There were deliberations over three days, then delegates formed three specific groups following which recommendations were finalized.
Dr Mohsin Shakil, Professor of Urology at Muzaffarabad Medical College was the head of the civil society group from the Pakistan Administered Kashmir which recently attended the 17th Cross LoC Civil Society Conference in Srinagar organized by New-Delhi based think-tank, Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation.
In an interview, Dr Shakil tells Saqib Malik that the people of PaK could help reconciliation between Kashmir Valley and Jammu as “we share a rapport with Jammu in terms of language, ethnicity and Kashmir in terms of the religious and political beliefs.”
What are the key takeaways from the conference?
We did an evaluation of how Kashmir related Confidence Building Measures could be strengthened. We also discussed how natural disasters could be managed on both sides of LoC. There were deliberations over three days, then delegates formed three specific groups following which recommendations were finalized.
Under the Kashmir related CBMs we discussed ceasefire, travel and trade, while also highlighting the Kashmir issue and demilitarization. There was a broad consensus among participants for the organic unity and demilitarization of the state. Cross LoC collaboration and integrated community response for tackling natural disasters was also a focal point.
The group noted that ceasefire agreement of 2003 between India and Pakistan must be formalized. Its implementation will be shoddy till both India and Pakistan formally sign the ceasefire agreement. Forces on both sides should avoid firing mortars and the artillery in the populated areas and ensure demining on the LoC as per international standards.
There should also be provisions to make travelling across the line of control easier. We have recommended that cross-LoC travel be expanded beyond divided families to all the state subjects of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir as initially agreed.
How can cross LoC trade be provided a boost?
The number of traders from Kashmir involved in cross LoC trade is not satisfactory. This trade won’t last long as many consider it as an alternative route for “Wagha-Attari traders”, where Kashmiris only benefit by providing labour and other services. On the other hand primitive barter system is a real hindrance in the expansion of this trade. At the moment barter should be converted to transactions in currency. The Asian Currency Unit (ACU) is already available between India and Pakistan, which can be implemented for LoC trade as well.
How can cross-border tourism be provided an impetus?
I visited the Shrine of Sheikh Ahmed Wali at Tarbal to follow the pilgrimage of great Sufi saint and the poet Mian Muhammad Bakhsh of Mirpur. I also met many Pandits, who desire to visit the Shrine of Sharda in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. We have been clamouring for Cross-LoC and religious tourism. Both the governments have already agreed it but somehow nothing has moved.
One of our key recommendations has been regarding cross LoC collaboration with respect to natural calamities or disasters. Crossing points on the LoC should be opened in times of disaster for improving relief and rescue. Youth groups should be developed and trained so that they can be more informed and coordinated as first community responders. A shared directory of trained disaster managers and professionals on both sides of the LoC should be developed as they would have the invaluable knowledge.
Do you fully support unification of PaK and J&K?
People of the erstwhile state have already expressed different aspirations for the solution of Kashmir issue. Many desire to accede to India or Pakistan and many more aspire for Independence. Different surveys and studies have estimated percentage of people associated with different ideologies. But all these studies have shown that almost all the people rejected any form of division of the state as most of the problems faced by the people today are due to division of the state and its solution lies in the strategies about easing the impact of division or leading to reunification.
Conference also recommended de-militarization and de-weaponization on both side of the LoC. This creates the need for developing special security apparatus of the state to meet the security challenges.
The media in India has been painting a grim picture of PaK. Recently a report by a leading television channel showed police using excessive force against protesters.
Many in Azad Jammu and Kashmir are not happy with government and there have been demonstrations on different issues related to development, governance and violations of rights like any other democracy. The footage telecast by media showing demonstrations in AJK was quite exaggerated. The footage was doctored with shots of the protests held few months ago on issue of electricity load shedding.
How important is the role of PaK in bringing peace to J&K?
We are anxious about increasing mistrust between Jammu and Valley. AJK can help reconciliation as we share a rapport with Jammu in terms of language, ethnicity and Kashmir in terms of the religious and political beliefs.
The model suggested by Late Bulraj Puri, which focuses on power decentralization and empowerment of local governments can be implemented on both sides of LoC and resolve the conflicts among different ethnic and cultural identities of the state on both side of LoC.
One of the highlights of my visit was to get involved in activities related to Pahari language. Most of the families divided in both the Kashmirs are Gojri and Pahari speaking people. Steps must be taken to connect these families. Cultural exchanges across the LoC are presently limited to the social media. We must leverage that in the physical sense.
Do you see hope from PM Modi led government?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a decision maker and is more pro-active than Manmohan Singh. After Vajpayee, Modi is the one who can be talked to but he seems to be busy strengthening his political ground. As far as radicalization in India is concerned, this will not sustain for a long time since most Indians have a strong belief in secularism.
Governments in India and Pakistan should stop making political gains out of the Kashmir issue. It is high time that ‘Pak bashing’ and vice versa comes to an end and we should work towards a solution. The reconciliation between so called radical Hindus and Muslims of subcontinent is needed to move forward. The resolution of Kashmir issue should be institutionalized and separated from other Indo-Pak issues.
I consider Kashmir related initiatives (ceasefire, travel and trade) just a relief package for the people of the erstwhile state but a real CBM for India and Pakistan is to give them confidence to introduce new CBMs and take bold steps to resolve the Kashmir issue.
(First published in December issue of GK magazine Kashmir Ink)