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A Progressive Discussion Forum
On Kashmir

By People for Peace in Kashmir

28 August, 2003

About 100 people attended a dynamic discussion forum on Kashmir , organized by People for Peace in Kashmir and Social and Cultural Anthropology Program at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco. The speakers were Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy – well known physicist and anti-nuclear activist from Pakistan, Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai from Kashmiri American Council and Akhila Raman – a researcher on the Kashmir Conflict. The audience included people from various diverse groups- Indians, Pakistanis, Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims, Americans.

This Forum was conceived as a balanced and liberal one, striving to avoid common features present in many other forums: Indian speakers bashing Pakistan, Pakistani speakers bashing India and Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims presenting the Kashmir tragedy as a tragedy to their group alone. Instead, the speakers turned it around and did a critical introspection of their respective sides, presenting the tragedy to various communities as a whole.

The Forum was introduced by Dr. Angana Chatterji, Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology Program at CIIS, as one which seeks to address the concerns of Kashmiris, India and Pakistan. She illuminated the fact that there is one soldier for every 10 Kashmiris in the Kashmir Valley which is seen as oppressive by the local population.

Mr. Zulfiqar Ahmad - Peace and Security Program Officer for South Asia from Nautilus Institute at Berkeley introduced the speakers and outlined the principles for the discussion forum and the fact that ultimate arbiters of the dispute should be the Kashmiri people and that any solution should respect the syncretic Kashmiri culture.

Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai began his speech highlighting the fact that the long-standing Kashmir dispute had become a nuclear flashpoint which needed an urgent solution, putting an end to the pain and suffering of not only the majority Kashmiri Muslim community but also the minority Kashmiri Pandit community. He stated that a lasting solution could only be arrived if all the three concerned parties – Kashmiris, India and Pakistan – make sacrifices and compromises from their respective hardline positions.

He further went on to argue as follows: (1) Kashmiri movement was not secessionist because Kashmir did not belong to any member nation of the UN and hence Kashmiris cannot secede from a nation to which they had not acceded to in the first place. (2) Kashmiri movement was not fundamentalist given their rich tradition of Kashmiriyat- a composite cultural identity of tolerance and communal amity (3) The movement was not a terrorist movement but a popular freedom struggle because hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians marched on the streets of Srinagar between January and May 1990 (4) The issue was not bilateral between India and Pakistan but that Kashmiris were a legitimate third party which needed to be included in unconditional dialogues to resolve the dispute. He highlighted the need for UN/US mediation given the fact that all previous bilateral talks had failed.

Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, who spoke next, began his speech highlighting the role of evolutionary biology in war and also war as a means of socialization; He highlighted the subversive role played by Pakistan since a popular insurgency began in the Kashmir Valley in 1989 against the repressive Indian Rule. He recalled an interview he had with General Musharraf in Pakistan regarding Kashmir in which he had asked the General “ Was it not high time Pakistan stopped the covert war in Kashmir and stuck to its stated position namely- providing merely “moral and diplomatic” support for the freedom struggle in Kashmir”.

He illuminated the role played by India as an occupation force, with half a million soldiers brutally repressing an estimated 5 million Kashmiris in the Valley. He closed his speech stating that (1) India must end its permanent occupation of Kashmir. (2) Pakistan must put an end to cross-border terrorism (3) The media in India and Pakistan must turn down the volume of official rhetoric and play a constructive role in dispute resolution.

Akhila Raman, the next speaker made a presentation of the history of the Kashmir conflict and highlighted the fact that both India and Pakistan were fighting over Kashmir like two pugnacious landlords, trampling over the dead bodies of tens of thousands of Kashmiris – half of them civilians. She highlighted the fact that India had promised self-determination (the will of the people shall be ascertained in a plebiscite about the future of Kashmir) to the Kashmiris in 1947 and many times later, which had been long denied. She also highlighted the fact that the 1989 insurgency arose as a result of long-denied historical grievances - denial of promised plebiscite, consistently rigged elections and erosion of autonomy – and that the popular alienation and discontent continues.

She illuminated the fact that the Kashmiri movement was not communal, given that Kashmiri Muslims had always demonstrated in support of the slain minorities as in the recent Nadimarg massacre in March and that Kashmiriyat continues to flourish. She closed the speech highlighting an “Andorran solution” which could potentially work – Kashmir Valley and Azad Kashmir made as autonomous entities with external defence and foreign affairs controlled jointly by India and Pakistan.

The speeches were followed by a Q&A session with the audience. Some Pandits discussed their concerns about safe return to their ancestral homeland of the Valley, which they had been forced to flee in a massive exodus in 1990. Another person in the audience reiterated the fact that there were no communal riots in Kashmir and that communal amity still flourishes and hoped for a lasting solution. Snehal Shingavi, a Berkeley student activist, highlighted the need for unity among the people of Kashmir in their struggle for self-determination.

The two and a half hour program ended on a positive note with many in the audience feeling that the discussion forum was informative and productive. Dr. Angana Chatterji and Zulfiqar Ahmad conducted and moderated the Forum very effectively in a very admirable manner. Friends of South Asia and ISO, Berkeley expressed their support for this Forum.

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