A meeting convened jointly by the Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation on the Kashmir issue was put together by NCF intern Maariyah Rashid. The Chair was Reverend Larry Wright of Kings Norton Birmingham, Convenor, The Religious Affairs Advisory Council and the speakers were: Dr Kurshid Ahmad, The Association of British Muslims; Dr William Morris, Secretary General, The Next Century Foundation; Mr Michael Macy of the Next Century Foundation, formerly US State Department. The Next Century Foundation is in Consultative Status with the United Nations and their current submission to the UN Human Rights Council, was to raise awareness on Kashmir.
The meeting discussed the lack of international engagement on the Kashmir issue, the question as to whether a three way referendum on the status of Kashmir was credible, the possibility of the demarcation of the line of control as the international border, and the acute need to encourage Kashmiris to stand in local elections in Indian controlled Kashmir, because the current boycott was (in the view of two of the speakers) severely counterproductive in so much as it was dissempowering the local community.
The following notes on feedback from the floor are from William Morris LLD and are his personal record and possibly may not be endorsed by all present, let alone by the ABM or NCF as a whole:
- Concern was expressed about the loss of contact with families. The comment made was that, “The onus is on India to be peaceful”. It was and is the view of the Next Century Foundation that the use of violence in response to violence has been counterproductive throughout the modern history of Kashmir and has exacerbated the misery endured by the people of the valley.
- The suggestion was made that, “The elections are corrupt”. This, felt the NCF, may be true but policy of non participation adopted by the politicians of the valley (many of the seats were not contested and a very substantial number had no candidate at all) has severely failed the people of Kashmir.
- The question was raised as to why Kashmiris were not listened to. The response from Michael Macy being that the international community was not interested and the response from William Morris being that the expatriate Kashmiri community were ineffective in their approach, often failing to engage effectively with the key forums available to them such as the British Conservative Party and the United Nations in Geneva.
- The Good Friday Agreement was put forward as a model for reconciliation. The NCF acknowledged the fact that there was something to be learnt from the Good Friday Agreement, though the circumstances were different. None the less if the objective were independence for Kashmir, that was and is unattainable at this time in history given the stubborn resolve of the Governments of Pakistan and India to oppose any such outcome.
- The comment was made that there was no clear demarcation for the line of control. Most attending were very strongly opposed to the demarcation of the line of control as the international boundary as such a move would severely hamper the aspiration for independence. The NCF felt that the aspiration for independence was impractical despite being the avowed objective of most of those present. However in view of the opposition to the demarcation of the line of control as the border, the NCF will try and help look at alternative ways forward.
- A call was made for a “space for dialogue”. The Association of British Muslims and the Next Century Foundation both said that was at least one aspiration that they could help fulfill.
- One speaker from the floor said that in view of the opposition to making the line of control the border, and the perennially unfulfilled nature of the aspiration for independence, there was a need to think outside the box. He said that in view of the framing of this problem in religious terms, nationalism does not work. He said, “I say no to nationalism”. He said a fresh look at the situation was needed to provide a solution that was both viable and acceptable.
- Another speaker suggested passionately, to the disquiet of many present, that a bloody struggle was inevitable. On the other hand a speaker from India stated that the situation was not as bad as many present perceived it to be, that life in Azad Kashmir was far from perfect, that there were other groups such as the Kashmiri Pandits, who were also having a hard time, that the people of the valley were desperately concerned about the absence of tourism, and that he was concerned that violence might come home from Kashmir to the streets of Birmingham. The NCF for its part acknowledges that there is anger at the lack of a UK response to the Kashmir issue but does not feel that is likely to result in greater extremism in Britain – thank heavens.
- One speaker asked how best to mobilise the world to take a greater interest in Kashmir. Both the ABM and NCF said that a series of working group meetings to develop an acceptable objective for the status of Kashmir and a strategy to attain that objective might be a solid initial step that could be undertaken.