kashmir reconciliation mission trip report 2003

International Center for Religion & Diplomacy

by Brian Cox


On May 26, 2003 the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy conducted its ninth mission to Kashmir that included activities in Kashmir and India.

Team members for the mission included:  Brian Cox (ICRD Senior Vice President for Dispute Resolution Training and Kashmir Project Leader), Daniel Philpott (ICRD Senior Associate), Storm Harvey.


Trip Objectives and Results

1.    To conduct a faith-based reconciliation seminar for up to 60 participants in Gulmarg June 2 - 5, 2003.


Team members included:  Brian Cox (USA), Dan Philpott (USA), Firdous Syed (Kashmir), Raouf Rasool (Kashmir), Bashir Mir (Kashmir), Aijaz Malik (Kashmir), Gulam Geelani (Kashmir), Karamat Qayoom (Kashmir), Daoud Iqbal (Jammu), Iftikar Bazmi (Poonch), Athar Pervez (Jammu), S. M. Zubair (Jammu,) Anil Chaudry (Jammu), Karan Chaudry (Jammu), Bhawana Pushp (Jammu), R. K. Bharti (Jammu), Tsering Tsomo (Ladakh), Mohammed Ramzan (Ladakh), Storm Harvey (USA), Chander Khanna (Kashmir).

Firdous Syed served as Convenor of the seminar.  Brian Cox and Dan Philpott made the presentations and core group members from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh served as small group leaders.  Storm Harvey and Chander Khanna served as the prayer and fasting component of the team.


There were a total of 58 participants with 23 Kashmiri Muslims from Kashmir Valley, 22 Kashmiri Pandits from Jammu, 5 Dogras from Jammu, 4 Kashmiri Muslims from Jammu, 1 Ladakhi Buddhist and 1 Ladakhi Muslim.  Participants were recruited by core group members and cell group members.  There was a breadth of political ideologies represented including those Muslims who had embraced the militant ideology of the past fourteen years to those Pandits (Brahmin Hindus) who had embraced the ideology of Panum Kashmir, a hardline Hindu nationalist organization.  The participants included a combination of professionals/intellectuals and university students.  There were attorneys, civil servants, journalists, educators, police, scientists, research scholars, professors, engineers, business owners, poets and professional writers.  The Kashmiri Pandit participants were all from the refugee camps around Jammu.  The age range of participants was 19 – 67 with the vast majority being under 40 years of age.


The seminar was held at the Hotel Highlands Park in Gulmarg in the new conference building.  This was the site of two previous faith-based reconciliation seminars in June 2001 and July 2002.  


The Seminar

The seminar began on Monday morning, June 2, at 10:00 a.m. and concluded on Thursday morning, June 5 at 9:30 a.m.

This was the third seminar that brought together significant numbers of Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits in the context of faith-based reconciliation and represented a bold fusion of two faith-based intervention models which were utilized for the second time together in the Kashmir conflict.  The first model is the Reconciliation Basic Seminar which utilizes a series of presentations, small group exercises and a reconciliation service to teach eight core values of faith-based reconciliation, train participants in reconciliation/peacebuilding skills and provide a climate for God’s work of transformation in human hearts.  The second model is the New Commandment Task Force model which seeks to create a learning conversation in the context of an intractable identity-based conflict.  This model consists of six steps.

•    Sharing life journeys and building common ground

•    Sharing perceptions of the conflict

•    Sharing an understanding of the nature of reconciliation in their conflict situation

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

•    Exploring settlement frameworks for living together

•    Exploring creative options and negotiating a mutually satisfactory solution to the conflict.


The various seminar presentations were assigned as followers:

•    Introduction: The Journey of Reconciliation: Brian Cox

•    Reconciliation As A Moral Vision: Brian Cox

•    Building Bridges: Dan Philpott

•    Demolishing Walls of Hostility: Brian Cox

•    Conflict Resolution: Dan Philpott/Brian Cox

•    Social Justice: Dan Philpott

•    Healing Relationships: Brian Cox/Karamat Qayoom

•    Healing The Wounds of History: Brian Cox

•    Basis of Unity: Dan Philpott

For the most part, the presentations proved challenging and thought-provoking to the participants.  We sought to present the materials in a manner that showed respect for Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist traditions and enabled the participants to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the reconciling principles of Jesus of Nazareth.  The materials were well received by the participants as being respectful of their religious traditions and having a solid integration of spiritual and intellectual substance.  Each participant received a presentation packet (presentation outline and exercise) at the beginning of each presentation.  On the final morning each person received a complete training manual.  These materials were brought with us from the U.S.

