The issue of ‘Conflict Resolution’ is indeed a pertinent topic especially in this volatile world of ours. I would like to share the prospects of peace for one of the longest continuing conflicts on our planet – Kashmir.
I am confident that all of us are aware that there are multiple ways by which we can resolve conflicts. The most pragmatic being through dialogue and negotiations, whether that be through the auspices of Track I [official dialogue with state representatives] or Track II Negotiations, which are considered to be un-official, but have become an effective medium to finding solutions to many conflicts, both violent ones and others.
Obviously, the most prevalent perception about ‘Conflict Resolution’ is that it is dependent upon the political process of negotiation, mediation, and other forms of non-violent dispute resolution. However, while this is a correct assumption, it is important for all of us, who are considering venturing into the domain of ‘Conflict Resolution’ as practitioners, to take note that firstly, the greatest hurdle is to get all parties involved in a conflict to come to the negotiating table.
Secondly, the terms of reference should be formulated in such a manner so that they are seen to be fair and amicable to all stakeholders. These are daunting tasks, bearing in mind that stakeholders are often entrenched in their various positions and are inclined to stick to their demands before finally opting to come to the negotiating table.
Signs of progress in any ‘Conflict Resolution’ can be measured only if all parties involved in a conflict choose to come to the negotiating table. Even if the parties do not achieve a final solution to their problems, the parties concerned would have at least been able to establish contact with each other, with the aim of discussing the various contending issues, which may well end up by them agreeing to disagree.
The crucial task in getting the parties to the negotiating table is through the initiation of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), prior to embarking upon the negotiating process. This would allow all parties to attain a sense of trust and gain confidence that their negotiating partner would at most act in good faith if a resolution to their dispute were to finally be endorsed through the negotiation process.
We have seen CBM’s succeeded in forging an element of trust between New Delhi and Islamabad. The international community commended both these countries on their flexibility throughout the CBM initiative and hailed that initiative as a stepping-stone towards lasting peace between the two countries. However, some Kashmir centric CBM’s need to be initiated to create an atmosphere for dialogue, i.e., demilitarizing Kashmir, repealing of black laws, releasing of political prisoners, and allowing the right of freedom of expression & assembly to the people.
India and Pakistan can make peace with each other. I have no objection to that materializing, and nor would anyone else, as all of us would like to see peace in that region. However, what needs to be highlighted is that a major stumbling block in resolving the Kashmir conflict is the failure of the two disputing states to recognize Kashmiri Leadership as a legitimate partner in the peace process. One cannot loose sight of the fact that the Kashmiris are the ones who are most affected in the ongoing conflict. They are the ones who are shouldering most of the casualties. It is thus pertinent to ask: “Why isn’t the Kashmiri Leadership regarded as an equal partner in the negotiating process, bearing in mind that the conflict is of paramount importance to determining the future of their land and people?” Thus their basic human rights too need to be taken into consideration and not just the establishment of peace between India and Pakistan.
The Kashmir Issue needs to be resolved once and for all to the satisfaction of all three parties - the Governments of India & Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. All sides involved in this most unfortunate and tragic dispute must come to terms with the reality that the time for peace is now. The reality is that flexibility must be exercised by all parties in order to act in good faith, and that the playing field must be leveled at the negotiating table. Because it is almost impossible to find a solution of the Kashmir dispute that respects all the sensitivities of Pakistan, values all the sentiments of India and keeps in tact the whole State of Jammu & Kashmir. Yet an imaginative solution demand flexibility from all parties concerned.
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai is the Executive Director, Kashmiri American Council.