I was worried about the welfare of participants who dared to travel from Gilgit and Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir to take part in the two day Kashmir Conference organised by Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) on 18th and 19th May 2006.
It was pleasure to note that Pakistani authorities not only allowed these invitees to take part in the conference, but they allowed them back with out showing any anger or resentment. It is a turning point not only in the Kashmiri struggle but also in the India -Pakistan relations.
I was told by one invitee from the Pakistani Administered Kashmir that none of the participants were harassed or even questioned about the conference. Some invitees were, in fact, waiting to be approached and to be asked about the conference, but they were disappointed.
The conference as a whole has been taken positively, and people, especially those who are politically mature, appreciated the effort and the outcome. They drew comparisons with other much publicised conferences which failed to produce anything concrete; and said that this conference has laid down foundations for the future 'road map' for Jammu and Kashmir and for South Asia.
Although the moot was called Kashmir Conference but it did not look at Jammu and Kashmir from a narrow perspective, rather it discussed problems of Jammu and Kashmir whether they are political, economic, ethnic, cultural, regional or religious in the wider context of South Asian perspective. While discussing these, focus was always the interest and future of different communities settled in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
All the issues were thoroughly discussed, analysed and agreed by the participants unanimously. The Participants showed mature judgment and respect for different views, and tried their best to accommodate those differing in views.
While discussing upraising of Mangla Dam and proposed construction of Basha Dam and other projects some differing views emerged, but common sense prevailed. A dominant view was that India and Pakistan have full control of resources of Jammu and Kashmir in their respective areas of control, and people of the State do not benefit from their own resources.
Dr Nazir Gilani advocated that these resources belong to the people of the State and should be held as a 'trust' by both countries. This point was disputed by some. Dr Nazir Gilani then proposed that the word 'trust' should be changed with the word "without prejudice to the 'title' of the people" and it was agreed by all.
In other words this conference while recognising other rights and privileges for the people of Jammu and Kashmir also acknowledged that the resources of the State belong to the people and should be utilised for the welfare of the people. And by implication it also acknowledged that the people of the State are the basic and principle party to the dispute.
The fourth resolution of the conference very clearly speaks about the rights of the people and future of the state like this: 'The future of Jammu & Kashmir must be defined within the context of a farsighted, just and non-discriminatory order, in harmony with standards of civil, political and social rights, the framework of a constitutional democracy, universal adult franchise and the rule of law, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.'
The conference had pro people and pro peace approach, and while rejecting violence and communalism it expressed its serious concern about inequalities in the society. It demanded the 'establishment of clear mechanisms that ensure access to developmental opportunities and safeguarding economic and natural resources for the benefit of the people of Jammu & Kashmir.'
The conference venue was secluded from hurly - burly of the modern life and this provided with an opportunity to intermingle with each other to establish old links and build bridges of understanding. It must be noted that the people travelled from different regions of the sate which have been forcibly divided for the last 59 years, hence denying people the right to socialise and interact with each other.
After the conference most of us stayed at the same hotel in Delhi and we were able to further discuss and analyse the conference, its outcome and likely future problems. Our hosts also arranged a trip to Agra so that we could appreciate beauty of Taj Mahal and richness of the culture.
IKA arranged a meeting and an evening dinner for the participants where future plans and other related issues were discussed. This further helped us to know each other, and appreciate each others perspective and political stand. It also helped us to formulate a policy to link up with each other, and to continue our peaceful struggle in our respective regions of the State rather than just trying to 'liberate' the Valley.
These unofficial discussions and interactions brought down 'Berlin walls' which one way or the other existed in our hearts, and which were built and consolidated by those who champion the cause of violence and communalism. It is in the interest of these people that these walls stay erected and the Kashmir pot keeps on boiling.
I have developed a better understanding of the issues that concern Kashmiri Pandits and the matters which worry the Gujjars and Dogras of Jammu and Kashmir. I know now why Buddhists and Muslims of Ladakh harbour different thoughts and views; and I know exactly why people of Gilgit and Baltistan are so unhappy with us, and why they don't want to be part of Pakistani Administered Kashmir.
It is because of this 'improved knowledge' and sense of appreciation that I fully support their struggle against oppression and injustice, and support their demand for a separate Assembly. I understand they want to have their traditional routes opened so that they can interact and trade with the people of Ladakh.
It is satisfying that despite their apprehensions and complaints they still regard themselves as part of the Kashmir dispute and oppose those forces which want to divide them on ethnic or religious lines, and leave them at the mercy of Pakistani elites. People I have met so far have shown their determination to oppose this area's 'accession' to Pakistan, and struggle for liberal and democratic society where people are not discriminated on the basis of religion or caste.
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