Efficacy of the Discourse of International Conferences on Local Realities

Nyla Ali Khan

In an attempt to create a congenial atmosphere for rational dialog, the globally known non-profit organization Pugwash organized a two day seminar on the Kashmir conflict held in the capital city of Pakistan, Islamabad on 29-30 March, 2008. The purpose of the Pugwash conference was to facilitate the convention of public figures and intellectuals from India, J & K, and Pakistani administered Jammu and Kashmir and political and scholarly figures of international repute in order to define conflict mitigating strategies in South Asia. Governmental and military representatives at the conference discussed stability in the former princely 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 area; impact of the changed Pakistani political scenario on the South Asian region. Such conferences are held on a regular basis but propositions discussed at such forums have failed to make a substantive impact on the fragility of the Kashmir issue. Although representatives from both sides of the LOC make regular and well-groomed appearances at these venues, the prevalent discourse at Pugwash conferences is rather elitist in nature and the woes of the marginalized remain unheard. Participants at the 2008 Pugwash in Pakistan were those with access to the higher echelons of power who prefer to toe the line of totalitarian political and cultural institutions, and to date haven’t outlined a meaningful plan for conflict resolution and rehabilitation of the dispossessed in the fractious political sphere of the former princely state. A Global discourse which is generated at international forums, like the recent Kashmir Summit Meet in Brussels, Belgium, held on April 1, 2008 can do little to formulate constructive strategies for ethnic and religious minorities in the bellicose nation-states of India and Pakistan unless the aftermath of such summits is a bona fide effort 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 counterinsurgency repression. At times it seems that such summits, organized by hegemonic powers, and their privileged participants wouldn’t willingly allow the dilution of their raison d’être, conflict situations.

A feasible solution to this fractious conflict 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 which 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.

But the application of the approach outlined by Gottleib is unrealistic and rather utopian. This solution is predicated on the nullification of national identity, cultural integrity closely intertwined with attachment to territory, and is clearly politically vexed for the people of the former princely state, who would stop being without a body politic built on national pride. A solution of the sort could lead to further balkanization in the South Asian region, depleting national resources.

The Indian Union is on the verge of becoming an insuperable economic power. In order to enhance its economic and political clout in the South Asian region, the Indian Union requires stability. Can it begin the process of establishing itself as a stable political force 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 offered by the government of India is viewed with suspicion by Kashmiris. Can the governments of India and Pakistan make a smooth transition into the globalized world by shelving the politics of duplicity and recognizing the autonomous status of the former princely state? I do not pretend to know the answer to these questions. I do not know if the brand of treacherous politics that pervades not just the Indian subcontinent, but also Western vested interests will undergo a transformation in the years to come. Will the international community recognize the poignancy of the countless sacrifices made by the people of Kashmir in the past eighteen years?

Nyla Ali Khan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, University of Nebraska-Kearney. The article is an excerpt from her forthcoming book titled Islam, Women, and the Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan.

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