kashmir/azad kashmir reconciliation mission 2004

International Center for Religion & Diplomacy

KASHMIR/AZAD KASHMIR RECONCILIATION MISSION

by Brian Cox

Introduction

On March 2, 2004 the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy conducted its eleventh mission to the Indian side of the Line of Control (LOC) that included activities in Delhi.  It conducted its fifth mission to the Pakistani side of the LOC that included activities in Islamabad.

Team members for various parts of the mission included: Brian Cox (ICRD Senior Vice President for Dispute Resolution Training and Kashmir Project Leader), Douglas Johnston (ICRD President), Daniel Philpott (ICRD Senior Associate & Kroc Faculty Member), Robert Parlotz (Anglican Bishop from Seattle), Joseph Bunting, Cynthia Mahmood (Kroc Faculty Member), James Stanley (ICRD Board Member) and Azi Hussain (ICRD Senior Associate).

 

Trip Objectives and Results

1.    To conduct a reconciliation seminar for 60-80 participants in Azad Kashmir March 5 – 8, 2004.

 

Team

Team members included: Brian Cox (USA), Daniel Philpott (USA), Shah Ghulam Qadir (AJK), Amjad Yousaf (AJK), Usman Ali Khan (AJK), Dr. Najeeb Naqi (AJK), Chaudry Khalid Rasheed (AJK), Kamal Subhani (AJK), Zalfiqar Hussain (AJK), Uzera Shah (AJK), Maria Tarana (AJK), Mansoora Saleem (AJK), Rozina Kokoab (AJK), Robert Parlotz (USA), Joseph Bunting (USA).

Shah Ghulam Qadir and Amjad Yousaf served as the conveners of the seminar.  Brian Cox and Daniel Philpott made the presentations and core group members from Azad Kashmir served as small group leaders.  Usman Ali Khan served as Coordinator of Logistics.  Robert Parlotz and Joseph Bunting served as the prayer and fasting component of the team.

 

Participants

There were a total of 70 participants including 64 Kashmiris and 6 Americans.  The Kashmiri participants were all Muslims.  Including core group members there were 18 women as participants.  Participants were recruited by core group members from all the districts of Azad Kashmir representing a cross section of tribes and political parties as well as a combination of professionals/intellectuals, political leaders and workers and students.  There were government ministers, members of parliament, political party officials, attorneys, physicians, educators, journalists, business people, and engineers.  We were delighted by the significant number of women participants, both professionals and students.  This has been an important emphasis in ICRD’s work from the beginning on both sides of the LOC.  The age range of participants was 19 – 40, with the majority being late twenties to mid-thirties.  This work of faith-based reconciliation is primarily a next-generation leadership movement, building for the future.

 

Venue

The seminar was held at the Best Western Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan located three hours from the border of Azad Kashmir.  The site was chosen so that the seminar would not be besieged by journalists and thereby hinder a positive and trusting environment among the participants.

 

The Seminar

The seminar began on Friday afternoon, March 5 at 2:30 p.m. and concluded on Monday, March 8 at 12:00 p.m.

This was our second seminar for Azad Kashmir (the Pakistani side of the LOC).  We utilized the Abrahamic Edition of the Reconciliation Basic Seminar, which consists of a series of presentations, small group exercises and a reconciliation service to convey the eight core values of faith-based reconciliation, train participants in reconciliation/ peacemaking skills and provide a climate for the divine work of transforming human hearts.

The various seminar presentations were assigned as follows:

•    Introduction: The Journey of Reconciliation: Brian Cox

•    Reconciliation As A Moral Vision: Brian Cox

•    Building Bridges: Daniel Philpott

•    Demolishing Walls of Hostility; Brian Cox

•    Conflict Resolution: Daniel Philpott/Brian Cox

•    Social Justice: Daniel Philpott

•    Healing Relationships: Brian Cox

•    Healing the Wounds of History: Brian Cox

•    Basis of Unity: Daniel Philpott

•    Becoming An Instrument of Reconciliation: Brian Cox

The presentations focused on the eight principles of faith-based reconciliation according to the Abrahamic Tradition, undergirding wisdom of all prophetic messengers from Abraham to Muhammed and embodied most distinctly in Jesus of Nazareth.  We sought to draw from the peacemaking tenets of the sacred texts of all the Abrahamic traditions.  However because of the seminar context we sought to emphasize passages from the Qu’ran.  Several participants commented how much they appreciated our respectful manner of teaching that drew from their own sacred text, the Qu’ran.  Each participant received a presentation packet (presentation outline and exercises) at the beginning of each presentation.  Our American-accented English proved to be something of a challenge for some of the participants.

