jammu, kashmir & latakh 2007

International Center for Religion & Diplomacy

by Brian Cox


The International Center For Religion and Diplomacy based in Washington DC conducted a faith-based reconciliation mission in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, May 28 - June 14, 2007.

The mission of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy is to address problems of communal identity that exceed the grasp of traditional diplomacy (such as ethnic conflict, tribal warfare and religious hostilities) by effectively combining religious concerns with the practice of international politics.  As such, it is committed to faith-based diplomacy.  


Objectives of the Faith-Based Reconciliation Mission

There were five key objectives of this faith-based reconciliation mission:

•    To conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar for young Muslims and Buddhists from Kargil and Leh as a continuation of ICRD’s work in Ladakh.

•    To utilize a facilitation team to conduct the faith-based reconciliation seminar that is drawn from all the regions on both sides of the Line of Control.

•    To experiment during the seminar with creating a unified Ladakhi voice.

•    To conduct private meetings with leaders.

•    To assess the present situation of ICRD’s work in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as well as future possibilities.


Description of the Faith-Based Reconciliation Seminar

The faith-based reconciliation seminar represents a bold fusion of two faith-based intervention models.  The first model is the Reconciliation Basic Seminar which utilizes a series of presentations and small group exercises, culminating in a Service of Reconciliation, to explain the core values of faith-based reconciliation, empower participants in reconciliation/peacebuilding skills, and provide a climate that will change hearts as well as minds.  

The presentations included the following topics:

•    Introduction: The Journey of Reconciliation

•    Reconciliation As A Moral Vision

•    Building Bridges: The Principle of Pluralism

•    Demolishing Walls of Hostility: The Principle of Inclusion

•    Conflict Resolution: The Principle of Peacemaking

•    Seeking The Common Good: The Principle of Social Justice

•    Healing Relationships: The Principle of Forgiveness

•    Facing the Truth About History: The Principle of Healing Collective Wounds

•    Submission to God: The Principle of Sovereignty

•    Becoming An Instrument of Reconciliation

The small group dialogues facilitate the building of relationships and trust.  They include:  sharing one’s life journey, identifying core values, exploring collective identity, describing the problems to be solved from different perspectives, analyzing personal hostility toward others, developing a problem-solving approach to the conflict, analyzing the distribution of group privilege, analyzing broken relationships, exploring the nature of the offense(s) experienced by each group, conducting an honest conversation about the history of the region, developing strategies for healing and examining each participant’s sphere of influence for extending the spirit of reconciliation.  The Service of Reconciliation provides an opportunity for participants to focus on broken individual relationships as well as collective expressions of acknowledgement, apology and forgiveness.


The second intervention model is the Learning Conversation model which seeks to create an enlightened dialogue in the context of an intractable identity-based conflict or problem.  This model involves five steps:

•    Sharing life journeys and building common ground

•    Sharing perceptions of the conflict or problem

•    Sharing where each has experienced and/or caused offense to the other 

•    Exploring each community’s narrative of history and perception of historical wounds

•    Engaging in a problem-solving approach, utilizing a faith-based reconciliation paradigm to address the particular conflict or problem


Team Members

Team members included:  Brian Cox (USA), Mohammed Ramzan Khan (Ladakh), Tsomo Tsering (Ladakh), Iftikar Bazmi (Poonch), Rakesh Kar (Jammu), Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi (Kashmir Valley), Chander Khanna (Kashmir Valley), Storm Harvey (USA), Clare Cox (USA).


Trip Objectives and Results

1.    To conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar for young Muslims and Buddhists from Kargil and Leh as a continuation of ICRD’s work in Ladakh.

At the peak, there were 48 participants in the seminar which was held at the Hotel Caravan Sarai June 4 – 7, 2007 in Kargil.  During the four day seminar, there seemed to be a stable core of participants with a day to day fluctuation.  The stable core consisted of 33 – 35 persons.  Most of the participants came from Kargil with a small representation from Leh.  At one point, we had a small delegation of top political and religious leaders from Kargil who participated in one of the small groups.

One of the high points of the seminar occurred during the Service of Reconciliation which included many heartfelt expressions of acknowledgement, apology and forgiveness.  It was a tremendously emotional time for the Ladakhis and many shared that their souls felt lighter afterwards.  


2.    To utilize a facilitation team to conduct the faith-based reconciliation seminar that is drawn from all the regions on both sides of the Line of Control.

