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Efficacy of the Discourse of International Conferences on Local Realities in Jammu and Kashmir

by Nyla Ali Khan, 25 August 2018

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In an attempt to create a congenial atmosphere for rational dialogue, the globally known non-profit organization Pugwash organized a two-day seminar on the Kashmir conflict, in the capital city of Pakistan, Islamabad, on 29–30 March 2008. The purpose of the Pugwash conference was to facilitate a convention of public figures and intellectuals from India, J & K, AJK, and political and scholarly persons of international repute, in order to define conflict-mitigating strategies in South Asia. The governmental and military representatives at the conference discussed stability in the state of J & K; initiatives to promote peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan; volatility of the situation in Afghanistan and measures to counter the instability in that region; and the impact of the changed Pakistani political scenario on the South Asian region

Such conferences were held on a regular basis but the propositions discussed have failed to make a substantive impact on the fragile Kashmir issue. Although representatives from both sides of the LOC make regular appearances at these venues, the prevalent discourse is rather elitist in nature and the woes of the marginalized remain unheard. Participants at the 2008 Pugwash conference in Pakistan were those with access to the higher echelons of power, and who till date have not outlined a meaningful plan for conflict resolution and rehabilitation of the dispossessed in the fractious political sphere of J & K. A global discourse that is generated at international forums, like the Kashmir Summit Meet in Brussels, Belgium, held on 1 April 2008, can do little to formulate constructive programs for the ethnic and religious minorities in the nation-states of India and Pakistan unless the bonafide effort is to demilitarize the region and rehabilitate the disenfranchised – those who have been languishing in Indian and Pakistani jails without a cause, militancy-affected people, and victims of counter-insurgency repression. Such summits and their organizers would need to willingly allow the dilution of their raison d’être, namely, conflict situations.

A feasible solution to the conflict in Kashmir must fulfill the conditions delineated decades ago by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. It should not be designed to assuage the insecurities of either India or Pakistan. But it must, unconditionally, allay the fears of ethnic and religious minorities in both countries, and it must be in accordance with the wishes of the people of the state. International legal scholar Gidon Gottleib, in his discussion of the changing world order, underlines the need to deconstruct old notions of sovereignty and, instead, construct a transnational community that would endow stateless peoples with citizenship, territorial and security guarantees:

“Nations and peoples that have no state of their own can be recognized as such and endowed with an international legal status. Those that are politically organized could be given the right to be a party to different types of treaties and to take part in the work of international organizations.” (Gottlieb 1993, quoted in Wirsing 1994: 233)

But the solution outlined by Gottleib is unrealistic and rather utopian. It is predicated on the nullification of national identity, cultural integrity intertwined with attachment to territory, and is clearly a politically vexed issue for the people of the former princely state, who, as I have underlined in the introduction, would stop being altogether in the absence of a body politic built on national pride. A solution of this sort could lead to further balkanization in the South Asian region, depleting national resources.

In order to enhance their economic and political clout in the South Asian region, India and Pakistan require stability. Can both countries begin the process of establishing themselves as stable political forces by initiating a serious political process in Kashmir in which the people of the state have a substantive say? A political package short of autonomy for the entire state would be viewed with suspicion by Kashmiris. Can the governments of India and Pakistan make a smooth transition into the globalized world by recognizing the autonomous status of the former princely state? I do not pretend to know the answer to these questions.

The intractability of the Kashmir conflict has made advocates of conflict resolution rather wary of applying a seemingly workable but facile solution to the complex political conflict. Mainstream media in both India and Pakistan; intellectuals housed in academic institutions; formulators of public policy; members of think tanks are quick to point out that regardless of the bloody and seemingly infinite nature of a political, ethnic, or racial conflict a viable solution can always be found to dilute the fierceness of a conflictual situation.

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan