kashmir/asad kashmir reconciliation mission summer 2004

International Center for Religion & Diplomacy

by Brian Cox


Brian Cox and Dan Philpott conducted a reconciliation mission to Kashmir (India) and Azad Kashmir (Pakistan) July 14 – 29, 2004.  This reconciliation mission was conducted under the auspices of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington DC, the Kashmir Institute for International Relations in Islamabad and the Institute for Reconciliation in Srinagar.

The mission of the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy is to serve as a bridge between politics and religion in support of peacemaking and reconciliation.  As such, it is committed to faith-based diplomacy.


Trip Objectives and Results

1.    To visit and bring encouragement to core and cell group members in Kashmir and Azad Kashmir.

One of the fruits of this project of faith-based reconciliation in Kashmir/Azad Kashmir has been the raising up of core groups in the Kashmir Valley, Jammu, Ladakh and Azad Kashmir.  These have been the foot soldiers of the movement of faith-based reconciliation; organizing and leading seminars and civil society forums, starting and leading a network of cell groups and being the day to day messengers of faith-based reconciliation in their own spheres of influence.  In Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu we met with the following core group members: Firdous Syed, Karamat Qayoom, Bashir Mir, Bashir Manzar, Ejaz Malik, Javid Geelani, Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi, Anil Choudry, Dauood Iqbal, Shaheed Sleem, R.K. Bharti, Rakesh Kar, Karan Choudry, and Bwana Pushp.  We also spoke by telephone with Iftikar Bazmi in Poonch.

In general, despite growing attention and pressure from Indian intelligence agencies which has significantly slowed the momentum of this work, we found the core group members on the Indian side of the Line of Control to be deeply committed and determined to be persistent during a season of testing their resolve.  In our meetings we sought to provide spiritual encouragement and specific direction for the next few months.  Our discussion led to agreement on three key points:

•    We agreed that the core group would move to the forefront of the work and ICRD officials would move into the background as encouragers and advisors.

•    We agreed that the core group should focus intensively on the Pandit initiative as a tangible expression of faith-based reconciliation.

•    We agreed that the focus should be on sustaining a movement rather than an institution since continued ICRD funding of IFR is now lacking and is not prudent due to official concerns about ICRD because of our work on the Pakistani side of Kashmir.

Specific proposals for activities by core group members included: organizing one day events in major towns to communicate the concept of faith-based reconciliation to the masses, teams of two traveling to the villages, organizing an entirely Kashmiri done seminar and adopting twenty Pandit families for resettlement in the Valley.

In Islamabad, Mirpur, Rawalcot and Muzzafarabad we met with the following core group members: Usmaan Ali Khan, Imtiaz Hussain Raja, Jawad Akhtar, Ch. Sohail Gujjar, Mirza Tanveer Abhtal, Choudhary Mohammed Ilyas, Zulfiqar Hussian, Javaid Hayat, Waheed Khan, Mirza Rizwan Shabbir, Amjad Aslam Khan, Iftikar Hussain, Azhar Nazar Khan, Shazia Altaf, Maria Iqbal Tarana, Naheed Altaf, Anjum Akbar Bukhari, Shafar Malik, Uzma Naqui, Attique Ahmad Dar, and Tariq Naqash.

ICRD conducted its first seminar in Azad Kashmir in September 2003, therefore the development of the core group is at a much earlier stage.  In our meetings we focused on three things.  First, we listened to core group members share about their lives and their efforts at reconciliation since the two seminars.  Second, we discussed a strategy for beginning and leading cell groups.  Third, we discussed the need for being messengers of faith-based reconciliation in their districts by indigenizing the eight core values to communicate them to the masses.


2.    To conduct meetings with Kashmiri and Indian leaders to promote understanding of ICRD’s work in Kashmir or ascertain how to create enhanced levels of confidence within the new government and the intelligence agencies.

At the present time ICRD is encountering stiff opposition to its work in Kashmir from the Indian intelligence network.  They have actively discouraged one of our key leaders from any further cooperation with ICRD.  The focus of their concern appears to be twofold.  First, is the misperception that ICRD’s project is promoting Kashmiri independence as the political solution to Kashmir.  Second, is that fact that ICRD is now also working in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir.  From September 2000 to September 2003 ICRD’s work concentrated in the Kashmir Valley and Jammu.  In September 2003 two events occurred which raised ICRD to the highest levels of concern by Indian intelligence agencies.  The first event was the reconciliation seminar in Ladakh that included leaders from both the Buddhist and Muslim communities of Leh and Kargill.  The second event was the first reconciliation seminar in Pakistan for leaders from Azad Kashmir.  According to the perceptions of the intelligence agencies it appears that by moving toward the second phase of bridgebuilding meetings ICRD is attempting to effect a political settlement of Kashmir.

