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Lot of talk, but no solutions at Kashmir meet

Suman Guha Mozumder in Washington DC | July 25, 2003 15:13 IST

A two-day International Kashmir Peace Conference seeking to find common ground for peace in the troubled region got underway in Washington on Thursday with academics and politicians, almost exclusively from Pakistan, calling upon India and Pakistan to continue efforts to normalise relations.

Although none among the two dozen speakers had a blueprint on what those efforts should be at the end of the first day, what emerged from the comments of both speakers and the audience, was a sense of frustration with the way things have gone from bad to worse in Kashmir and some amount of optimism about the future.

Many felt the time is ripe for India and Pakistan to work together for a peaceful and just solution to the Kashmir problem.

There were differences of opinion as to why Kashmir continues to be plagued by violence -- speakers from Pakistan and India blamed each other.

Some felt both India and Pakistan have to bear responsibility for the situation in Kashmir.

"Neither Pakistan nor India has a magic wand to solve the problem and to stop violence. The only option is to engage in dialogue," said Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, former prime minister of Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

"India and Pakistan have to live together and the leadership of the two countries should ensure this," remarked Inam-ul Haq, former foreign minister of Pakistan.

The meeting, which was attended by about 200 people, many of them supporters of the main organiser, the Kashmiri American Council, lost much of its sheen as none of the three All-Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders, who were to address the conference, showed up, apparently because of travel restrictions.

Still, the conference had a semblance of respectability with academics like Professor Stanley Wolpert of the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of books on Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah; Subramanian Swamy, former Union minister and visiting professor to Harvard; and Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C Rajagopalachari, in attendance.

There were two lawmakers, Senator Tom Harkin (Democrat, Iowa) and Congressman Joseph Pitts (Democrat, Pennsylvania), who made inaugural remarks.

"The objective of this conference is to create an atmosphere for a dialogue," said KAC President Ghulam Nabi Fai.

"This means ensuring a peace process in South Asia and a free exchange of views and opinions, devoid of the blame game and accusations," Fai said in his introductory remarks.

Such optimism notwithstanding, some speakers found it difficult to go beyond the blame game, especially against India and its alleged failures.

Indian officials kept away, suspecting the KAC of having a hidden agenda.

"I don't know why they refrained from coming. The Indian government should have been represented here. After all, if you are willing to exchange views, that has to be at all levels, not just at a summit," Gandhi told rediff.com

The conference will hold an informal roundtable on Friday and come up with recommendations for the two countries to help normalise relations.

An indication of what those recommendations could be came on Thursday when many speakers stressed on the need to include Kashmiris in any Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir.

"How diverse people's representatives should be identified and then associated with the process toward a possible settlement (of the issue) are crucial and difficult questions; but every human and democratic principle demands this association," Gandhi said.

Wolpert said the most important prerequisite for normalisation of relations was the demilitarization of Kashmir.

"Once India and Pakistan remove their troops, the peace process would begin in right earnest," he said. "If we can advance this peace process in Kashmir by one step, I would consider this conference a success."


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