Line of Control and grassroots peacebuilding—I

Published at August 11, 2017 01:25 AM 0Comment(s)3012views


Pawan Bali/Shaheen Akhtar

pawan_bali@yahoo.com

India and Pakistan have been enmeshed in a territorial conflict over the Kashmir region since 1947, the year both nations were carved out of British India. They have fought two related wars, first in 1947 and again in 1965, and engaged in an escalated armed conflict in 1999.

The Line of Control (LoC)—a de facto border between the Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir —has been the locus of repeated artillery exchange and friction between both sides despite a ceasefire agreed to in 2003. Both nations have oscillated between dialogues and deadlocks, failing to break the impasse.

In 1997, the two countries began a Composite Dialogue Process (CDP) aimed at building bilateral relations. Both sides identified a cluster of eight issues, including the Kashmir dispute, peace and security, economic and commercial cooperation, and promotion of friendly exchanges. 

In 2005, the composite dialogue and Track II (middle leadership) exchanges led to the start of the first cross-LoC bus service, Karvan-e-Aman (Caravan of Peace) — a historic initiative to launch formal people-to-people contacts between Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir.

Subsequently, in 2008, cross-LoC trade was initiated. Cross-LoC travel and trade restored Track III (grassroots) people-to-people contacts that had been cut in 1947 and provided the local population an opportunity to revive traditional, economic, and socio-cultural ties.

Based on extensive fieldwork, this report assesses the impact, relevance, and effectiveness of Track III peacebuilding and interactions across the LoC over the past decade-plus. It evaluates the psycho-social, economic, political, and security impact of cross-LoC confidence-building measures (CBMs), especially travel and trade, and their relevance and effectiveness in the context of grassroots peacebuilding in Kashmir.

It argues for the need to expand grassroots linkages and localized cross-LoC collaborations to create stronger constituencies of peace. It builds a case that the localized cross-border interests and civil society coordination will sensitize the governments and decision-making bodies to make informed decisions and eventually create an environment conducive to a political solution to the Kashmir conflict.

The report also looks into the limitations and the scope of grassroots and civil society in impacting systemic and political processes, and develops recommendations for future grassroots peacebuilding in the region.

A purposive sample survey of three hundred respondents was conducted on both Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistani administered Kashmir (PaK).  An equal number of respondents were selected from each side in each subgrouping: 150 traders, one hundred cross-LoC bus travelers, and fifty members of civil society.

Semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions were also held with members of the media, civil society, and local stakeholders. The survey reflects the opinions only of those who have been associated with grassroots interactions and CBMs and is not representative of the general population. 

Analysis also incorporated a close review of journal articles, newspaper reports, social media forums, and cross-LoC trade and travel data.

In PaK, the survey was conducted from July to September of 2016. Four focus group discussions with local stakeholders took place from August to October at Muzaffarabad, Rawalakot, Kotli, and Islamabad.

Participants included civil society members such as journalists, lawyers, doctors, traders, local government officials, political workers, teachers, and selected students. From July to October, semi-structured interviews were conducted with political leaders, local government officials, media, and academia from different parts of PaK to find out the efficacy of Track III peacebuilding in the context of Kashmir.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the survey was conducted between April and October of 2016. It was briefly stalled between July and August in response to unrest in Kashmir Valley.  Focus group discussions were also held across the state at Kashmir University, Jammu University, Chakkan-Da-Bagh trade center in Poonch, and Salamabad Trade Center in Kashmir Valley. Personal semi-structured interviews were conducted with peacebuilders, heads of peacebuilding organizations, journalists, NGO heads, lawyers, academics, and prominent members of civil society.

Dialogue in Kashmir

The history of the dialogue process on Kashmir is dominated by Track I (top leadership): UN mediation, the Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks (1962–1963), the Soviet-mediated Tashkent Agreement (1966), the Simla Accord (1972), the Lahore Declaration (1999), and the Agra summit of 2001. Beginning in the 1990s, Kashmir figured in most of the Track II dialogues on India-Pakistan relations, the most significant of which were the India-Pakistan Neemrana Initiative (1991), the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace & Democracy (1994), and the Kashmir Study Group (1996). Kashmir-specific Track II meetings were more frequent after the Composite Dialogue of 2004.

