Kashmir A Beacon Of Hope
by Brian Cox
Kashmir is once again on the front pages of the newspapers and the news is mostly all bad. A prominent Hurriyat leader, Abdul Gani Lone, is assassinated in Srinagar leading to general strikes in increased tension in the Kashmir Valley. Two prominent Harriyat leaders, Yasin Malik and Syed Geelani, are arrested by Indian Security Services. India and Pakistan are rattling their sabers at each other with bellicose diplomatic exchanges through the media and shelling across the Line of Control. There are massive troop movements on both sides of the Indo-Pak border. There are hints of a possible doomsday scenario wherein the world’s first nuclear exchange might take place on South Asian soil with twelve to fifteen million deaths resulting. The experts consider Kashmir to be the world’s roughest neighborhood and one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. Kashmir is part of a region that over the past twelve years has become the Ground Zero of international terrorism and the front line of militant Islam. And yet, as a person of faith when I consider the strategic picture of Kashmir, I am buoyed with optimism.
Have I taken leave of my senses? How can anyone radiate optimism in the midst of such a dangerous and intractable conflict? Allow me to share my perspective. I write first of all as someone who is involved “on the ground” in Kashmir. I have been there numerous times in my role as Senior Vice President and Kashmir Project Leader for the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington D.C. I have spent countless hours talking with senior, middle level and grassroots leaders in Srinagar, Jammu, Delhi, Islamabad and Muzaffarabad. I have met with government officials on both sides of the Line of Control. I have met most of the senior Hurriyat leaders. I have even met with top militant leaders in Islamabad who I did not realize at the time were part of the Al Qaeda network.
More than simply meeting with leaders at all levels and collecting information for a book, ICRD has taken steps to play an activist role to bring about spiritual, social and political transformation in Kashmir by developing a movement of faith-based reconciliation among younger Kashmiri’s who came of age during the period of the militancy. At the present time this movement is small, but promising. It began with Kashmiri Muslims from the Kashmir Valley and Jammu who were desperately searching for a “third way” between acquiescence to the police actions of Indian security services and the violence of the militant movements. The movement is based on the simple message of faith-based reconciliation as a fresh moral vision for Kashmiri society, as a means to a political settlement, and as a more wholistic approach to the spiritual, social, political and economic dimensions of the healing process. At present the movement has a core group of young indigenous leaders and a small, but growing network of cell groups. It has sponsored civil society forums, worked quietly in the arena of track two diplomacy and begun the process of restoring the torn social fabric among the regions of Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh and Azad Kashmir. They are courageous men and women who are putting their lives on the line each and every day. Recently militants targeted the offices of Kashmir Images, a daily Kashmir newspaper, for bombing because its editor, Bashir Manzar, has been an emerging voice for moderation in the form of faith-based reconciliation.
I write, second of all, as a person of faith. As such, I share a belief with my Kashmiri Muslim colleagues of the possibility of God’s active intervention in the affairs of communities and nations in the form of transforming hearts, lives and situations. My friends in the realpolitik crowd in Washington D.C., Delhi and Islamabad would accuse me of being hopelessly and dangerously naïve. However, I would posit the question “who is naïve?” I am only too aware that from a strictly human perspective Kashmir is intractable and hopeless. I carry no illusions that our efforts on their own will yield any different results than the others who have sought to be peacemakers in Kashmir. Therefore, I look to God through prayer, fasting and activism to do what is humanly impossible. Anyone who thinks they can bring peace to Kashmir without God’s active intervention is the one who is hopelessly and dangerously naïve.
Brian Cox is Senior Vice President of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy based in Washington D.C.