In all our work and public statements in both Kashmir and Azad Kashmir we have made it very clear that we are specifically avoiding the politics of the conflict and seeking to focus on the civil society, humanitarian dimension by promoting a broader vision of healing and reconciliation for Kashmiri society.  We have also sought to maintain a policy of transparency in our work and have been willing to sit down with any official to explain the nature of our work, answer any of their questions and clarify any misperceptions.  In a conversation with ICRD Advisory Council Member Rajmohan Gandhi in Delhi, he expressed surprise that we had managed even to progress to this point before hitting a wall of opposition.  He had expected this to occur much earlier in the course of our work.  He attributed our ability to reach this point to skillful management of the project.

A second challenge is represented by the change in government in Delhi from BJP to the Congress Party.  We have assiduously sought to cultivate confidence and understanding with Indian officials.  Our key contact was A.S. Dulat, the Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor on Kashmir and former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).  Mr. Dulat was kept informed of every aspect of our work and was encouraged to raise any questions or concerns with us.  Now Mr. Dulat is a private citizen and we are unknown to the key officials within the new government who are key to keeping confidence in our work.  Hence, our task in Delhi and Srinagar was twofold; to identify those key officials and to formulate a process for earning their confidence.

In Delhi we met with the following persons: Professor Kamal Chenoy (Professor at JNU), I.K. Gujral (former Prime Minister), Anand Ksahay (Chief Editor of Hindustan Times), Ashok Bhan (Convenor of Kashmir Committee), Geoff Pyatt (Chief Political Counselor, U.S. Embassy), Ambassador V. K. Grover (Kashmir Committee), Rajmohan Gandhi.

In Srinagar we met with the following persons: M.Y. Tarigami (MLA & State Secretary of the Communist Party of India), Dr. Ballorea (Chief Secretary, Government of Jammu & Kashmir), Mirwaiz Omar Farooq.

From all of our meetings we learned that there are four key officials that we need to connect with in the new administration: J.N. Dixit (National Security Advisor), M.N. Narayanan (Chief Advisor to the PM on Internal Security and former chief of IB), N.N. Vohra (Interlocutor for Kashmir) and Waiahat Habibullah (leaving U.S.I.P. to return to Delhi to assume a senior level role in the government with relationship to Kashmir).  To begin the process of cultivating confidence we requested both members of the Kashmir Committee and Geoff Pyatt to intervene with those individuals on our behalf.  In addition, we will seek to meet with the new Indian Ambassador in Washington DC in the near future.  Our hope is to be able to meet with those four individuals to cultivate relationship and understanding.


3.    To conduct meetings with Kashmiri and Pakistani leaders to promote understanding of ICRD’s work in Azad Kashmir.

This was the first opportunity for ICRD officials to travel the length and breadth of Azad Kashmir so as to meet officials and common people in each of the districts of Mirpur, Kotli, Rawalcot, Bagh and Muzaffarabad.  We traveled with a police escort in a motorcade that sometimes stretched to six vehicles.

In Mirpur we met with a large group of district officials, scholars and journalists at the home of Chaudhary Manzoor Khaled (Member of AJK Legislative Assembly and former cabinet minister).  In Rawalcot we had dinner with Sardar Khalid Ibrahim (leader of AJK Peoples Party).  We had breakfast with Sardar Ijaz Afzal (Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami) and other party leaders.  In Bagh we visited Madrassa Taleem-al-Quran (Deobandi Sect of Islam).  We met with the Imam and a group of approximately thirty teachers and other Muslim leaders.  We were the first delegation of Americans with whom they had met and this was clearly a meeting of “enemies”.  We began in an atmosphere of “polite hostility” but ended with genuine warmth and embrace as they looked past our American nationality and absorbed our message of faith-based reconciliation.  In the parting words of the Imam, “Had we known more about who you were and your message, we would have been at the entrance of the city to welcome you.”

We had lunch with Abdur Rashid Turabi (former leader of Jamaat-e-Islami) and a large group of his followers and some journalists from pro-Taliban newspapers.  We had dinner with a group of civic leaders from Muzaffarabad organized by Chaudhary Manzoor Ahmed (former Mayor of Muzaffarabad).  We had breakfast with Khwaja Farooq Ahmed (former AJK cabinet minister) and a group of television and newspaper journalists from largely pro-Taliban media.  We had a meeting and lunch with Prime Minister Sikander Hayat which included the Speaker of the AJK Legislative Assembly, two cabinet ministers and two senior editors of Kashmiri daily newspapers.  In all these meetings we sought to build relationship, trust and understanding.  We also sought to “stay on message” with faith-based reconciliation rather than get diverted into overt political discussions.

