Is Peace Possible For Kashmir? What Faith-Based Diplomacy Has
To Offer

Daniel Philpott and Brian Cox

As presenters of seminars on faith-based reconciliation in a land that The Economist has called “the world’s most dangerous neighborhood,” we were not encouraged when, at the start of one seminar, a participant rose to launch a volley of invective against his rival ethnic community.  Our enraged orator was a Hindu Pandit, a member of an ethnic group who, fearing the attacks of Muslims shortly after violence broke out in the Kashmir Valley in 1989, fled their homes there and came to settle in squalid camps in the Hindu majority region of Jammu.    

At the end of the seminar three and a half days later, our attention was naturally piqued when the same man stood up again before the participants -- but this time with a different message.  He now apologized to Muslims for his insensitivity to their suffering in the conflict and forgave them for their violence against Hindus.  What had elicited the change?  The man had experienced having his story heard by Muslims for the first time, had grappled with the complexity of social justice, had come to terms with the historical wounds of his community, and was then moved to embrace apology and forgiveness, all in an atmosphere of religious ritual and reflection.  Muslim members of the seminar leadership team, we learned, had stayed up with him into the wee hours of the morning to hear his suffering and to express remorse for the plight of the Pandits.  Might the transformation of this Pandit’s heart bear an important resource for high-level peace negotiations?  

Over the past several months, new possibilities for a negotiation of the war in Kashmir have emerged.  In February 2004, Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff committed their countries to comprehensive peace talks.  Meanwhile, Vajpayee’s government began to talk with Kashmiri separatists.  It is now up to the newly formed Congress Party government to maintain this momentum.  Progress is essential: the conflict in Kashmir has taken the lives of somewhere between 30,000 and 80,000 people and is the most likely source of a nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan.

But peace in Kashmir will not come easily.  Pakistan has long maintained that India illegally seized the part of Kashmir that it now controls in 1947, and that Kashmiris are entitled to a plebiscite to determine whether all of Kashmir will accede to India or Pakistan.  Were Pakistan to compromise some of these claims, it would likely face the violent opposition of Muslim militant groups.  For its part, the Government of India maintains that Kashmir is not a disputed territory, but a legal state in the Indian federal union, one whose sovereign membership requires no plebiscite.  It views the Line of Control that now separates the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir as a legitimate international border.  Pakistan must also cease supporting cross-border terrorism, it insists.      

Most difficult of all are historical wounds.  Muslim patriots tend the memory of thousands of martyrs who died for the cause of “Azad,” or freedom, and of decades of rigged elections, denials of democracy, and human rights abuses at the hand of the Indian Government.  Kashmiris loyal to India remember the thousand of lives lost, many of them civilian, at the hands of Muslim militants.  

Activists, analysts, and officials have proposed scores of schemes for a settlement, involving varying arrangements of borders, sovereignty, power-sharing institutions, and economic transfers.  But whether negotiation on these issues alone can overcome long memories and still distant current positions is highly uncertain.  Even a comprehensive settlement may well fail to last, as Bosnia, Angola, Northern Ireland, and Israel all attest.    

    There is another component to the peace process that is often overlooked in the diplomatic arena, but that might well fortify high-level negotiations.  It is intimated by Dennis Ross, the chief U.S. negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestine, who, in a speech delivered six years later, commented that “[i]f there is one area that has been neglected but needs to be worked on between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is the people-to-people component . . ..  Peace will not last if it is made only by the negotiators and the leaders.” 

Herein lies the importance of the transformed Hindu Pandit.  Through a seminar rooted in religious faith, he experienced a change in heart and began to restore his relationships with Muslims -- a kind of initiative that can be called “faith-based diplomacy.”  If Ross is correct, then faith-based diplomacy, like other unofficial “track two” efforts, may well deserve the attention of official, track one diplomats.  

Track two diplomacy cannot replace the power and authority that government officials bring to negotiations.  At the same time, actors who are unchained from official objectives and national interests can exercise a freedom that, often in unconventional and surprising ways, allows them to create initiatives for a lasting peace.  Faith-based actors will be particularly important in regions like South Asia whose people eye with suspicion approaches that fail to integrate religion and politics.  With an attitude of openness, diplomats can find in faith-based track two initiatives assets that complement their own.

One of these assets is the transformation of the hearts of grassroots and civil society leaders.  Such leaders lend -- or withdraw -- essential legitimacy to any settlement.  Over the past four years, we have sought to impart a moral vision of faith-based reconciliation among such leaders through a series of 8 seminars conducted under the auspices of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy.  Over 400 people have participated, including civil servants, leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), student leaders, academics, journalists, business people, and religious officials, both Hindu and Muslim, coming from four major regions of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control.  

In the seminar, participants reflect on what their own faith traditions teach about subjects like pluralism, conflict resolution, social justice, the healing of historical wounds, and forgiveness, and on the meaning of these teachings for themselves and their communities.  The results can sometimes be dramatic, as in the case of the Hindu Pandit, or of a Muslim man who forgave militants who, eight years earlier, had killed his father and brother and had riddled his own body full of bullets.  More common are simpler expressions of a willingness to embrace and promote reconciliation -- like those from a recent seminar: “Religion is often blamed for conflicts.  This is a whole new concept.  Reconciliation is in the religious texts.  We can study that and bring reconciliation to this place.”  “I will be a reconciler in the future.”  “My heart has been changed.”

The moral transformation of civil society leaders begets a further resource for peace: connectivity.  From the seminars has arisen a “core group” of committed leaders as well as “cell groups” who meet regularly for mutual encouragement and further exploration of reconciliation.  We also have sought to build friendships -- often through spiritual conversations involving personal stories of injustice and loss -- with top leaders in both the Indian and Pakistani governments, with heads of factions in the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the leading separatist coalition, and with leaders of several political and religious organizations.  Such networks connect leaders from diverse walks of society into relationships and conversations about reconciliation -- a cadre of mutual commitment that can help to hold a settlement together.  

The transformation and connectivity arising from faith-based diplomacy can also inspire initiatives that link tracks one and two in the actual negotiation of a settlement.  One idea might take the form of a council -- the South Asian Multitrack Diplomacy Roundtable, it might be called -- that would regularly convene foreign ministry officials from India and Pakistan, members of each state’s negotiating team, representative Kashmiris from civil society, and non-governmental organizations who are involved in faith-based diplomacy.  A council of this kind would extend the peace process to civil society, broadening the stakeholders in the peace process.  It would bring negotiators into contact with faith-based leaders who have cultivated trust and respect among many parties to the conflict and who could bring the fruits of broader societal healing into the negotiations.

The story of the transformed Pandit suggests one way in which a council could encourage a settlement.  The return of the Pandits to their homes in the Kashmir Valley is one of several thorny problems in the peace process.  Requirements for resolution include security for Pandits in the Valley, the return of compensation for lost property, and the assuaging of the Pandits’ hostility.  Over the past four years, several Muslim core group members -- alumni of, and now leaders in, the seminar -- have traveled to the Pandit settlement camps, meeting with their leaders, speaking at community meetings, hearing the Pandits’ stories, apologizing for their fate at the hands of Muslims, inviting their return, and offering assistance in the transition.  By and large, the Pandits have welcomed the visits and showed a willingness to return to the Valley.  Through a council, official negotiators now might become linked with these track two efforts, gaining confidence that the Pandit issue can be resolved, discovering allies and expertise for the resolution, and eliciting cooperation between the official and unofficial actors whose contributions are each needed for a solution. 

The Pandit issue is only one of many that divide India, Pakistan, and the several factions of Kashmiris, of course.  But it illustrates how track two efforts, informed and motivated by faith, can be linked with track one negotiations.  Multiplied over many regions and issues, such links can transform the peace process from one of conflict resolution to one of reconciliation -- and thereby aid its success. 

Daniel Philpott is a political scientist and faculty fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame and is Chair of the Task Force on Faith-based Diplomacy at the Council on Faith & International Affairs (www.cfia.org).

Brian Cox is Senior Vice President of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington, D.C. and Kashmir Project Leader for ICRD.  He has been one of the pioneers of faith-based diplomacy.