Twelfth International Kashmir Conference Concludes in New York

New York. December 11, 2015. The Twelfth International Kashmir Peace Conference entitled “Beyond the Blame Game:   Finding Common Grounds for Peace and Justice in Kashmir,”   organized by International Educational Development (IED) at the Church Center of the United Nations, New York,  was attended among others by academics, researchers, delegates from various United Nations Missions, representatives of the United Nations NGO’s,   social and civil rights activists, political analysts and prominent Americans of South Asian origin. It began with the key-note speech of Hon. Ramsey Clark, 66 th   Attorney General of the United States.

‘I am hopeful’ stated Dr. Karen Parker, International Educational Development (IED) Delegate to the United Nations, in her introductory remarks ‘that this conference will provide some guidance for resolving the roadblock between where we are now and where we can go to resolve the conflict. We need to get all sides talking to each other with full respect.’

Spotlighting ‘Kashmir: Human Rights Dimension’, Ramsey Clark began by describing the state of Jammu and Kashmir as ‘a place of beauty caught in geography and history that makes the possibility of general peace and prosperity a challenge, not only for its people but also for its neighbors.’  If peace could be achieved, Kashmir could be a symbol for the world, demonstrating the possibility of peace existing in the midst of beauty.’ But, he cautioned, how does a world ‘full of ambition and too many hands possessing the capacity for total destruction’ achieve such a goal?  ‘We don’t like to think about it but we still spend billions of dollars on how to kill millions of people where hunger and sickness could be eradicated. We know better but we obscure our knowledge, because the truth hurts, it hurts to know the existence of poverty and suffering.’

Mr. Clark conceded that the average American’s knowledge about Kashmir was ‘less than negligible’ and that, when hearing the name 'Kashmir', they were more likely to think of a bouquet of soap rather than the disputed state. ‘We’re busy and it’s a big world and everybody has their own problems and needs and wants.’ But knowing about the suffering and needs of others ‘is essential to peace on earth. Kashmir remains in the mind as a lovely sounding place that few have ever visited, which means that we have a real challenge in terms of education.’ He concluded, ‘We are a long way from justice as a dominant condition in the world.’ When questioned on the role of the United Nations, he described how the ability to focus on the real needs of the population was overshadowed by the special interests ‘of those who control the representation of power that guides the United Nations’.   

Human rights activist, Khurram Parvez, convener of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, focused on the context in which human rights abuses in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were perceived. ‘You cannot understand human rights if you don’t understand the context. Human rights abuses are taking place all around the world, in many places, including in India,’ he stated. ‘But the difference is these are happening because of aberrations, deficiencies in governance, and because people transgress the law. What is happening in Kashmir is not an aberration, it is part of an institutionalized policy of the Indian government.’ Highlighting the publication in September of the report of the International Peoples’ Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir and the Association of Disappeared Persons, Structures of Violence, The Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Parvez described how the report not only involved the documentation of 333 cases of human rights abuses but also described litigating these cases in different courts. ‘Our argument is that if we don’t do it we will never be able to prove that human rights abuses are taking place. We have been able to engage with the Jammu and Kashmir judiciary.’ With information coming from both police and government sources, he emphasized that in the cases under review, including Kunan Poshpura in 1991 and the massacre of Sikhs on the eve of President Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000, there were 972 alleged perpetrators. ‘In all these cases we have gone to the courts and  tried our best to find justice within the Indian system.’      

Mr. Parvez emphasized that the cases they had reviewed were not the only cases. ‘There are thousands of others. Filing a First Information Report (FIR) is a big task in itself, it can take 1-2 years to get the police to register a complaint, so you can imagine how difficult it is for people to fight for justice. Then there is a phase of investigation and sometimes the charge sheets have not been honored. This is especially true in circumstances where the army feels itself above the law’. Repression and cover-up has become institutionalized, he said. In terms of delivering justice, he emphasized that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) ‘has become one of the factors of impunity. It has to go.’

‘Human rights are a world problem,’ Mr. Parvez concluded. ‘They are not an internal matter.  We have seen the transformation of the movement from violence to non violence.’ But, he warned, there was a trend among young people again resorting to violence. ‘It is very sad for us, that young people should want to use violence. But the argument they use is that our voice does not reach anywhere.’ While India continues to ‘legitimize’ its presence, Mr. Parvez pleaded for the international community, whose assistance to date had been ‘dismal’ and all the organizations working for Kashmir to bring pressure to lobby for a United Nations ‘probe’ on the situation in Kashmir. Without such intervention, he said, ‘we cannot proceed forward. We are now at a stage where it is a complete dead end. We have done everything, we have met everyone in the government but nothing has changed. Instead of working to resolve the issue, both the governments of India and Pakistan have used the situation in Kashmir for political rhetoric, side-lining the aspirations of the Kashmiris. ‘They need a respectful and dignified place in the dialogue.’

Nasreen Sheikh from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, now living in the United States and an educationalist for the past 35 years, emphasized that ‘as human beings, regardless of gender, nationality or sex, we all have the right to life liberty and security.’ In addition to political, economic and cultural rights, she said, ‘we also have collective rights and that is the right to self-determination.’