The small group exercises were helpful in facilitating relationship building, discussion and teaching new skills.  The exercises included: sharing one’s life journey in relationship building, sharing perceptions of the conflict, sharing understandings of the nature of reconciliation in Kashmir, dialogue on the nature of a possible political settlement in Kashmir, analyzing personal hostility toward other groups, exploring settlement frameworks and learning the application of negotiation and mediation skills in the Kashmir conflict, analyzing the distribution of group privilege, analyzing broken relationships, exploring the nature of offense caused to each group, conducting an honest conversation about history, developing strategies for healing and examining one’s own sphere of influence for reconciliation opportunities.  The participants found the exercises intellectually and emotionally stimulating.  In particular, the conflict resolution exercise enabled Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits to discuss the actual parameters of how they might once again live together in the Kashmir Valley.

Since a key component of the seminar involves transformation of hearts and relationships we know that the Service of Reconciliation is always a seminal event.  All of our teaching and the small group exercises were leading up to this significant moment.  The Service of Reconciliation was conducted in the conference room of the hotel on Wednesday afternoon and concluded with a number of individuals from the Muslim and Pandit communities apologizing to one another for specific acts of collective offense.  As we learned the next day, there were many quiet events of healing taking place in the hearts and lives of the participants and in the collective perceptions of these two identity-based communities.


Faith-Based Component

In addition to the content of the presentations and the Service of Reconciliation, each of the sessions were opened with prayer from the Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian traditions.  The songs that were sung during the sessions and the Service of Reconciliation were drawn from their own Kashmiri Muslim and Hindu traditions, with the exception of one song, “We Shall Overcome”, drawn from the American Civil Rights movement.  Most importantly, in the daily team meetings and in the seminar sessions there were many expressions of expectation of God’s intervention as a key part of the sociopolitical healing process in Kashmir.  It was made very clear that a key component of the concept of faith-based reconciliation is that humanistic efforts alone are not enough to transform an intractable conflict in the heart of South Asia.  Prayer, fasting, and other spiritual resources are a key component of faith-based activism leading to community transformation.

One new development in this seminar was that numerous participants, both Muslim and Hindu, referred to this work of faith-based reconciliation in Kashmir as a “prophetic movement.”  These observations stemmed from the perception that this movement seemed completely different from prior political or sociopolitical movements.  I asked several people what they meant by characterizing this as a “prophetic movement.”  Their response was that this movement and the message of faith-based reconciliation did not bring a new or alien message to Kashmir, but that it was restoring a message from the ancient sacred texts that had been lost in the climate of conflict and violence.



This was the third seminar that brought together significant numbers of Kashmiri Muslims from the Kashmir Valley with Kashmiri Pandits from the refugee camps of Jammu.  We noticed a demonstrable positive difference in the trust and tension levels since the first joint seminar.  That first seminar began in a climate of suspicion, mistrust, anger and pain.  Clearly the dynamic of reconciliation had taken hold in that new participants had been prepared to come in a different heart and spirit by members of their own community whose hearts had been already transformed.  Hence, new participants had come in a spirit of curiosity and high interest due to the testimonies from members of their own community.


2.    To conduct meetings with political/religious/social leaders in Srinagar and Jammu.

Over the course of three days in Srinagar prior to the reconciliation seminar, Dan Philpott and I met with a number of senior and middle level Hurriyat leaders.  We met with Syed Geelani (Jama’et Islami), Professor Abdullah Gani Baht (Chair of APHC/Muslim Conference), Yasin Malik (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front), Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Amir Gulam Baht (Jama’at et Islami), Altof Massoudi (Muslim Conference).

