The Institute for Reconciliation: A Small Step of Hope and Healing for Kashmir

By Brian Cox

On July 18, 2002 we formally opened the Institute For Reconciliation in Srinagar.  The opening ceremony was held at the Hotel Broadway.  Some 125 guests were invited, however, over 300 guests actually attended.  The Institute for Reconciliation represents five things: a step of faith, a symbol of hope, a focus of healing, a challenge to transformation and a gift to the world.

First of all, the Institute For Reconciliation represents a step of faith.  The work of the institute is based on an expectation of God’s intervention in human affairs.  In many of the scholarly and professional journals the conflict in Kashmir has been described as intractable and hopeless.  Over the course of the past two years my own conversations with most of the parties to this conflict in Srinagar, Jammu, Leh, Delhi, Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, convinces me that from a strictly human perspective this is true.  In one edition of the Economist magazine last year Kashmir was described as “the most dangerous place on the face of the earth”.  For that reason, I believe that it will take nothing less than God’s intervention in Kashmir.  People of faith are often dismissed as hopelessly naïve by the realpolitik crowd.  However, in my opinion anyone who believes that the conflict in Kashmir can be resolved without God’s intervention is hopelessly naïve.

The work of the institute is carried out with the knowledge that religion is often a source of conflict.  One can point to a host of interstate or intrastate conflicts where, if religion is not the primary cause, it is at least a significant contributing factor.  What is often overlooked, however, is the fact that religion can also be a great asset for peacemaking.  Such spiritual resources as prayer and fasting, the sacred scriptures, apologies, forgiveness and spiritual conversations on a track II diplomatic level can lead to a dynamic of healing and reconciliation that enables progress toward mediation on a track I level.  Religious leaders who are respected in their communities can be encouraged to preach and work for faith-based reconciliation that catalyzes people on the grassroots level.  Thus, we join our faith in the one true God with activism in the service of God’s great purpose… the healing of the nations.

Second, the Institute For Reconciliation is a symbol of hope.  If I were looking at the conflict from a strictly secular perspective I would see little cause for hope.  Scholars and policymakers remain very skeptical of any resolution of the Kashmir conflict because of the bitter, painful history of the region and the competing interests at the present time.  So, where do Kashmiris turn to find hope?

Every Kashmiri must ask himself/herself, what kind of future do I want for my homeland?  What kind of future do I want for my children and my grandchildren?  Kashmir is at a fork in the road where it must choose between holocaust and healing.  In April 1999 I spent time in Gaza speaking with Palestinian government and NGO leaders.  What I heard and observed alarmed me.  I saw a Palestinian state that was being built on a foundation of anger, hatred and revenge.  While one might understand those deep emotions and believe that they are justified based on the suffering of the Palestinian people, nevertheless, they represent a very poor foundation for the future.  Such could also be the case in Kashmir.  There is no question that the Kashmiri people have suffered, both Muslims and Pandits.  As an outsider, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the tremendous legacy of suffering that has grown up in Kashmir, particularly since the beginning of the militancy in 1989.

For that reason Kashmir needs a fresh moral vision for its political order and civil society because the spiritual and moral foundations are the most important part of building a future.  One of the goals of IFR is to stimulate a communal conversation about faith-based reconciliation as a moral vision for Kashmir.

Third, the Institute For Reconciliation is a focus of healing.  The work of the institute is based on the premise that a political settlement alone is not enough.  Kashmiris have to be willing to be reconciled.  A political settlement must be part of a larger framework of sociopolitical healing.  We call this work “faith-based reconciliation”.  It is based on eight core values:

1.    The pluralistic nature of God’s creation: gender, ethnicity, race, and culture which means that we seek unity in the midst of diversity.

2.    Compassionate inclusion of all people in a society which includes embrace of one’s enemies.

3.    Peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals and groups.

4.    Social justice as a basis for right ordering of relationships and structures in a society.

5.    Forgiveness as a bedrock principle both in relationships between individuals and between communities and nations.

6.    The healing of historical wounds that stem from exclusion, prejudice, conflict, injustice or unforgiveness and hold back a community’s true potential for growth and development.

7.    Collective acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty over the community.

8.    Affirming and validating the universal experience of spiritual hunger and the need for atonement with God.

Fourth, the Institute For Reconciliation is a challenge to transformation.  At the heart of the Abrahamic tradition is the experience of reconciliation with God, self and others and the promise of God’s blessing for the nations.  The Abrahamic blessing for the nations is one of “healing, repair and transformation”.

Transformation is absolutely essential to the dynamic of reconciliation.  Analyzing the root of the problem is not enough.  Understanding the negotiating positions of the parties is not enough.  Communicating information in workshops is not enough.  Empowering Kashmiris with conflict resolution skills is not enough.  Changing hearts is essential to true and lasting reconciliation.

What is it that enables people to reach beyond their own community and build bridges to those who are different?  What is it that enables people to rise above their hostility and love their enemies?  What is it that transforms hate in the human soul into love?  What is it that enables people to choose the path of peacemaking instead of violence in resolving conflict?  What is it that enables people to forgive the unforgivable?  What is it that enables people to pursue justice instead of revenge?  What is it that brings healing from the deep wounds of history such as the sale of Kashmir in 1846, the partition of India in 1947 and the lack of Kashmiri self-determination, the period of the militancy and the departure of Pandits from the valley?  What is it that enables people to surrender their own will and submit to the authority of God?  It is a transformed heart, leading to transformed lives and transformed situations.  As people of faith we understand that God is in the business of transformation.

Finally, the Institute For Reconciliation is a gift to the world.  In 1984 I lived for several months in South Africa during some of the darkest times of the oppressive apartheid regime.  At that time South Africa had become a pariah in the international community.  However, today it is an icon of reconciliation due to such initiatives as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  In the midst of such a plethora of ethnic, cultural and religious conflict the world needs models of reconciliation that foster hope, inspiration and example to nations.

Kashmir is small in the eyes of the world, but it has the potential to offer an enduring gift.  In the wake of September 11 the operative paradigm of international affairs for the foreseeable future is security.  Kashmir can demonstrate to the realpolitik world that security is more than enhanced military assets and intelligence capabilities.  It involves restored and transformed relationships between enemies.  Kashmir can demonstrate to the Islamic world that the glory of Islam will be found in a recovery of the Abrahamic tradition of faith-based reconciliation and the promise of healing for the nations.

Such would be truly a gift to the world as we embark on the most dangerous century of human history.

Brian Cox is Senior Vice President of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy based in Washington D.C.