15 December 2004
Lahore: AN attempt has been made in the shape of a conference at Katmandu arranged by a prestigious think tank, the US based Pugwash Conference, to explore solutions to the Kashmir issue. The objectives of the conference, as reflected in the three committees formed, revolve around, first, promoting an intra-Kashmir dialogue and bridging differences among Kashmiri leaders, second, exploring CBMs to promote the Kashmir cause and third, suggestions on the next stage in looking for solutions. The move is innovative in being the first ever solution-seeking encounter between Kashmiri leaders from both sides of the LoC; and on neutral ground in an environment of intellectual discourse rather than one politically charged. That said, it must be pointed out that an intra Kashmiri dialogue can only work if participants are fully representative of Kashmiris, and not if participation is determined by some delegates' ability to get Indian permission to attend. A delegation from Held Kashmir that does not include leaders like Syed Ali Gillani, cannot deliver because it is not fully representative. A dialogue can only work if, besides building on commonalties and exploring new CBMs, it thrashes out the various strains and trends in thinking now prevalent among the Kashmiris. Unfortunately Kashmiris have been more talked down to than they have been consulted, starting from the point where their right of self-determination, as sanctioned by the UN, was swept under the rug as a deliberate policy even by those claiming to be patrons of democracy and human rights. Looking for more CBMs to replace hostility with a more solution-oriented approach is another step forward but the dialogue would have to be expanded to ensure the implementation of these CBMs. The pivotal point of any dialogue must remain the basic right of the Kashmiri people to find their own direction and the only way to move forward is to find a consensus. At Katmandu the only consensus has been that no resolution should be adopted, which just shows that the dialogue process has miles to go before it gets anywhere. However, that this long awaited meeting, even if partial, even if almost desperate not to step on any toes, has taken place at all, is definitely a step forward.