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New paths in Kashmir

November 30, 2012

IT is a great pity that a unique conference in Muzaffarabad, held early last month, has not received the attention which it so richly deserves. On Nov 5, the first-ever delegation of women civil activists crossed the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir to attend a conference.

The first such cross-LoC conference was held in Srinagar in November 2007 and the next in Gulmarg in September 2011.

This was a unique conclave in that women from all the five regions of the area — Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Ladakh, Jammu and the Kashmir Valley — participated. Its reportage fell short of its importance. Tariq Naqash’s report in Greater Kashmir (Srinagar) was an exception.

Three broad topics were discussed. They were ‘gender and peace-building’: understanding women narratives’; ‘empowering women in peace-building’; and ‘women-inclusive security and sustainable peace-building in Kashmir. The consensus statement issued at the conclusion of the conference is far more specific than what we have so far been treated to by other Pakistan-India talking shops.

It suggested a smart card to facilitate travel across the LoC and pleaded for increased interactions between women entrepreneurs, educationists, lawyers, journalists, students and conflict-resolution experts.

Two specific steps were suggested. One was a working group to develop a shared vision of peace to repair fractured relations between the communities and bridge the perception gaps between west and east Kashmir. The other was a task force of women on both sides of the LoC on human rights, humanitarian and other issues.

In the context of the virtually stalled peace process, the conference made an important contribution by suggesting relocation of heavy artillery, removal of land mines, demilitarisation of Siachen and its conversion into a peace park. The proposals made are practicable, precise and relevant to the situation.

The ‘moderate’ faction of the Hurriyat led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq will visit Pakistan in the middle of December. On Nov 16, he declared: “We will meet all sections of society, including trade federation bodies, lawyers and educationists to seek opinion from them about the different social, political and economic facets of the Kashmir issue.”

He has been in active politics for the last two decades since the dastardly assassination of his father in 1990. One hopes that these years were not wasted in his neglecting to inform himself of the views of these people on the issues facing Kashmir.

He has often promised to make concrete proposals but has failed to do so. The failure is understandable; not so the unreal hopes he pins on external powers none of whom is interested in the problem. There is not a single major power which would alienate India or Pakistan by making specific proposals which, in the nature of things, will displease both sides.

Yet this is the complaint which the mirwaiz made: “International organisations had a responsibility to solve issues like Palestine, Burma, Syria and Kashmir, but unfortunately they have failed in performing their responsibilities.” This is a tall order.

When did the UN Security Council last discuss the Kashmir question? The ceasefire resolution of Sept 20, 1965, which ended the war asked the UN secretary general “to seek a peaceful solution and to report to the Security Council thereon”. He made no such effort and none asked him why he did not. Nothing has happened since.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, to which the mirwaiz turns time and again, cannot do a thing in the matter except help him project an image of hectic diplomatic activity.

The Security Council is not a vending machine in which states insert a problem and receive a solution. It is led by five powers, each armed with a veto, and each acting not as a judge but as a state governed by its own assessment of its own national interest.

All five seem to have formed the assessment that their interests are not affected by the continuing Kashmir dispute unless there is a threat to peace. Is it not time that delusions of old are shed and the people are not misled?

Kashmiri leaders across the board can help to improve the lot of their people by voicing their support for the consensus statement of the women’s conference; by demanding improvement in LoC travel and opening of new roads.

On Nov 8, Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Kashmir, assured a delegation of industrialists and businessmen that he would urge New Delhi to open the old Jammu-Sialkot road for trade and travel. The route is still intact and is used by United Nations observers. Another proposal on the table is opening the road between Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh.

All this sounds less ‘romantic’ than slogans for ‘UN resolutions’, ‘tripartite talks’, etc. The mirwaiz means well. He was among the first to support the four-point consensus. He would render high service by using his trip to Pakistan to devise practical measures of immediate relevance.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.