The ICRD facilitation team had members from Leh, Jammu and Kashmir Valley.  Our attempts to include team members from the Pakistani side of the Line of Control encountered major obstacles and raised alarm among Indian security and intelligence services at the highest levels.  Seminar organizer Mohammed Ramzan Khan arranged for invitations to the Pakistani Kashmiris from the Kargil Autonomous Hill Council.  Nevertheless, he found himself dealing with police and intelligence officials from the local to the national levels.  In the end, I asked our prospective Pakistani team members to withdraw their visa applications, and that sent a signal to Indian authorities which allowed the seminar to proceed.  However, throughout the seminar, Ramzan and other local organizers from Kargil made daily trips to meet with police officials to answer their concerns.

Out of fairness to the Indian authorities it should be acknowledged that Kargil is a sensitive border region on the LOC that witnessed an aggressive attack by Pakistani military forces in 1999.  One can understand their concern about Pakistani citizens being present in Kargil.

The principal organizer of the seminar was Mohammed Ramzan Khan, a young lawyer based in Leh.  Ramzan did a masterful job in establishing contacts in Kargil, arranging accommodations, invitations and team travel.  I believe that he is an emerging leader in the faith-based reconciliation movement.


3.    To experiment during the seminar with creating a unified Ladakhi voice.

During this seminar we introduced a new component that had not been a part of previous faith-based reconciliation seminars.  Based on our experience with the Kashmiri Bridgebuilding Meeting in Kathmandu in November 2005, we utilized the concept of Diplomatic Working Groups wherein the small groups engaged in a problem-solving approach to the conflict, utilizing a faith-based reconciliation lens.  There were seven small group projects under the themes of: pluralism, inclusion, peacemaking, social justice, forgiveness, healing historical wounds and sover-eignty.  Not only did this enable the participants to discuss the conflict through a different lens, but it allowed a unified Ladakhi voice to emerge from the consensus in the small groups.  In essence, we sought, first of all, to create a reconciling spirit so that, secondly, they could engage in a constructive problem-solving approach to the conflict.


4.    To conduct private meetings with leaders.


I met with the following individuals:

Delhi:  Dr. Kamal Chenoy (Professor at JNU and Human Rights activist), Manisha Sobhrajani (researcher), Harsh Mander (Executive Director of Centre for Equity Studies), and Prem Shanker Jha (senior Indian journalist).

Leh:  Konchak Fanday (Buddhist Lama), Mohammed Shafi Lasu (President of Muslim Association of Leh), Chering Dorjay (Chairman/Chief Executive Councilor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council).  

Kargil:  Gulzar Munshi (Chief Engineer of Kargil & Director of Kargil Museum), Shabir Hussein, Ejaz Munshi (curator of Kargil Museum).

Srinagar:  A.R. Hanjura (Chairman, Yateem Trust), Nizamuddin Bhat (Member of Legislative Council), The Reverend Chander M. Khanna (Vicar, All Saints Church), Firdous Syed, Mabooba Mufti, Mufti Mohammed Syed (Former Chief Minister and Leader of People’s Democratic Party), Shahid Sleem (civil service/ICRD Core Group).

Baramulla:  Bashir Mir (Chairman of Human Aid Society/ICRD Core Group), Karamat Qayoom (Journalist/ICRD Core Group), Baramulla Core Group of ICRD, Abdullah Salaam Rather (Chief of Foreign Affairs Hurriyat Conference), Bashir Ahmad Kanroo (Head of Trade Unions Federation), Jawaid A Dar (District President, Peoples Democratic Party), Ghulam Mohinder Wani (Advocate and President of Bar Association).

Jammu:  Veerji Bhat (General Secretary of Shribatt Hospital and founder of Panum Kashmir), R.K. Panta (General Manager of Shribatt Hospital and Panum Kashmir leader), Professor Amitabh Mattoo (Vice Chancellor of Jammu University), Dr. Kavita Shri (Journalist – The Statesman), Dr. Dauood Iqbal (Dean of Academic Affairs of Jammu University), Dr. R.K. Bharati (Journalist/Poet/ICRD Core Group)


5.    To assess the present situation of ICRD’s work in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh as well as future possibilities.

ICRD has been involved in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on the Indian side of the Line of Control since September 2000.  During those seven years there have been exciting and powerful breakthroughs and there have been setbacks, obstacles and deep disappointments.  The focus of our work has been to build a movement of faith-based reconciliation among next-generation leaders who could become indigenous agents of reconciliation.  We have conducted seven faith-based reconciliation seminars in Gulmarg (3), Jammu (2), Leh (1) and Kargil (1).  We have conducted civil society meetings in Srinagar and Jammu.  We have conducted countless meetings with senior and civil society level leaders.  We established a leadership core group and a small network of cell groups.  We were also part of establishing an Institute For Reconciliation in Srinagar.  We have also written opinion pieces for newspapers and journal articles.

