Civil Society Actors Revive Decade-old Kashmir Panel19 April 2011
Srinagar: A group of civil society actors led by senior lawyer and parliamentarian Ram Jethmalani are reviving a decade-old committee on Kashmir that aims to open channels of dialogue with the people of the state to work out solutions to the issue. The group that also has in its ranks senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, academic and editor Madhu Keshwar and journalist M J Akbar, will next month travel to Kashmir to revive their tradition of holding meetings with the people of the state, including members of civil society, media persons, and people with political affiliations including separatists. The five day visit will begin from Srinagar on May 5 and the meetings will be held in both north and south Kashmir till May 9. The committee members, however, are quick to state that their work is in no way confrontational to the government appointed panel of interlocutors. 'A few of us had nearly a decade ago formed a Kashmir Committee to resolve the Kashmir problem that has bedevilled relations between India and Pakistan... We believe we had made significant progress and a solution appeared near at hand. Unfortunately, it was put on the back burner,' said Jethmalani, reading out from a joint statement of the members. He said the appointment of the interlocutors was a welcome move and hoped their recommendations will be of help in making progress. Keshwar said the work of the committee on the ground had resulted in a extraordinary conference on Kashmir in New Delhi early last year where people from all political streams - both mainstream and separatists - had managed to agree on the PDP self-rule framework which laid out a formula for demilitarisation, political restructuring and economic integration of the two parts of Kashmir. 'Unfortunately we couldn't cash on the gains made in that extraordinary meeting, but some of us have been in touch with people on the ground in Kashmir and we want to open alternate channels of communication which can prevent many a misleading information that come out here in Delhi,' she said. Jethmalani is also travelling to Pakistan next month, along with a group of five people, on the invitation of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary. The visit comes after a peace mission from Pakistan comprising 130 eminent lawyers visited India and decided with the Supreme Court Bar Association of India to work towards peace and strengthening of democracy, and openly discuss contentious issues. Keshwar said their role would be supplementary to all other such initiatives in Kashmir, including those of the interlocutors, and they were viewing it as more of an exploratory visit for their future meetings. A number of leaders of separatist inclinations, including Shabir Shah and Abdul Ghani Bhat, too have given their consent to be part of the deliberations of this committee. .