Despite our efforts to the contrary, our visit received significant coverage by both Kashmiri and Pakistani media.  One Urdu daily newspaper characterized our purpose as “seeking to formulate a road map for peace in Kashmir”.  I made it clear that we had no road map for peace and that the focus of our work was on faith-based reconciliation.  We have specifically avoided using conflict resolution terminology to describe our work in Kashmir since this causes significant problems with the Government of India, which opposes any third party intervention or the premise that Kashmir is a disputed territory.


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

In spite of stiff opposition from Indian intelligence agencies we have reached an important milestone in establishing ICRD’s presence and work in all four regions and on both sides of the Line of Control.  Having spent four years patiently building a cooperative spirit on both sides, we are now poised to conduct our first bridgebuilding meeting bringing 20 – 22 civil society leaders together for seven days in Bangkok or Katmandu in the context of a faith-based learning conversation.  Toward this end we identified most of the participants from Srinagar and Jammu who will be part of this bridgebuilding meeting: Firdous Syed, Bashir Manzar, Karamat Qayoom, Bashir Mir, Hamid Naseem Rafiabadi, A.R. Hanjura, Dauood Iqbal, Shaheed Sleem, R.K. Bharti, Rakesh Kar, and Anil Choudry.  We did not specifically identify the participants from Azad Kashmir at this time.  We are tentatively planning the meeting for January 2005.  However, it will depend on our ability to remove the obstacles that presently exist in the Indian intelligence network.


5.    To meet with Kashmiri, Indian and Pakistani officials to explore the potential for linkage between official track one diplomacy and faith-based track two diplomacy as related to the peace process between India and Pakistan.

We explored the idea of linkage in various meetings in Delhi, Srinagar, Islamabad and Muzaffarabad.  In Delhi we raised this issue with I.K. Gujral (former Prime Minister), Kamal Chenoy (JNV Scholar and Human Rights Activist), Ashok Bhan and V.K. Grover (Kashmir Committee), Anand Ksahay (Chief Editor of Hindustan Times) and Rajmohan Gandhi.  In Srinagar we raised this issue with Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Dr. Ballorea (Chief Secretary of J&K Government) and M.Y. Tarigami (State Secretary of Communist Party of India).  In Islamabad, Rawalcot and Muzaffarabad we raised this issue with Sardar Qayoom, Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudry, Sardar Khalid Ibrahim and Prime Minister Sikander Hayat.  We also discussed this matter with the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, R.M. Khoker and with a group of senior level officials from the Pakistan Peoples Party including three senators, a member of parliament, the Secretary General and the leader of PPP of Azad Kashmir.

Because the idea of linkage proved to be a fresh and innovative idea for almost everyone, the discussions did not get into too many specifics, but challenged people to consider such a possibility and left the door open for future discussion.  We distributed numerous copies of our journal article on faith-based diplomacy from the Brandywine Review.



Based on the meetings and other activities of this mission I would draw some tentative conclusions:

•    This is a season of testing for ICRD’s work in Kashmir (India) which requires persistence both on the part of core group members and ICRD officials.

•    ICRD should acknowledge the bravery and moral courage of Firdous Syed who has taken many personal risks to provide leadership for this work in Kashmir.  He has been and will continue to be a valued partner in this work.

•    This obstacle on the part of Indian intelligence agencies because of ICRD’s work in Pakistan was inevitable and would have to be faced by any agency seeking to work on both sides of the Line of Control.

•    This development requires an adjustment in ICRD’s strategy that will encourage core group members to take the frontline initiative and ICRD officials to play a background role as exhorters and advisors.

•    Because of the network of relationships that we have built up over the past four years in Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and Leh, we are not without the ability to influence our situation.

•    This is a time to remain faithful and tend to our network of relationships so that when the tectonic plates shift in the Kashmir situation, ICRD will be in a position to make a contribution to the peace process.

•    We should explore alternative means of accomplishing our bridgebuilding objective across the four regions.  This might include utilizing the National Prayer Breakfast and a modified version of the core group advanced training.

•    The door is presently wide open for ICRD in Azad Kashmir (Pakistan) which could mean that during this season our primary emphasis needs to shift from India to Pakistan.

•    Our confidence in the strategic partnership between ICRD and the Kashmir Institute for International Relations continues to grow.  Amjad Yousaf and Shah Qadir have become not only valued friends, but trusted partners in this project.

•    We are now beginning to engage hardline, pro-Taliban elements of the political spectrum in Azad Kashmir with ICRD’s message and work of faith-based reconciliation.  We are finding that the relationship building and the message are having a positive, transformational impact.  Perhaps we are seeing a microcosm of what needs to happen on a broader scale between the U.S. and the Islamic world.

•    As a faith-based work this is a season for patience, persistence and trusting the divine hand in ICRD’s work.