Despite a ruckus between unruly hardliners, a recent conference on the conflict in Kashmir represented a general sense of cooperation and a willingness to seek consensus.
Kashmir: Ways to Help Resolve One of the World's Most Dangerous Conflicts, a one-day conference, sponsored by the UCLA Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations on April 14 at the UCLA Faculty Center, drew over 300 participants, and brought together Kashmiris, both Muslim and Hindu (Pandits), Indians and Pakistanis to identify constructive proposals for defusing the extremely dangerous situation in the region. Stanley Wolpert, professor of history at UCLA and renowned expert on South Asian affairs who moderated the conference, provided a history of the conflict and underscored the need for dialogue.
"For more than half a century, [the conflict] has claimed the lives of 100,000 Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis and wounded many more in no fewer than three wars and prolonged periods of shelling across the so-called Line of Control, over the world's highest battlefield of glacial ice and snow," said Wolpert.
BCIR director Michael Intriligator said that in addition to the presentation of scholarly papers, the town hall atmosphere of the conference encouraged a free exchange of views among participants. By the afternoon, he said, "there were many genuine expressions of support for the people of Kashmir, as well as mutual support between Muslims and Hindus, who came away with a very positive view of one another." Most of those who attended, said Rafique Khan, a member of the local Kashmiri-American community, were ordinary citizens "who want only to help bring peace and freedom to their land of birth."
"By arranging this conference and guiding us through the difficult day," said Khan of Intriligator and Wolpert, "[they] may have laid a foundation on which the Kashmir-American community can help build the framework for bringing freedom and democracy in Kashmir."
Particularly promising was a document produced by a group of local Kashmiris that proposed concrete solutions to key issues in the 55-year old conflict.
Kashmir, which lies along the northern borders India and Pakistan, is an area of approximately 85,000 square miles and is home to over 12.4 million people. It is often called the Switzerland of the East (because of its location between the Himalayas and Pir Panjal mountains), but political neutrality has evaded the region since 1947 when both India and Pakistan declared independence from Great Britain.
The area is divided into an Indian portion, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J & K, which Pakistan calls "Indian occupied Kashmir"), a Pakistani portion, Azad Kashmir (which India calls "Pakistan occupied Kashmir"), and a small northern portion ceded in 1963 by Pakistan to China. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir, as well as repeated incidents and clashes, and both nations have close to a million troops at the border.
Further complicating matters are the nuclear weapons held by both India and Pakistan, as demonstrated by the tests each conducted in May 1998. While Kashmir does not receive the attention and press coverage of other political hotspots such as the Middle East, it is considered by many experts to be one of the most potentially explosive regions in the world today.
"An erroneous radar reading by one inexperienced officer at either country's command and control center could unleash nuclear-armed missiles capable within the first hour of decimating South Asia's l.2 billion people," Wolpert said.
At the end of the meeting a group of local Kashmiris presented a document that identified critical issues in the Kashmir dispute. The document's seven-point agenda called for free elections to choose representatives of all the people of Kashmir who will negotiate a settlement to the conflict with India and Pakistan, for opening borders for trade, and for the withdrawal of military and paramilitary forces from both sides. Most importantly, it called for third-party mediation, with the United States playing a key role.
Another proposal presented at the conference suggested former President Jimmy Carter as mediator in the dispute, as he has successfully done in other regions.
Speakers at the conference included scholars, diplomats, and community members from Kashmir, India, and Pakistan. Among the other distinguished speakers were Ranna Rahim, the Pakistani counsel general in Los Angeles; Lord Nazir Ahmed of the British House of Lords; and Feroze Hassan Khan, director of Pakistani Arms Control and Disarmament Affairs and fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington D.C. Messages were read from former Prime Minister of India I.K. Gujral, and from Jamsheed Marker, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations and the Secretary General's personal representative to East Timor, as well as from Lalit Mansingh, Indian ambassador to the United States, and from Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Maleeha Lodhi.
A report on the full list of speakers and the proceedings of the conference, and Professor Stanley Wolpert's welcoming address which provides historical perspective, are available here on the BCIR website (click on "Conferences.")
See CNN's Special Report on Kashmir for more background, news, photos and resources.
Published: Friday, April 26, 2002
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