Symposium and Exhibition on Kashmir

At Leuven University on 29th of October 2012

Leuvan (30 October 2012): 
The Pakistan Students Forum, Politika International and International Council for Human Development (ICHD) organised a symposium and exhibition on Kashmir conflict on 29th of December 2012 at one of the university auditoriums. A large number of students from different departments and nationalities attended the event, which was addressed by Marjan Lucas (expert on Kashmir affairs), Sadia Mir (policy analyst and ecologist), Gie Goris (scholar on South Asia and editor weekly MO), Caron Dannielle (member of Belgian parliament) and Ali Raza Syed (chairperson ICHD). The symposium was moderated by Ali Shirazi, a phd student and former Pakistani president of the students union of Leuven University. 

Ali Shirazi said that the objective of the symposium was to build awareness about one of the most sensitive regions of the world. He said that it was an unbiased debate, which did not have any objective of siding with one party to the conflict. He introduced the panellists and invited them to speak. 

Marjan Lucas started her deliberations by denouncing the fact that Kashmir was an unfinished agenda of the decolonisation of India. She said that improper and incomplete decolonisation was at the root of the outstanding conflict. Giving a brief history of the conflict, she said that it was started with the partition in 1947 and international debate and resolutions of UN promised the Kashmiris that there would be a referendum to seek the will of the Kashmiri people. She said that after more than six decades the Kashmiris were still excluded from the decision making processes. 

Talking about Kashmiris struggle for the independence, she said that the indigenous movement of 90 taught Kashmiris the vital lesson that the violence is not the solution to any conflict. She said that Indian state should also learn this lesson as it has deployed 700, 000 strong forces for a population of 5 million. She lamented the fact that the human rights violations including rape, murders and disappearances were daily routine in the Kashmir. 

The civil society is paralysed under the draconian laws imposed by the state. She pointed out the fact that the indigenous struggle of Kashmiris was high jacked by the militant organisations like Lashkar e Tayyab supported by Pakistani secret agencies. These militants introduced other kind of violence in the region and the civil society was crushed between the violence of army and violence of militants. 

She welcomed the peaceful activities and awareness building measures taken by the organisations like ICHD. She especially pointed out the One Million Signature Campaign as a timely and right campaign. She said that the human rights activists and peace lovers should keep the Kashmir issue on the agenda of the international community, which, according to her, was a vital strength to gain justice for the Kashmiris. Answering a question, she said that the presence of 30,000 US army, in Afghanistan, was seen as a problem but 700,000 strong Indian force in a small piece of land of 5 million people was taken for granted. Talking about the economy of Kashmir, she said that the foreigner or Indian tourists were allowed to go to Kashmir but the Kashmiri diaspora was not able to visit their homeland. 

Sadia Mir recounted her experience of working for the UN policy mechanisms. She particularly pointed out the issue of environmental degradation, which was neglected by the international community. She said that the environmental degradation of Kashmir did not come on the agenda of even the environmentalist lobbies despite the fact that it was vital to the entire region of South Asia. She pointed out the pollution of the rivers and Dal lake of Kashmir. She said that the Dal Lake was shrinking at the rate, which was unparalleled in the world. She said that the deforestation was going on unabatedly at a horrible rate.

She told the audience that the Peer Panjal mountain range had only 18% of its forests. She said that the occurrence of flash floods was one outcome of the rapid deforestation of Kashmir. Answering a question, she said that tourism is vital to the Kashmiri economy but it did not give the viable and sustainable economic structure to the Kashmiris. She suggested that the Kashmiris resources and the original skills of their people should be explored and developed as the bases of the national economy of Kashmir. She said that revival of the tourism or Bollywood movies did not prove that the Kashmiris had abandoned their right to self-determination. 

Gie Goris said that the simplifications were the political tool to confuse the outstanding issues and conflicts. She said that the Kashmir was generally taken as only the valley of Kashmir while it was in fact the Jammu and Kashmir; the princely state at the time of partition. He referred to his talk with the grandson of the Maharaja of Kashmir, Karan Singh who told him that the Kashmir was already untenable at the time of partition since one part related to Budhism, one with Hinduism and one with Islam. 

He said that AJK was more related to Punjab than to mainstream Kashmir. He said that violence was not a viable solution to the Kashmir conflict. He said referendum was the only solution but UN resolutions did not include the third option of the independence for Kashmiris. He said in case of the referendum, Laddakh and Jammu shall vote for India, Gilgit and AJK for Pakistan and Valley might go for the independence. He emphasised upon the fact that the political way out was the only solution and that the violence, from any side, was a tool to complicate the issue. He said that the militants were patronised and trained by the ISI, which derailed the indigenous movement of the Kashmiris. He said Kashmiris rejected the violence but they caught up in the two kinds of violence by militants and army. He supported the demand that the Indian army should go back to the barracks. He said that the question of nationalism was also complicated issue in Kashmir since Kashmiris should acknowledge the fact that there were many identities in the Kashmir. Answering a question, he said that the decrease in the Pakistan supported militancy was, at one hand, failure of the Pakistani establishment and, at the other, it was success of the Indian state, which resorted to violence but never gave in. 

Caron Danielle said that the Kashmir had a special place in her heart as she had visited the beautiful region many times. She said that Kashmiris were friendly and loving people but there were security issues that crippled their collective lives. She said that Kashmiris had suffered so much and now it was time to give them the solution. She said the just solution to Kashmir was important for the entire region of South Asia as 4 out of 5 main rivers originated from Kashmir. 

Ali Raza Syed said the event, in its essence, was a peace initiative directed towards seeking the resolution of a conflict that has lethal potential to develop into a threat to the existence of entire South Asia. This way, he said that they were gathered here as an effort to safe the collective future of the planet earth and human race as many leading think tanks and peace organisations have termed the Kashmir as the nuclear flashpoint of South Asia. 

He said he was very delighted to welcome the audience on behalf of organisers and volunteers of this symposium at one of the best and oldest universities of the world. He was delighted also to see some of the most capable youth of Pakistan had taken initiative in this regard. He said that symposium and exhibition was something they wished for years and still, they hoped to see that happening in all the major universities of the world. He said it was the only way to win the hearts and minds of the opinion makers of this world, which were so occupied by narrow strategic interests and engagements. 

He said it was only a start for us since they had a long journey ahead. He said he believed that they shall continue marching towards the destiny if they continued having trust of the true humanists and transparent international forums. Talking about one million signature campaign, he said that he believed that they would achieve their goal of bringing the conflict to the agenda of EU parliament. He said that he believed that they would wield the human rights advocates, peace promoters and activists of the world around them. He said their trust in human conscience was unshakable. 

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