Human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory administered by Indi, she said, are an ongoing issue. The abuses range from mass killings, forced disappearances, torture, rape and sexual abuse to political repression and suppression of freedom of speech.

Examining the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir in its ‘Regional and International Dimension’, British author of Kashmir in the Crossfire   and Kashmir in Conflict, Victoria Schofield emphasized that there were five important reasons why a resolution of the dispute was imperative: firstly, because the dispute had been going on for 67 years creating longstanding enmity between India and Pakistan in a world that had become more dangerous; secondly because both India and Pakistan were nuclear powers and any flare-up between the two hostile neighbors could lead to a nuclear exchange. Citing the attack on the Delhi Parliament in December 2001, she reminded listeners that both armies mobilized along the international border, and that newspaper articles appeared in the international media highlighting the locations where potential nuclear strikes could be made. Thirdly, the unresolved dispute meant that ‘any non-state’ actor could perpetrate an act of terrorism in the name of Jammu and Kashmir which could also bring India and Pakistan to the brink of war creating unimaginable suffering for the inhabitants of the region. Fourthly, the humanitarian situation on the ground warranted resolution. Pointing to the effect of the trauma of the ongoing conflict, she highlighted the fact that besides human rights abuses, thousands had been killed or disappeared. ‘Women whose husbands have disappeared cannot re-marry. They are half-widows, which also brings hardship.’ Fifthly, because of the unresolved dispute, resources which could be spent improving the lives of all people of the subcontinent were spent on maintaining conventional and nuclear arsenals.

Focusing her remarks on the United Nations’ definition of self-determination, Dr Karen Parker emphasized that the state of Jammu and Kashmir ‘obviously’ met the criteria: firstly that there should be an identifiable territory; secondly, that there should be a history of self-governance; thirdly, that the people should be distinct from those around them; fourthly  - and Dr Parker apologized for the benevolent tone of the requirement – that the people should have the capacity for self-governance; finally, the people ‘have to want it’, which Dr Parker stated they clearly did. ‘Never really since 1947 have the people given up the wish of self-determination.’  

With regard to the role of the United Nations Dr. Parker said that its role had ‘slowly faded as India became more of a super power.’ But ‘that doesn’t mean it went away. Kashmir is still a “disputed territory” in the United Nations system.’ Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, Editor of the Kashmir Times based in Jammu, was unable to be present due to the passing of her father, Ved Bhasin Ji. Her paper, read by a young student, entitled ‘Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir and its Impact’ focused on human rights abuses and the impunity with which they were perpetrated. She said that the conflict has caused massive displacements in seven decades, resulted in heavy casualties and state-sponsored violence has perpetuated a cycle of human rights abuse practiced with a culture of impunity. An estimated 70,000 people have been killed, many of them civilians in cross firing, fake encounters and in custody.

Professor Zafar Khan, Spokes-person, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was also unable to be present. His paper was also read by a young student, again stressing the right of the inhabitants of the state to self-determination. Professor Khan questioned, ‘Who can begrudge Kashmiris for feeling betrayed, at the indifference and abandonment of their basic human rights – the right to national self-determination, a right that India and the major powers recognized.'

In his comments, Dr Zahid Bokhari, Executive Director, Center for Islam and Public Policy (CIPP),   presented a five-point agenda for the next level struggle of Kashmir dispute: 1) The word 'Azadi' be accepted in the English language as a standard term for Kashmiri resistance movement as 'Glasnost' and 'Intifada' were recognized for the Soviet Union openness and Palestinian resistance, respectively; 2) The just resolution of Kashmir conflict will bring peace and prosperity to the region of South Asia. The reduction of defense expenditure will make it possible to eradicate poverty among the half billion people of the Indian Subcontinent; 3) An extensive use of social media, especially videos, will become instrumental in highlighting the struggle of the people of Kashmir, including the Kashmiri youth; 4) An effective outreach campaign on Kashmir dispute towards the peace-loving sections of the Indian civil society and diaspora is the need of the time; and 5) The increasingly negative image of Modi administration as extremist, sectarian and communal should be used effectively to enhance the cause of Kashmir at the global level."

In her opening comments in the session, ‘India Pakistan relations: breaking the deadlock for Kashmir’, Barrister Suchitra Vijayan, writer, lawyer and political theorist made it clear that she stood ‘in solidarity with Kashmiris.’ She also cautioned against using ‘the language of the occupier’ – for example by describing ‘freedom fighters’ as militants or separatists. Describing a recent visit to the valley of Kashmir on 15 August 2015, she said that she found it unacceptable, that she, as an Indian from Madras, was able to walk unchallenged on the streets of Srinagar, whereas a Kashmiri would not have the same freedom. ‘I had more rights than the average Kashmiri.’    

She observed that many Indians had been ‘brainwashed’ into thinking that Kashmir belonged to India, ‘and that to hold on to Kashmir was fine, and to treat Kashmiris as part of India was fine.’ She also described how the bardic traditions in Kashmir had been transformed. ‘Every Kashmiri is a poet, but instead of the traditional histories of happiness and achievement which they recorded, their poems now reflect pain and suffering.’   

