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Raising awareness on Kashmir conflict and exploring opportunities for peace building

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in collaboration with the Islamic Relief Pakistan (IRP), organized a two day training workshop entitled “Raising Awareness on Kashmir Conflict and Exploring Opportunities for Peace Building,” on 29-30 March 2011. The participants and panelists noted that being a flashpoint between two nuclear rivals of South Asian region finding a political solution, through out of box and non-traditional approaches, to the dispute was imperative for sustainable peace in the region. Kashmir conflict has to be seen in the context of changing global dimension by taking into account its various dimensions at strategic, tactical and operational levels. Kashmir conflict is no more a conflict between India and Pakistan, China has also emerged as an important actor.

The recent shift in Kashmir movement from an armed struggle to a political struggle gives a whole new dimension to the dispute in which civil society has a greater role to play. Instead of adopting a top-down approach of directly moving towards conflict resolution a bottom-up approach by creating political awareness among masses, should be adopted to pave way and prepare condition and environment conducive for amicable resolution of the dispute. The diversified panel of workshop consisted of politicians, members of civil society, academicians, journalists, economists and security experts. Moreover a significant score of locals from Azad Jammu and Kashmir along with the civil community from Neelam Valley also attended the two-day workshop.
The first day symposium comprised of three discussion sessions. The first session started with discussions on ‘Understanding the Kashmir Conflict.’ Highlighting the transformation and shifts in regional and global situation, speakers maintained that ongoing conflict in Kashmir is now attracting attention of international media to a greater extent. The participants underscored the fact that the civil societies of both Pakistan and India fully endorsed the non-violent indigenous struggle of Kashmiri people. It was noted that without compromising on their self interests the two countries will not be able to find a resolution to the dispute. It was stressed that owing to the paradigm shift instead of understanding the Kashmir Conflict in traditional parameters that carries an emotional rhetoric; economic and political aspects of the conflict must also be taken into account to build up a rational thinking. Only then an effective conflict transformation can be ensured for an amicable solution. The session was chaired by Mr. Ershad Mehmood, expert on Kashmir affairs and discussants remained Ms. Arshi Saleem Hashmi, Research Analyst at Institute of Regional Studies and Mr. Asif Noor, Chief Executive of monthly Diplomatic Insight.

Second day deliberations focused upon ‘Dynamics of Conflict in Political and Regional Dimensions.’ The participants argued that the Kashmir Conflict is very diverse having political trajectory from internal to regional and international levels. Thus its resolution requires a rational understanding of ‘conflict’ as a phenomenon. A ‘Conflict Theory’ was proposed by Mr. Manzar Zaidi, Director National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that highlighted importance of identifying the actors of the conflict and their shifting roles in changing context of ongoing issues. Within the paradigm of conflict theory he argued that complexity of the intractable conflict and availability of the sources of hostility indulge the actors in a prolonged ‘conflict entrepreneurship’ thus making a conflict more persistent and destructive. Mr. Arif Bahar, journalist and a writer lead the session while Mr. Safdar Sial, senior Research Analyst at Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) was the discussants along with Mr. Manzar Zaidi.

A need was stressed to look at the conflict from a tactical to strategic level as it includes prospects from past, present and future as well. Moreover it was also noted that due to political deficiency in Kashmir the whole conflict was mishandled by the political parties and the federating units. Political empowerment is the biggest issue in Kashmir’s political framework with negligible participation of the local people. The participant opined that changes and transformation global economy has resulted in bringing about a change in prevailing status quo of the dispute. Now the Kashmir conflict is no more a conflict between India and Pakistan rather China has also emerged as an important actor, though with less effective role towards the resolution of the issue. However its importance cannot be neglected.

Speakers from left to right are Mr. Manzar Zaidi, Muhammad Asif Noor, Arshi Saleem Hashmi, Irshad Mehmood, Farhat Asif, Arif Bahar, Abrar Haider, Muhammad Mujtaba Rathore and Dr. Usman Mustafa

In the third session—with Dr. Usman Mustafa head of Economics of Conflict, Development and Security Centre at Pakistan Institute of Development of Economics (PIDE) in chair and Mr. Ershad Mehmood and Mr. Abrar Haider, of Dawn News as discussants—focused on ‘Dynamics of Conflict in Socio-Cultural and Economic Context.’ The participants stressed that economics is another important factor behind conflict. Resultantly it generates a vicious circle with increase poverty, unemployment, environment loss, brain drain and degradation of credit rating. The regional disturbances hamper trade and progress. It was argued that due to economic self interests the stakeholders of the disputes i.e. India and Pakistan are dragging the conflict by maintain a status quo. It was further emphasized that Kashmir’s economy has declined pertaining to a number of factors like occupation of forests by the Indian forces, stopping the herb trade and Indian controlled development projects over the waters of Kashmir benefitting India alone. Drawing attention towards to immense economic potential present in Kashmir the speakers maintained that due to lack of support at political level such avenues still remain unexplored and underutilized. Mentioning tourism as a big business impel amongst the other potential investment opportunities participants highlighted the need for engaging the civil society to the greatest level. It was also maintained that if trade revives between India and Pakistan -hampered in aftermath of Mumbai Attacks – through a gradual process trade opportunities can be materialized for Kashmir as well.

After an extensive discussion and training session on the Dynamics of the Conflict the second day session focused primarily on, “The State and Society Responses and Opportunities for Peace Building.” The participants and experts asserted that the confidence building measures that were taken in the realm of the Pak-India peace process were never materialized. Mentioning a few initiatives the speaker maintained that the bus service, trade and exchange programs remain unfruitful. The misgivings and mutual mistrust along with tight security apparatus dose not even let the civil society to work for the right cause. The Session was lead by Mr. Manzar Zaidi while Mr. Mujtaba Rathore, Research Analyst at Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) and Ms. Farhat Akram, Editor of monthly Diplomatic Insight discussed the topic.

The participants proposed a few workable solutions which can be helpful in the resolution of Kashmir Conflict that included an idea of soft border, initiation of exchange programs, collaboration at civil society and government levels to make local people self reliant. At political end the solutions thus proposed highlighted the inclusion of Kashmiri people as the main actor in resolution of the issue according to wishes and aspiration of the people. An urge was felt that through effective use of media, journalist and academicians voice of Kashmir must be propagated to the international level.