The difficulties we encountered included investigation by the Indian government of ICRD’s activities because of our involvement in Pakistan, exhaustion of funds available for the Kashmir Project, cancellation of the core group advanced training in the USA, and pressure on ICRD Core Group members by the Indian intelligence services.  Since 2003 there has been a hiatus in ICRD’s work on the Indian side of the Line of Control.  This mission represented the first on-the-ground initiative since that time.

One advantage of the hiatus is that it proved to be a “shaking out period”, separate-ing out the committed participants from the uncommitted.  It was a joy to discover that we still have a core of deeply dedicated and highly trained civil society leaders and young adults from Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.  These include: Mohammed Ramzan Kahn (Ladakh), Tsomo Tsering (Ladakh), Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi (Kashmir Valley), Bashir Mir (Kashmir Valley), Chander Khanna (Kashmir Valley), A.R. Hanjura (Kashmir Valley), Iftikar Bazmi (Poonch), Dauood Iqbal (Jammu), Rakesh Kar (Jammu), Karamat Qayoom (Kashmir Valley).

I spent a day in Baramulla and met with the ICRD Core Group there.  While there are some 34 reconciliation cell groups in Baramulla, there is little meaningful activity on their part.  The absence of ICRD officials or initiatives has taken its toll in creating a loss of focus by the groups.  Some anger was expressed at ICRD’s absence and lack of communication.  The three hours spent with the Baramulla Core Group served to reassure them that ICRD had not abandoned them.

We discussed the proposed faith-based reconciliation training for all cell group members and the civil society forum.  They are eager to see these take place.  We discussed tentative dates for March/April 2008 that will depend on Dan Philpott’s schedule.  I encouraged them to put together a budget that emphasized frugality.  Whether or not USIP comes through with the requested funding, it is absolutely essential that we proceed with this initiative by next spring if we hope to retain their commitment.  I cannot overstate how important this is.

Overall, I made three amazing discoveries during this mission.  First of all, ICRD has become a major track II player in the Kashmir conflict.  It has become known in all the regions and is highly respected for its creativity, persistence and commitment to the Kashmiri people.  It is known and respected among the various political parties as well as the militants.  I was told by one senior Hurriyat official that ICRD’s movement of faith-based reconciliation is regarded by them as absolutely essential to the future of Kashmir.  I was also told that Track II efforts such as ours and others had played a key role in exerting pressure on the development of Track One negotiations between India and Pakistan.

Secondly, I discovered that this organic movement of faith-based reconciliation has multiplied into strong regional cores, each with the capacity of planning major ICRD events.  These cores include: Leh, Kargil, Jammu, Poonch, Srinagar and Baramulla.  Ironically, in our absence the single cell amoeba has multiplied itself.  Key ICRD organizers for the future include:  Mohammed Ramzan Khan (Leh), Gulzar Munshi, Hussain Shabir and Ejaz Munshi (Kargil), Dauood Iqbal (Jammu), Iftikar Bazmi (Poonch), A.R. Hanjura (Srinagar), Bashir Mir (Baramulla).  

Third, ICRD is now poised to develop a comprehensive grass-roots mass movement of faith-based reconciliation in the region.  Numerous leaders urged us to move strongly in this direction and expressed their willingness to work with us.  On my last day in Jammu, I met with Professor Amitabh Mattoo, the Vice Chancellor of Jammu University.  He was well aware of our work and very eager to host a faith-based reconciliation seminar at Jammu University.  Like the senior Hurriyat official, he agreed that now was the time for ICRD to move forward, with a full-scale grass-roots mass movement.


Follow Up

Should we decide to continue ICRD’s work in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, possible next steps:

•    Conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar in Jammu for Jammu University students in January 2008

•    Conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar in Poonch in January 2008

•    Host a delegation of three legislators from Srinagar and three legislators from Muzaffarabad at the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2008 as a first step toward establishing prayer fellowships in the two legislative assemblies.

•    Conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar for cell group members and a civil society forum in Baramulla in March/April 2008

•    Conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar in Srinagar for middle and grassroots leaders from all the political parties in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh in March/April 2008

•    Provide advanced training for core group members in the first half of 2008

•    Conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar in Leh for Ladakhis and Dogras in June 2008


Post Script

On Sunday June 10 at the Hotel Broadway in Srinagar there was a meeting of the All India Gandhian Workers Society during which I was honored with the Mahatma Gandhi Award for 2006 for my outstanding contribution toward peace and international understanding.  It was in recognition of my work of faith-based reconciliation in Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh.