs have been those in the military domain, such as the 1991 agreement on advanced notification of military exercises, the 1992 Chemical weapons ban, or the  hotlines that have been set up to facilitate instant communications between military commands or foreign secretaries during times of crisis. While these can clearly play an important role in preventing accidental wars, such measures by themselves are insufficient to establish a genuine climate of trust.

A number of economic CBMs have also been suggested, such as the recently proposed natural gas pipeline to link Iran, India and Pakistan or more limited plans to reduce trade barriers and open trucking routes through Kashmir. Such CBMs would be valuable because of the financial benefits they would convey to governments (whose revenues would increase as international trade moves out of the black market) and to private businesses as well. Linking security to commerce has a great deal to recommend it, but even that doesn’t take you as far as one needs to go.

In the final analysis, establishing trust involves winning the hearts and minds of the people. And that is what is so significant about the recent, much-heralded restoration of bus service between Srinagar and Mussaffarabad. Since the opening of that bus route, there has been a great deal of talk about political or cultural CBM’s. Building upon the enthusiasm generated by the bus initiative, people have been quick to propose additional measures – opening more bus routes, liberalizing the standards for issuing visas, opening new consulates, promoting student exchanges, and undertaking joint initiatives to promote tourism.

All of these CBMs can only be understood as part of the cyclical relationship between official Track I diplomacy and the unofficial Track II efforts that take place outside of formal diplomatic channels. Many of the CBMs we have been discussing today are the product of Track II diplomacy. Freed from the obligation to speak “on the record” and to answer directly to constituents, Track II diplomats are often free to propose ideas that government officials cannot. The better of these ideas then attract sufficient popular support to warrant their eventual inclusion in Track I deliberations. And once implemented, these initiatives have the power to improve people’s lives in deeply meaningful ways. In the case of the People’s Bus, one elderly gentleman declared in advance of the inaugural trip that he would be able to die happy if he could only visit his children and grandchildren on the other side of the Line of Control.

Tangible steps of this nature demonstrate to affected populations the personal benefits of easing international tensions and to politicians the political rewards of escaping the gridlock that has prevailed for so long. The enthusiasm generated by such gestures, in turn, develops support for more ambitious Track 2 initiatives, while putting increased pressure on the involved governments to support the original CBMs  through Track 1 negotiations. Public pressure of this nature – in India, Pakistan and Kashmir itself – is essential if one is to overcome the political reluctance to abandon the status quo.

In short, for Track II diplomacy to succeed, it must ultimately be accepted and incorporated into Track I negotiations. The People’s Bus initiative, for example, only became a reality 5 years after a formidable Track II diplomat first proposed it in a refugee camp in Muzaffrabad. In short, it took 5 years of exhaustive lobbying before government officials were ready to support the plan. And even at that point, one isn’t completely home free.

Implemented CBMs can quickly be reversed if official relations between the affected governments suffer a setback. When this happens, the hope and trust generated by the CBMs quickly dissolves into frustration and cynicism. A graphic case in point is the disenchantment that set in when conflict erupted in Kargil immediately following the hope-filled Lahore Declaration that resulted from former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s bold trip to Lahore in February 1999. India felt totally betrayed, and all enthusiasm for future confidence-building efforts instantly disappeared. Since the behavior of governments is inevitably held hostage to political developments, including the violent actions of extremists, there is always a risk that CBMs will be derailed.

This reality, however, should not be used as an excuse for inaction. When people claim that the restored bus service represents an “irreversible” step toward peace, they are not saying that the service will never be shut down again, but merely that the hope and enthusiasm which the initiative has generated will never be crushed. Still, the ease with which borders can be re-closed and goodwill can be soured suggests the need for a kind of CBM that is less prone to disruption by shifts in the political landscape.

It is in this category that I would place the faith-based reconciliation that the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy has been practicing in the various regions of Kashmir for the past 5 years. Because this work involves a significant religious component, it represents a form of Track II diplomacy that is largely insulated from political setbacks.

Under the able leadership of Reverend Brian Cox, the Center’s Senior Vice President for Dispute Resolution Training who also leads our Kashmir project, and ICRD Senior Associate Dan Philpott, who assists him in this effort, ICRD has conducted six faith-based reconciliation workshops on the Indian side of the LOC, and two on the Pakistani side. These workshops, which typically involve 30 to 90 participants from contending ethnic or religious groups, address personal as well as corporate needs for reconciliation. They do this through (1) adopting reconciliation as a moral vision for society, (2) addressing the wounds of history that complicate the reconciliation process, (3) taking steps to heal broken relationships, and (4) determining how the obstacles to peace can be overcome.

Most importantly, these workshops 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. Since these participants, typically include lawyers, journalists, college professors, businessmen and other community leaders, their influence is quite considerable.

Throughout this process, I have been personally impressed by the deep commitment of everyone involved. Among the Muslim participants, I have been particularly struck by the degree to which the concept of forgiveness has found real resonance and affected future behavior, even among those who were previously involved in the militant movement. This kind of commitment is crucial because it becomes an instrumental ingredient in breaking the cycle of revenge that dominates most identity-based conflicts.

Now that a cooperative spirit has been established among next-generation leaders in the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist regions of Kashmir (after 4 years of intensive effort), we will be continuing our work by conducting bridge-building seminars in a neutral location, seminars that will bring together graduates of past reconciliation workshops from both sides of the LOC. The goal is to begin restoring a sense of community across the Line and rebuilding the inclusive spirit of Kashmiriyat that once prevailed in earlier times.

It is the trust that these seminars inspire that will make them an important complement to other, more political CBMs. Once a man has forgiven his son’s killer on a personal level (as happened in one of the early workshops), it is difficult to imagine that his faith in the reconciliation process will be destroyed by the violence of militants or abusive authorities. Thus, when the Track I peace process falters, as it inevitably will, dedicated and vocal groups of ICRD graduates will weigh in as best they can to get things back on track. These next-generation leaders will be well-positioned not only to resist the urge toward violence but to promote the kind of reconciliation that leads to peace.

Another reason that this kind of reconciliation can serve as a valuable complement to other CBMs, is because it is not linked to any specific political settlement. As faith-based reconciliation displaces militant Islam and militant Hinduism as the operative paradigm, the reconciling atmosphere that results will, in all likelihood, open the door to new possibilities. In that respect, one might view faith-based reconciliation as a means to a more enlightened end.

Thank you for your attention and for this important opportunity to discuss our Center’s work.



Presentation to Fifth Annual Kashmir Peace Conference
Capitol Hill, Washington, DC
July 14, 2005

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