Perhaps one of the most significant meetings of our entire three years in Kashmir occurred on the morning of May 31.  We arrived at 10:00 a.m. for a meeting with Mirwaiz Omar Farooq at his home.  Ten minutes into the meeting the front door of the house opened onto the porch where we were seated and out walked Yasin Malik and Abdullah Gani Baht.  Both men joined the meeting.  Over the next hour we found ourselves in a very frank, sobering but fruitful discussion about their attitudes toward reconciliation, toward our associational ties and about the prospects for cooperation.  Several things emerged from this meeting.  First, they have been aware of our work and respect us as serious and committed players in the Kashmir conflict.  They see us as “working on the ground” and having proven ourselves.  Second, they expressed strong displeasure with one of our associational ties, which was rooted in the political history of the separatist movement’s political coalitions.  Third, while expressing the desire to work with Hurriyat leaders we made it clear that the work of faith-based reconciliation is about relationships and that we were not prepared to abandon relationships of trust already established with a whole network of people in a cynical bid to win the favor of Hurriyat leaders.  We explained that for us it was an issue of integrity.  Fourth, they admitted that they could not expect us to abandon relationships of trust that we have already established simply to win their favor.  Finally, when directly challenged they expressed a desire to become involved in faith-based reconciliation and to work with us in some fashion.

In a second meeting we conducted with a small group of middle level Hurriyat leaders we discovered one emerging pattern.  Through their own networks of relationships they had heard about the reconciliation seminars and were feeling “left out.”  They expressed a strong desire to be invited to future reconciliation seminars.  They also challenged us to carry our message of faith-based reconciliation to the people in the villages and offered to arrange such an itinerary for us on a future visit.

In a third meeting with party leaders from the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (including both Vice Presidents) we had a two hour exchange which was symbolic of another pattern that is beginning to emerge as we engage militant/separatist leaders.  First, they express strong opposition to reconciliation, viewing it as code for capitulation or acceptance of the status quo.  Second, this leads to passionate discussion about topics such as suffering, justice, forgiveness and the future of Kashmir.  Ultimately, as they understand the core values we associate with faith-based reconciliation, they express strong support for this idea.In Jammu we had two significant meetings.  The first was with Ved Bhasin, Chairman of the Kashmir Times Group and the second was with Dr. K. L. Choudry, Chief Spokesman for Panum Kashmir.  This was the second time that we had met with both men.


3.    To visit the Pandit camps in Jammu.

On June 7 we visited the Mutti Camp in scorching 118 F temperatures with high humidity.  We visited numerous Pandit homes and spoke with the inhabitants about how and when they arrived as well as the present conditions of their life.

In general, we encountered a pervasive spirit of hopelessness.  They fear return to the Kashmir Valley because of the “gun culture.”  They hate their living conditions in Jammu which include unemployment, meager subsistence, crowding, lack of privacy, health and sanitation problems.  They have experienced nothing but empty and broken promises from political leaders.

Those of us involved in the movement of faith-based reconciliation in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh continue to believe that return of the Pandits to the Kashmir Valley is the single most important step of healing that needs to take place and are committed to being advocates toward that end.  Clearly there are serious issues of economic livelihood and security for returning Pandits which can only be resolved by the government.  However, we can work toward creating momentum on both sides for their return.  In the Kashmir Valley this involves creating a dynamic of “welcome” and “repentance” amongst Muslims.  In the camps of Jammu this involves creating a dynamic of “hope” by overcoming a long history of broken promises and fears of renewed violence.  On the Pakistani side it includes blunting militant opposition to the Pandit return by reframing the issue to involve return of all refugees to the Valley including those Muslims in the refugee camps of Azad Kashmir.


4.    To meet with the Kashmir Committee in Delhi.

Dan Philpott, Firdous Syed and I met with three members of the Kashmir Committee:  Ashok Bhan (Senior Advocate and Convenor), Ambassador V. K. Grover and Dileep Padgaonkar (Editor in Chief of the Times of India).  The Kashmir Committee is an unofficial initiative of track II diplomacy by eminent Indian statesmen to foster dialogue and official talks between the Government of India and Kashmiri Separatists.  This was our third meeting and it was marked by a growing level of trust, sharing information, updating each other on activities and initiatives.  We agreed that we can best work together by the Kashmir Committee focusing on track II diplomacy efforts toward a political settlement while ICRD/IFR work on the civil society level to effect a dynamic of reconciliation on the grassroots between peoples.  Thus, we have come to value our efforts as dependent on each other.


5.    To visit the U.S. Embassy in Delhi to aid the visa process for the Kashmir Core Group Advanced Training.

For the past year we had planned to bring a representative group from the larger Kashmir Core Group to Southern California June 23 – July 11 for advanced training in Faith and Civil Society.  Dan Philpott and I met with the Consul General, William Bartlett, in an effort to facilitate the issuance of their visas and the completion of the required security clearances for the invited core group members (mandated by the Homeland Security Act).  Bill Bartlett and his staff were very helpful in explaining the process, providing the required forms and expediting the security clearances.  However, the major barrier to the core group advanced training proceeding on schedule was that eight of the fourteen invited core group members were still waiting for their passports to be issued by the Government of India.  In addition, none of the invited Kashmiri Pandits had received their passports.  Hence, it would be damaging to our work if only Kashmiri Muslims were brought over to the U.S. for the advanced training.  As a result, in spite of the cooperation of the consular section of the U.S. Embassy, Firdous Syed and I made the decision on June 13 to postpone the advanced training.