A Novermber 2004 Pugwash event, held in Kathmandu That event, held with the tacit support of both governments, brought together prominent politicians, intellectuals and civil society activists from both sides of the LoC and resolved “to integrate the Kashmiri leadership and society in a framework of semi-official dialogue.”

Relatedly, the Balusa Group, Ottawa dialogue, and Chaophraya dialogue each tried to involve academics and high-level retired military and government officials to discuss a variety of issues, including terrorism, extremists, Kashmir, trade, economic cooperation, nuclear stability, and water disputes.

The New Delhi-based Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation has engaged in intra-Kashmir dialogue at both regional and cross-LoC levels, organizing seventeen cross-LoC conferences between 2005 to 2015.

Since 2008, London-based Conciliation Resources has supported cross-LoC dialogues and collaborative projects between diverse groups including youth, women, the media, traders, and academicians.

Currently, more than twelve highly institutionalized Track II groups are in place, as are more than twenty people-to-people exchange programs between the two countries, supported by both external and internal funding.

Grassroots Peacebuilding

Cross-LoC travel since 2005 and trade from 2008 onward have paved the way for grassroots peacebuilding and greater people-to people contact between India and Pakistan. The contact has given locals an opportunity to interact and engage with each other for the first time since Partition, leading to reducing distrust, changing perceptions, and forming collaborations.

The change, however, is a small step, and is limited to a small proportion of the population on both sides, mainly divided families and a few traders. These measures have also failed to expand and have not been institutionalized.

In the last ten years, the bus service, which started running fortnightly and was made weekly in 2011, has recorded more than 27,907 visits, 8,379 from the Jammu Kashmir and more than 19,528 from the PAK side. This number is miniscule in the context of the entire state population, which is 12.5 million in IAJK per the 2011 census and an estimated 4.4 million in PaK. 

The bus service is underused, limited to divided local families, and the process of obtaining permits to travel remains tedious. Each travel application goes through twenty-one offices, twelve Indian and nine Pakistani, before it is cleared. Three times as many applications have been filed as people have traveled.

Cross-LoC trade through the Uri-Muzaffarabad and the Poonch-Rawalakot crossings was the second CBM initiated—on October 21, 2008—and became another LoC point of contact. It is a zero tariff trade conducted four days a week and based on a barter system, specifically, an equal exchange of goods that involves no monetization. Goods must be exchanged within three months to balance the value.

Both Indian and Pakistani governments have agreed on a list of twenty-one allowable items, of which only five or six are actively traded.  No organized grievance redressal mechanism is in place. Despite these constraints, trade has grown since it started and carries high symbolic and emotive value.

From fiscal year 2008–2009 to fiscal year 2015–2016, the total volume of the trade has been approximately $754 million. Overall exports from Jammu Kashmir were more than $397 million, and from PAK $357 million—only a small percentage of the annual bilateral trade between India and Pakistan, which was recorded at $2.61 billion in 2015–2016.

Most respondents on both sides (56 percent) felt that the grassroots peacebuilding and people-to-people contact has had some impact on the overall Kashmir conflict, however small or limited.

On the Jammu Kashmir side, more than 61 percent cited some change; 39 percent saw the process as symbolic (see table 1). The impacts of people-to-people contacts were described as building bridges, initiating communication, and restoring linkages within the small scope of people involved. The respondents who did not see any change regarded the grassroots involvement as a “show off to the international community,” where neither India and Pakistan was “serious enough to empower people.” They also felt that the process had not involved real stakeholders or reached a stage where it had the potential to make a change.

Responding to an open-ended question about the strengths of the process, 47 percent of Jammu Kashmir respondents said that it had restored trade and social linkages, and 33 percent regarded trust-building between the civilian population and breaking of stereotypes as its major contribution.

A few (5 percent) saw the processes as contributing to improved Indo-Pak ties. Other micro impacts included “making state governments more relevant” and “helping build synergies of peace”.

On the PaK side, 52 percent of respondents thought that cross-LoC interactions had brought some positive changes — “people have better information about each other” and “there is a relative peace on the LoC” — which contributed to an environment of trust. The other 48 percent saw no real change because “trade or softening of LoC [was] symbolic” and “[did] not change the character of the political conflict”.

