Toward A Sustainable Peace In Kashmir

by Brian Cox

The recent thaw in the hostility between India and Pakistan seems to be the most promising possibility yet for a resolution of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts focused on Kashmir.  In February 2004, Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff and former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed to begin comprehensive talks.  During the same period of time Delhi began serious talks with leaders of All Parties Hurriyat Conference.  Now, both the new Congress Party government and the new Pakistani government are challenged to sustain the momentum.  

However, in those aspects of the negotiations that relate to Kashmir, two key factors need to be considered so that this sincere effort does not end up as one more failed attempt.  First, both Delhi and Islamabad need to consider whether and how Kashmiris will have an authentic voice in shaping their own destiny.  Second, they need to approach the peace process with a wider “reconciliation lens” that engages both civil society and grass roots levels and considers the need for sociopolitical healing.  A negotiated settlement among elites that does not take into account the need for a “healing touch” on the civil society and grass roots levels is destined to fail as the Oslo Accords did between Israelis and Palestinians.  There are simply to many deeply embedded individual and collective wounds in Kashmir.

Will Kashmiris have an authentic voice in shaping their own destiny?  Historically, the answer to this question has focused on the demand for the U.N. promised plebiscite wherein Kashmiris could exercise their voice through the ballot box.  As the decades have passed such a possibility appears to be less and less a realistic possibility.  Most leaders I have spoken to in Kashmir privately admit that a plebiscite is highly unlikely and realize that it will come down to a negotiated settlement.  Nevertheless, if this is so, then how can Kashmiris be a meaningful part of the process and not continue to be treated like pawns by India and Pakistan as they have been for so much of their history beginning with the sale of Kashmir by the British in 1847 for seventy-five lak rupees.  This question is complex in a number of ways.  First, who is the authentic voice of Kashmiris?  Second, what if India and Pakistan cut a deal that is acceptable to both, but not acceptable to Kashmiris?  Third, is a negotiated settlement an adequate response to the heart cry for Kashmiri self-determination?  Fourth, is there a zone of agreement that overlaps Kashmiri aspirations with Indian and Pakistani foreign policy objectives?  Fifth, are there ways to “expand the pie” and create value for Kashmiris so as to honor the freedom struggle and suffering of the people?

Will the peace process be broadened to consider a “reconciliation lens” instead of a more restricted “conflict resolution lens?”  For the past four years the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, a Washington D.C. based NGO, has been committed to fostering a movement of faith-based reconciliation at the civil society and grass roots levels in the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh.  This small, but nascent movement has consisted of reconciliation seminars, learning conversations, a core group, cell groups, civil society forums and private meetings with officials and leaders across the political spectrum.  It seeks to augment the Kashmiri struggle by providing a strategic moral vision of faith-based reconciliation as a foundation for a Kashmiri society emerging from fifteen years of violence and suffering.  We have brought Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits together in a context of reconciliation and witnessed the divine work of transformation of human hearts.  This has brought us to the realization that changed hearts in Kashmiris, both Muslim and Pandit, is the key to a future together as well as a sustainable peace.

To address these two concerns I would posit that there needs to be an intentional organic linkage between track one and track two faith-based diplomacy initiatives.  How might this come about?  How might official government to government negotiations and unofficial, faith-based initiatives join hands to forge a sustainable peace and provide a vehicle for an authentic Kashmiri voice?  ICRD would propose that a dynamic partnership needs to be forged among key foreign ministry officials in Delhi, the Indian negotiating team, APHC leaders and both indigenous Kashmiri and international NGOs.  Such an entity might be called a Kashmir Multitrack Diplomacy Roundtable.

KMDR could serve the peace process in a number of ways.  First, KMDR could serve as a conduit for input by Kashmiri civil society leaders.  Second, KMDR could ensure that strategic aspects of the sociopolitical healing process would be considered in settlement frameworks and negotiations.  Third, KMDR could bring into the peace process faith-based actors who have cultivated trust and respect among the various parties to the conflict.  Fourth, KMDR would avoid creating the appearance of outside third party intervention and yet, draws on the resources of third party intermediaries.  Fifth, KMDR could represent the need for a broader “reconciliation lens” instead of a more restricted “conflict resolution lens.”

I offer this strategic concept of a Kashmir Multitrack Diplomacy Roundtable simply as a vehicle to accomplish two objectives; to ensure an authentic voice for Kashmiris in the negotiating process and to broaden the peace process to include the need for sociopolitical healing in Kashmir.  What do you think?

Brian Cox is the Senior Vice President of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in Washington DC.  He has been ICRD’s Kashmir Project Leader since 2000.