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, applying reconciliation principles to their situation, analyzing collective identity, dialoguing on a contentious issue, identifying core values, analyzing hostility toward other groups, examining the complexities of personal and group privilege, participating in a conflict scenario involving principled negotiation and mediation, analyzing a broken relationship, engaging in an honest conversation about history and identifying historical wounds, and listening to instruction on starting reconciliation cell groups.

The Service of Reconciliation this time demonstrated evidence of profound growth in the hearts of the participants in contrast to the first seminar.  First of all, they were able to look beyond their own suffering and acknowledge the suffering of other groups.  Second, they grasped more deeply the concept of identificational repentance and were able to acknowledge and apologize for past suffering caused to others by their identity group.  As many as a dozen participants voiced apologies in the interest of healing.

 

Conclusion

More than ever before, it was apparent that the concept of faith-based reconciliation – its core values, practices and lexicon – is a revolutionary idea in conservative Kashmiri society.  It is revolutionary not only because it is a fresh approach in the Kashmir conflict, but because it takes the participants back to the original roots of the Abrahamic tradition and teaches them how to apply them to their own sociopolitical context, both in their personal lives and their communities.

Because this was our second seminar on the Pakistani side of the LOC, it was the first time that members of the recently formed core group shared in the leadership of the seminar as small group leaders.

Of the eight core values, the principle of forgiveness seemed to resonate most deeply in the hearts of the participants.  The Kashmiri struggle has, for so long, been focused on obtaining justice for the Kashmiri people, that little thought has been given to the idea of coupling justice with forgiveness as a way of breaking the endless cycle of revenge.  They came to realize that too many of the present interstate or intrastate conflicts are dominated by the need to settle old scores.

Many participants expressed the sentiment that faith-based reconciliation for them represented a tangible sign of God’s intervention in the Kashmir dispute which, in turn, provided them with a feeling of hope and elicited from them a sense of commitment to bring faith-based reconciliation into Azad Kashmir.

Two participants indicated that ICRD’s work in Kashmir represents for them “the face of American compassion” and complexifies American identity in a region where America is generally perceived as the enemy of the Islamic world.

Others expressed the view that our faith-based approach is what enables them to trust us and to become involved in the work of faith-based reconciliation.  In general, they perceive the West to be secular and generally hostile toward the idea of integrating faith and politics, one of the central tenets of Islam.  ICRD’s approach thus shatters their stereotype of an America driven solely by national interest.

 

2.    To lay the groundwork in India and Pakistan for the first bridgebuilding meeting.

From the outset of our involvement in Kashmir in September of 2000, we have had  a strategic objective of creating a dynamic of reconciliation and transformation in all four regions of Kashmir as a prelude to bringing them together in a series of bridgebuilding meetings in a neutral location in order to begin rebuilding a sense of community across the LOC.  The intended purpose of the bridgebuilding meetings is to develop relationships and reconcile differences, not to forge a political settlement.  However, our hope is that this process of “on the ground healing” will contribute directly or indirectly to a just peace accord.

The leaders of ICRD, the Kashmir Institute of International Relations, and the Institute for Reconciliation share a common conviction that the movement toward peace must begin with a focus on process, rather than on constructing a final settlement package.  As the border softens and allows for greater people-to-people contact, as confidence building measures bear fruit and as the process of forgiveness and the healing of old wounds takes hold, creative possibilities for resolving political differences that do not currently exist will begin to emerge.

The bridgebuilding meetings will take the form of “Faith-Based Learning Conversations” that will enable the participants to build relationship, establish common ground, discuss perceptions of the conflict, speak honestly to one another about offenses caused and received on all sides and think together about how Kashmiris, Jammuites and Ladakhis can once again live together in peace.

