MAY 18-19, 2006

1. The discourse on Jammu and Kashmir is currently and overwhelmingly defined by those who resort to terrorism, their sponsors and their front organisations. Other political constituencies, including the elected representatives of the people in Indian administered areas, the people of the regions that are denied democratic representation and political and human rights in Pakistan occupied areas, as well as the diverse communities that constitute local minorities or who have material grievances regarding the circumstances in which they are forced to live, have largely been silenced or marginalized in this discourse. The Government of the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir and the Union Government, moreover, continues, essentially, to react to precisely the voices of violence, deepening the marginalisation and neglect of the many and legitimate issues raised by people who reject the way of terrorism.

2. It is impossible to find any quick and simple settlement or ‘formula’ for the resolution of the multiple conflicts and contradictions in wider Jammu & Kashmir region, and the various ‘formulae’ that have been proposed from time to time reduce essentially to the flawed logic of India’s disastrous partition in 1947, and are aimed to further divide Jammu & Kashmir along religious majoritarian lines.

3. Even within the context of the conflict within the Valley, there is no reason to believe that the terrorists and their backers are in any measure impelled or motivated by their concerns for the rights and aspirations of the people of J&K. It is useful to remind ourselves that Kashmiri Muslims, whose cause the terrorists claim to be fighting for, are the principal civilian victims of terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and account for as much as 85 per cent of the civilian victims of terrorism in the State.

4. More significantly, the terrorists represent essentially Pakistan’s geopolitical ambitions and efforts to corner greater natural resources, crucially water, and possibly a narrow minority committed to an Islamist extremist ideology in a small geographical fraction of Jammu and Kashmir, ignoring, indeed, participating in the victimisation of, many of the diverse peoples of the region.

5. Significantly, South Asia in general and India in particular has long been proof that, while religious identities can be mobilised for violence, there is no fundamental psychological divide between communities, which have long histories of living together in mutual respect and accommodation, and despite the enormous cultural diversities that characterize this region.

6. Equally important should be the realization that, while religious identities were the basis of Partition, they cannot constitute the basis of any future solution to the multiple crises of Kashmir and of South Asia in general. Pakistan’s history, and in the present context, the conditions of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan and what is called ‘Azad Kashmir’ provides ample evidence that, if Partition was intended to solve the problems of the people, it has failed comprehensively. Partition and division serves no purpose if the objective conditions of the lives of the people remain unaltered, and there is no more than a peripheral reconfiguration that satisfies the powerlust of a few individuals or a section of the elite.

7. It is precisely this consideration that leads us to the conclusion that ‘freedom’ is nothing more than a slogan, unless it is backed by plans, programmes and institutions that alter the realities of the ground, and secure the resources, institutions and mechanisms that can help meet the aspirations of large populations.

8. The past century has often been described as the ‘century of freedom’, and it is useful to note the sheer number of new nations’ that secured their ‘independence’ over this period? Yet, how many of the people of these free nations are actually free? How many of them are able to reap the benefits, to enjoy the fruits of this new ‘liberty’? And how many of these ‘free’ nations have lapsed into new tyrannies?

9. The crisis of minorities – ethnic, religious or cultural – is another aspect that should receive our considered attention. Minorities in Jammu & Kashmir have come under threat in many places, while in others, experiments in demographic re-engineering have been launched to diminish local majorities and reduce them to a minority status. This has, once again, encouraged at least some segments within such minorities to seek greater security, and to protect their culture, by trying to build barriers of separation.

9.1 Isolationism is, in fact, a powerful political position among many communities today, as marginalized populations seek to create “smaller worlds within borders”, and protection in communal, ethnic and cultural ghettos. But this is a strategy of inevitable failure, possibly of collective cultural suicide.

9.2 The religious, ethnic, linguistic or cultural ghetto is the worst way to protect these identities. The ghetto eventually weakens the capacities of communities, however these may define themselves. All isolationist solutions eventually weaken nations and people who seek to protect themselves through such measures, and these nations and people are then gradually overwhelmed by the forces and trends of history. Insularity makes all cultures and communities brittle, increasingly fragile, internally vulnerable and susceptible to external intervention or manipulation. It is only by securing modern instrumentalities of power that peoples can secure their cultures and their identities.

9.3 All the people of Kashmir have such instrumentalities within their grasp, but to secure them, they will have to tear down the walls of mutual suspicion and hatred, reject the idea of “unique and choiceless identity”, and recognize the “plurality of our affiliations… as common inhabitants of a wide world”. This region is strategically poised at what was historically seen as the ancient ‘axis of Asia’, where South, Central and East Asia converge. Located at the crossroads of three great civilizations – described, in another age, as the point “where three empires meet” – this region was once both India’s and China’s gateway to Central Asia and beyond, into the heart of Europe, along the ancient Silk Route that contributed so much to the wealth and civilization of the many peoples it touched. Within an order that seeks to integrate rather than divide, this strategic centrality and economic dynamism can easily be recovered.

10. Violence has dominated too much of the discourse on Jammu & Kashmir over the past decades since the Partition of the sub-continent, but there will have to be a generation that makes a break with this fractious past. We need to decide whether we are to be that historical generation.

11. It is within this context that this Conference could represents a radical shift from a narrow agenda dictated by terrorists, their sponsors and their front organisations, to an agenda that more correctly represents the demographics of this region, and the diverse, complex and real aspirations of the peoples of Jammu & Kashmir.