Recognizing that the individual experiences of the inhabitants of the state varied, Barrister Vijayan emphasized that there would be no movement forward ‘without Kashmiris believing there is a sense of justice. Reaffirming her support for the Kashmiris, she stated: ‘My job is not to tell the Kashmiris what they want, it is their voice and their dialogue which must determine the future.’

Broadening her comments to talk about India, Barrister Vijayan emphasized the regional differences of India, describing how the ‘idea of India’ was the ‘most abused phrase’. ‘What Mohammed Ali Jinnah said of India was correct:  “India is a subcontinent of nationalities.”’ Explaining the rise of extremism she said that it existed ‘especially in the areas which became border areas. We talk about partition as though it was surgical, it was a bloody mess, those families still feel the trauma. Delhi changed from being a Mogul city to Punjabi city.’ The second reason why extremism was increasing was because all problems were being considered to be the fault of Muslims. ‘Where does that hate and anger come from?’ she asked. ‘It comes from a sense of not understanding what the history is.’ As an example, she cited how some Indians were upset at making a film about Tipu Sultan of Mysore, because he was a Muslim, without understanding it was the Muslims who fought to preserve the region against the colonizers.  

In his paper, Dr Waleed Rasool of International Riphah University, Islamabad wrote that Kashmir is still longest outstanding dispute pending on the agenda of the UN Security Council. The United Nations passed the very first resolution on April 21, 1948 which gave the right to self-determination to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. This resolution was jointly sponsored by the major world powers, including the United States, Great Britain and France.

Rasool said that the self-determination of the people of Kashmir and international peace and security are inter-related. The denial of this right has brought both nuclear countries of India and Pakistan to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. It is in the interest of world peace that India and Pakistan need to resolve the Kashmir dispute to the satisfaction of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The final and durable settlement of the Kashmir dispute will undoubtedly guarantee peace and stability in the region of South Asia. It will also have a great impact on international peace and security.

Sardar Sawar Khan, former Advisor to the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir said that the right of self-determination of the people of Jammu & Kashmir was agreed to at the United Nations by both India and Pakistan with the endorsement of the world powers. That pledge needs to be fulfilled for the sake of peace and stability in the region of South Asia.

Concluding the conference, Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai said that   the aims and objectives of the conference were not to speak against one government or another. On the contrary, our main purpose was to facilitate a sincere dialogue in the form of a peace process. And to do so in the spirit of reconciliation, not confrontation; equality, not discrimination; and hope, not despair.

Fai underscored that despite a significant shift in global politics during the post-9/11, the Kashmir issue remains a major impediment to global peace and security, and its resolution must be a priority for the international community. 

The intermittent talks of peace moves between India and Pakistan, like the one between National Security Advisors of India and Pakistan on December 6, 2015 in Bangkok, are very healthy developments that need to be strengthened. However, according to Fai, the people of Kashmir feel that it is being done to defuse the tension between these two nuclear powers and not enough is being said or done to set a stage for the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute. The Kashmiris believe that trilateral dialogue between the Governments of India and Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership with the understanding and engagement of the United States holds the key to any meaningful progress on the Kashmir dispute.

Fai concluded by   describing two principles which had to be the guiding force of a resolution of the Kashmir dispute: firstly, it was the inherent right of the inhabitants of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to decide their future; secondly, it was almost impossible to ascertain the wishes and will of the people of the State except in an atmosphere that is free from intimidation and external compulsion.

Others who spoke included: Dr Imtiaz Khan, Senior Vice President, Kashmiri American Council; Dr Khalid J. Qazi, Clinical Professor; Dr Ghulam N. Mir, President, World Kashmir Awareness; Mr Saleem Akhtar, National Director, American Muslim Alliance; Sardar Zarif Khan, Washington, DC and Mohammad Imtiaz Khan, New Jersey.

The conference ended with a declaration resolving that:

1. The inalienable right to self-determination of peoples of Jammu and Kashmir as it stood on 14 August 1947, be recognized and instituted;

2. The people of Jammu and Kashmir must be an integral component of the ongoing peace process;

3. The pace of India-Pakistani dialogue in relation to Jammu and Kashmir should be accelerated;

 4. All extra-judicial laws, like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) should be repealed, ensuring that peoples’ fundamental freedoms and basic rights are  restored;

5. All political prisoners should be released and interrogation and torture centers closed;

6. Kashmir-specific confidence building measures must be adopted like facilitating intra-Kashmiri dialogue;

7. Both sides of the ceasefire line must be demilitarized;

8. The rights of all members of minorities in Jammu and Kashmir must  be protected. All those persons who have been displaced from Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 should be encouraged to return. The members of the Pandit community displaced in the recent past should be facilitated to return and their rehabilitation guaranteed.

9. The international community should be urged to facilitate dialogue among all stakeholders as well as highlighting human rights abuses wherever they occur throughout the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

(Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai is the Secretary General of World Kashmir Awareness and can be reached at:   1-202-607-6435,     gnfai2003@yahoo.com)

 


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