In describing the strengths of the process, 64 percent from PaK believed that it had reconnected them with their relatives, and 30 percent said that it had in some way contributed to trust building and better understanding each other’s perspective. Only 3.3 percent said that it had in some way helped in improving India-Pakistan relations.

Psychological Shift

Opening the travel and trade routes between Jammu Kashmir and PaK brought down the “iron curtain” that had existed since the borders were drawn in 1947. The Partition and subsequent Indo-Pak war of 1965 left the people in the region with divisions and a deep sense of mutual distrust.

The lack of information exchange and interaction had created stereotypes and respectively poor images of the other side, leading to trust gaps. The bus service and the trade, however, restored the linkages so abruptly cut off. Interaction, which had been limited to Track I and Track II actors, was extended to the grassroots. Dissemination of ideas and forging of social links set small changes into motion.

According to Susobhho Bharve, director of the Center for Dialogue and Reconciliation in New Delhi, “the process . . . healed the wounds of the 1947 and 1965 war and was a psychological uplift because people never believed that this would happen.” Political analyst and Kashmir University professor Gul Wani said that it had contributed to a perception management that “India and Pakistan can come down from certain hawkishness to rationality.”

In the overall survey, more than 43 percent of all respondents said that grassroots efforts had led to a perception shift. Another 33 percent saw no impact. More than 24 percent said that the shift was limited and miniscule.

On the Jammu Kashmir side, 57 percent agreed that perceptions have shifted, 35 percent thought the process ineffective in that regard, and 08 percent considered the shift limited. Some Hindu and Sikh respondents from Jammu and the border district of Poonch believed that interactions with Muslims from the Pakistani side had helped break stereotypes on both sides and that sharing information had contributed to “nullifying propaganda.”

A civil society member in Poonch, Jammu Kashmir, explained: “Now we know that not all people on the Pakistani side support terrorism and they also know, that Muslims on the Indian side can offer prayers freely. These are examples of stereotypes that had reinforced due to lack of information and interaction.”

Some respondents admitted to a “change in the opinion of the other,” “break-down of the existing perceptions,” “trust building,” “no longer feeling revengeful about the Partition and wars,” and being aware of “more infrastructural development” on the Indian side.

One of the respondents Subash Tandon, the first Hindu to travel on the cross-LoC bus, described the change in perception as a “complete turnover” that led to forming friendships of a lifetime. A cross-LoC trader in Uri, Salamabad, described it as becoming “aware that infrastructural development on the Indian side was more than the Pakistani side of Kashmir.”

Those who did not agree to a perception shift attributed it to the “absence of real change in perceptions,” “existing distrust due to continuity in violence,” and “lack of continuity and penetration of the process.”

On the PaK side, 29.3 percent of respondents said that grassroots interactions between travelers, traders, media, and civil society from both sides of Kashmir generated a positive perceptional shift. This was attributed primarily to the availability of more information about the other side through meetings of relatives, traders’ linkages, and information sharing by the media. Support for peace and ceasefire on the LoC has increased.

A working photo journalist from Neelum Valley said, “Previously people wanted firing on the enemy side, now they know each other better and feel that the loss would be borne by the common civilian.”

A trader from Poonch said, “Now we know that someone known to us could get killed on the other side.” Contacts between traders and journalists across the LoC led to increased information sharing and a decline in distorted information, especially during the periods of tension on the LoC. Interactions helped in changing stereotypes.

A female civil society activist from Rawalakot explained: “I met my relatives and made new friends. I always thought that due to conflict, girls on the other side could not go to school, but I came to know that my cousins on the other side are well educated.”

About 30 percent of the respondents, however, saw no change; such interactions were cosmetic, they said, and would not alter their perspective on the Kashmir conflict.

More than 40 percent said that the shift was limited and saw their interactions with relatives, who they met after a long gap, as a source of “great satisfaction.” Respondents also expressed a strong desire for peace and dialogue, but felt that ongoing conflict between the two countries limited the impact of interactions and peacebuilding.

To be concluded

This report was first published by USIP

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