While at the embassy Dan Philpott and I took the opportunity to meet with Geoff Pyatt, Chief Political Counselor, and a member of his staff to discuss the situation in Kashmir and the possibilities for official U.S. track one diplomatic involvement in Kashmir.


Follow Up

Based on the results of this particular trip and resources permitting, the following next steps will be taken:

1.    Conduct the first faith-based reconciliation seminar in Azad Kashmir in August or September 2003 in cooperation with the Kashmir Institute for International Relations.

2.    Conduct the first faith-based reconciliation seminar in Ladakh in August or September 2003 in cooperation with the Institute for Reconciliation.

3.    Focus on strengthening relationships and deepening the spirituality in the core group and the network of cell groups in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu.

4.    Produce literature such as a basic book and a series of tracts for use by cell group members in spreading the message.

5.    Establish an IFR office in Jammu.

6.    Conduct advanced training in Faith and Civil Society on-site for core group and cell group members.

7.    Organize a major thrust for winter/spring 2004 in the six districts of the Jammu region to carry the message of faith-based reconciliation to the popular level.

8.    Begin organizing the Intra Kashmiri bridgebuilding meeting in Dubai for summer 2004 for participants from Kashmir Valley, Jammu, Ladakh and Azad Kashmir.



Based on our activities, meetings and other interactions I would make the following observations:

First, we encountered an element of hope in the Kashmir Valley among both leaders and ordinary people that has been absent in our previous visits.  We began our work in Kashmir in September 2000 in a climate of almost complete hopelessness.  That has changed, probably for a variety of reasons.  There seems to be a glimmer of hope in the Valley.

Second, the militant ideology in Kashmir has run its course and lost its appeal to all but the most hardline militants.  People are searching for a new moral vision that will bring them hope and have already seen that the militancy has failed to produce any positive fruit and contributed to the death of thousands of Kashmiris and the suffering of so many families.  While the militant ideology has run its course, the desire of Kashmiris for self determination of some sort may still remain quite strong.  It is hard to be precise about this, of course, as we haven’t taken any official polls.  Nevertheless, the human aspirations that once motivated the militancy are still very much current.

Third, there is an underlying dynamic of fear, intimidation and coercion in the Valley.  Even separatist leaders sense a “gun at their back” from more hardline non-Kashmiri sources who have a very different agenda than the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiri people.

Fourth, more than in any previous visit, we began to experience the fruits of our three years of commitment, our perseverance, our quiet acts of relationship building, our work “on the ground” and our strategy of faith-based reconciliation.  In ways both significant and small, we realized that we have “paid our dues” and earned people’s respect even when they don’t completely agree with us.

Fifth, the movement of faith-based reconciliation in Jammu and Kashmir is entering a new stage which will require more intense “shepherding” of core group and cell group members.  The leadership of Firdous Syed will be vital, particularly in the next year.  We now have a solid committed base consisting of a core group (23 members) and a network of 15 – 20 cell groups in both the Kashmir Valley and the Jammu region.  A small movement has been born, but it must be nurtured in three ways; spiritual growth in submission to God, deeper growth in relationships with one another, and a closer connection to the leadership of this work.  During our time in Jammu we focused heavily on spending time with core group and cell group members.  

Finally, the work of faith-based reconciliation in the Jammu region is ready to “take off” and become a full fledged mass movement.  The core group and cell group members are “chomping at the bit” to carry the message of faith-based reconciliation to all six districts of the Jammu region.  They would like to organize a series of large scale meetings in winter/spring 2004, one in each of the six districts.  They also suggested organizing a meeting for a thousand students at Jammu University.  They would like to create a faith-based reconciliation road show that travels from place to place with the message of faith-based reconciliation, inviting people to join the movement and organizing new cell groups.  This development presents us with both a challenge and an opportunity as we make our small contribution toward a political settlement in Kashmir.  However, it validates the contribution of faith-based diplomacy in this situation.  For that, we can quietly rejoice.