The Jammu Dialogue

Cross-LoC civil society dialogues are fantastic. But do they deliver a meaningful change?

Dateline SRINAGAR

ARJIMAND HUSSAIN TALIB

Intra-LoC and intra-J&K dialogues in recent past were more about flaunting diversity.Interestingly, we seem to have overcome that phase. At the cross-LoC civil society conference in Jammu last week there was a clear string that ran across - seeking to create a convergence in pan-J&K identity.
It is debatable what brought about such a change. But if one goes by the tone of the discussions it is, perhaps, the realisation that ethnicity-based competitive politics is not going to serve anybody’s long term interests. It is, perhaps, also the realisation that whatever the accidents of history, J&K is destined to remain wedded as a single unit.In 2003 when we met civil society actors from across the LoC in Kathmandu for the first time, the tone of discussions was different. It evolved in the subsequent dialogue at Male. The SAFMA-facilitated Pakistani journalists’ visit to Srinagar in 2004 played a role too. The intra-J&K dialogue evolved further in the last three years. One of the themes of this conference was the question of “Multiple stakeholders, multiple dialogues.” A brilliant and valid summary of the discussion was delivered by a former vice chancellor of Islamic University of Science of Technology (IUST), Kashmir. His point that in J&K’s case dissection of diversity for achieving political ends is a fruitless business acted as a point of cohesion. His assertion that diversity didn’t necessarily mean divergence put everything in place.Despite that, some of the participants from the other side of the LoC continued to be overwhelmed by the window display of ethnic diversity on this side. Whether their perceptions changed in the end remains debatable.
In over two decades of dialogues on Jammu & Kashmir, no matter the convergence of thoughts, the question of who represents whom, and brings what agenda to the table in conflict resolution has always been the most contentious one. And that is what this conference confronted too.
The people of J&K now know it too well that the principle of popular
democratic expression in J&K’s context means “majoritarianism” (sic). And that “majoritarianism is bad.” And that “it is not going to work because some people just don’t want that.” So, “all people must embrace consensus.”
Consensus per se is surely not a bad idea. Experiences elsewhere in the world – and also at this conference – show that consensus building in a complex environment like J&K can work wonders. It addresses the real and the imaginary fears of minority groups. If equipped with the right skills of negotiation and dialogue, it could help majority people to address their concerns and needs. But there is a pitfall too: If consensus building is influenced by external factors – putting the real interests of the majority group in jeopardy – sustainability of consensus may stand in question.In peace building and diplomacy,places and environments are well known to have a strong impact in influencing the outcome of a dialogue.The city of Jammu is important politically as well as emotionally for many people. The people of this city driven out of their homes in 1947 – and now living as refugees in PAK and Pakistan – have deep feelings about this city. Those younger people whose parents lost their lives in the 1947 massacre at the hands of Maharaja’s troops get deeply emotional too.Jammu has a unifying character too, especially for those people from across the LoC who speak Pahari, Dogri and Panjabi languages.For the people from Mirpur and its adjoining areas, Jammu evokes strong nostalgia and cultural belonging. Likewise, besides its inhabitants, Jammu is important to many others in the state. For many Kashmiris who have lived or been born here it is like second home. For many Kashmiri Pandits it is the new home. For others who have settled here from the Chenab valley and other areas of the Pirpanjal Range, it is an economic nerve centre.
Having said all this, some important questions remain. In an environment where a level playing democratic space and civil liberties remain to be desired is political reconciliation possible? As reflected by the consensus statement, there has to be state tolerance for political dissent and its peaceful expression on both the sides. In an environment where extra constitutional means remain preferable over democratic ones in dealing with divergent political thoughts, political reconciliation is not easy.J&K needs as environment where judiciary follows the constitutional rules in dealing with human and civil rights. It needs a state-patronised democratic culture which could truly promote dialogue and reconciliation. In an environment of exceptions a lot remains to be desired.People-to-people dialogues are important in erasing misperceptions. They are also critical in addressing mutual concerns and building consensus.The progress made towards that, as reflected in the conference’s consensus statement, is a pleasant testimony to that.

The columnist is presently a consultant in international development,covering Asia-Pacific and Africa regions

Lastupdate on : Sat, 22 Dec 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 22 Dec 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 23 Dec 2012 00:00:00 IST




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