Kashmir issue taking centre-stage at WSF
25 March 2006
Karachi: The World Social Forum being hosted at the Karachi Sports Complex and scheduled to run till March 29 has a mela-like atmosphere to it. As far as the conferences are concerned, a four-day long series seems to be taking centre-stage, with All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mir Waiz Omar Farooq and JKLF chief Yasin Malik scheduled to speak on Sunday morning. The speeches to be made by both leaders, and by some peace activists on Saturday, will assume importance given the offer to Pakistan of a ‘friendship treaty’ by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday. On Saturday, several conferences and plenary sessions were held. In the morning, the second session of ‘Intractable Disputes South Asia in Conflict’ was held with Indian journalist and peace activist Balraj Puri speaking on ‘Kashmiriyat 5,000 years of syncretic history’, activist-writer- film-maker Sonia Jabbar speaking on ‘Delhi to Srinagar via Washington DC Kashmir and the Politics of the Cold War’. Mr Puri is a recipient of India’s highest civil award, the Padma Bhushan, and is a widely respected rights campaigner as well. He has also written a history of Kashmir that dates back 5,000 years and tries to make sense of the area’s background and legacy. His talk focused on the need for regional autonomy for Kashmir, something that he has frequently written on and spoken about. In fact, when the National Conference was ruling over Indian-administered Kashmir, Mr Puri was made working chairman of the ‘Regional Autonomy Committee’ (he was removed from the post after some time). Mr Puri, who hails from Jammu, said that it was important that both Pakistan and India give paramount consideration to the wishes of the people of Kashmir since the dispute and the resulting conflict directly affected them. He said that people had a misconception that Jammu was majority Hindu and that Ladakh was majority Buddhist when the reality was otherwise - in an interview that he gave in Sept 2005 to the Hindustan Times, he had said that 35 per cent of Jammu’s population was Muslim and a substantial minority was Sikh while half of Ladakh was Muslim. He also said that Kashmir has a rich and vibrant culture, one which had an ancient legacy but which was unfortunately not given its due status in India. Sonia Jabbar, the other speaker, made a critically-acclaimed documentary in 2003 called ‘Autumn’s final country’ (66 mins) which she made after being asked to arrange displaced Kashmiri women to come and testify at the South Asia Court of Women. Besides this, a plenary session on ‘Politics of interest and wars US-led militarism, military complexes and nexus between war, arms and weapons sale, nuclear weapons and politics of oil-natural resources’ was held as well. It was organized by the Pakistan Peace Coalition. Another plenary on ‘Women, patriarchy and social changes War against women, women against war’ was also held. Smaller conferences were held in the separate enclosures. Hundreds of foreign delegates can be seen at the WSF. One of the conferences focused on child rights and their education situation. Several participants in this particular conference were foreigners and that provided for some good interaction. For instance, a westerner working with an NGO in Kabul focusing on getting children back to school was sharing his experiences and his remarks were followed by an activist and aid worker from Balochistan.