Following the reconciliation seminar Dan Philpott, Bob Parlotz and I met with Shah Qadir and Usman Ali Khan to discuss the nature and timing of the first bridgebuilding meeting.  We agreed that from the perspective of Azad Kashmir, we were ready to move forward with the initial bridgebuilding meeting in July that would involve 8 – 10 participants from Azad Kashmir.  We also discussed the various pros and cons of holding the meeting in Dubai and agreed that no plans could be finalized until we held similar discussions with Firdous Syed in Delhi.

During our four days in Delhi we discussed the nature and timing of the first bridge-building meeting and reached a number of conclusions.  First, that the timing of such a meeting must take into account the sensitivities of the Indian government.  At the present, ICRD’s activities in Kashmir have become the focus of attention by the Home Ministry in Delhi in conjunction with a federal statute passed a year ago that requires non-indigenous NGO’s to obtain permission from the Government of India to hold conferences or seminars in India.  Although ICRD’s work in Kashmir predates this statute and future seminars will be held in a neutral location, we have been advised by our partners at the Institute For Reconciliation not to move ahead with the first bridgebuilding seminar until official permission has been obtained for our work.  To do so risks the good will of the Government of India and the future ability of ICRD to play a constructive role on the Indian side of the LOC.

Second, out of deference to GOI sensitivities, Bangkok or Singapore were strongly recommended as preferable venues to Dubai.  Accordingly, we are focusing on Bangkok as the first choice and Singapore as the second.

Third, with regard to timing, July 23 – 30, 2004 was tentatively selected as the desired date for the first seminar.  It is recognized that a later window in the Fall may be necessary, depending on the timing of GOI approval.

Finally, discussion about participants led to some tentative conclusions about both personalities and the need for regional balance, i.e. 4 Kashmiri Muslims from the Valley, 4 Kashmiri Pandits, 2 Jammu Dogras, 2 Ladakhis, and 2 Jammu Muslims.  Further, it was determined that 20-22 participants would be the optimum size in terms of cost, manageability and quality of participation.  Hence, there should be 12-14 participants from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and 8 participants from Azad Kashmir.

 

3.    To assess the present situation with regard to ICRD’s work in India.

During our four days in Delhi we met with Firdous Syed (President of the Institute For Reconciliation); Charles Mendies; Professor Kamal Chenoy; Ashok Bhan, V.K. Grover and Dileep Padgaonar (Kashmir Committee); Walter North and Mathew Boyse (U.S. Embassy); and Dr. Karan Singh.

The focus of these meetings was to assess the Government of India’s current thinking with regard to ICRD’s activities and its implications for the future, to assess ICRD’s strategic position in Kashmir in terms of where we have been, where we are at the present and where we are going; and to explore the possibilities for indigenous funding of the Institute For Reconciliation within India.

First, we concluded that we should wait until after the Indian national elections in May and seek clarification on the above shortly thereafter.  Second, consistent with our policy of transparency, we should produce a complete summary of our activities in Kashmir for the Home Ministry and any other interested parties in Delhi, Srinagar or Washington D.C.  Third, we should make an effort to promote our Kashmir work in Delhi.  This may take the form of increased meetings with senior officials and interviews with journalists and opinion shapers. 

Finally, we have learned that ICRD’s work is now widely known by Kashmiri leaders and highly respected across the board from the National Conference to a broad swath of the Hurriyat leadership.  Our integrity, commitment, persistence and faith-based strategy have borne fruit.  One prominent Hurriyat leader mentioned our work in an interview with an Asian journalist and described us as “people with a vision.”  

 

Follow Up

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

1.    Depending on the status of the GOI study of ICRD activities, we will move forward with the first bridgebuilding meeting July 23-30, 2004.  Alternative windows in September or December will be pursued as necessary.

2.    We should conduct additional meetings with political and religious leaders in all regions of Kashmir to further solidify the support for faith-based reconciliation.

3.    We should meet again with the core group members from both sides of the LOC to further solidify relationships and trust.

4.    A comprehensive summary of ICRD’s activities in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh will be prepared as indicated above.