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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Social Connectors Imperative to Kashmir Solution

Social Connectors Imperative to Kashmir Solution
Date: 7 Dec 2011

Social Connectors Imperative to Kashmir Solution


The Jammu and Kashmir dispute continues to be one of the major unresolved conflicts in the Indian subcontinent. In the past we saw wars being fought but even that couldn't help resolve the issue. Neither big summits nor much hyped confidence building measures has thus far succeeded. Since the emergence of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is always defined in terms of facile labels. Padgaonkar, journalist and head of the interlocutors on Kashmir, points out, "the entire issue of Jammu and Kashmir has been posited in ideological terms, largely as a Hindu Muslim problem. Second, it was posited also in terms of Indian and Pakistani nationalism. And third, it was posited in terms of Kashmir nationalism". The internal socio-cultural diversity and the pluralism of interest and aspiration it breeds are always ignored. This plurality is due to lack of good media or the social connectors to bridge the gap. Hence, it can be argued that social connectors are imperative to Kashmir solution.

In case of Jammu and Kashmir, the conflict is itself located at multiple levels; a territorial dispute between two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan; a conflict on communal lines and a conflict of identity and culture. Besides, there is another important and highly ignored layer of conflict, the intra-community conflict. The state of Jammu and Kashmir has several distinct socio-cultural features which gives complexity to the already complex problems of Jammu and Kashmir.

These areas which are different ethnically and linguistically are further geographically isolated from each other by high mountain barriers. The barriers are so strong that many parts of Jammu and Kashmir exist more as closed communities without having any proper means and common space to interact and share with fellow citizens across the state. Thus people inhabiting one part of the state is held blind toward the lives of people in other parts of the state due to these intangible boundaries. This nurtures mistrust and misunderstanding amongst the people in the state as a whole. Lack of trust gives rise to perceptions of threat and insecurity in the masses. As a consequence this results in opposing views and different voices. These different voices deny the scope for general consensus on any approach to Kashmir solution with each approach being opposed by one or another. Thus even today it remains an impossible mission for many aggrieved parties on Kashmir. Similar pluralism also exists in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Simply confining a dialogue among few selected parties can not lead a viable way out on the issue. It is equally important to involve the opinion of mass to make intangible barriers more feasible and friendly. This is best explained by Harold Saunder in his PPP (Public Peace Process) concept.

Commenting on PPP concept, political scientist and conflict transformation practitioner Sumona Dasgupta writes, "this is a system where citizens outside the government can actually design steps to change conflict relationships in ways that create capacities to build upon processes for peace building". She adds, "PPP is based on the assumption that conflict is not just a clash between institutions but it also has an important human angle. This emphasizes citizens as actors in politics. PPP acknowledges that there are certain tasks that governments and states will do and formal negotiation and mediation is definitely important in the resolution conflict. But at the same time it also affirms a larger political process that is citizen driven. The conceptual framework of PPP is built around what we called sustained dialogue -- systematic dialogue amongst small groups of representative citizens who are committed to change. It involves a conversation and a five stage process which he has outlined - 1) coming together about a problem. 2) mapping a problem. 3) setting a direction, 4) scenario building and 5) acting together".

Unfortunately no serious attempt has been made to bridge the gap between the people of different regions and to involve them in the peace building process as the major actors. On contrary the parties and groups involved are always engage more on larger political differences. None of the parties has made serious endeavour to connect the people in order to reduce the barrier between them.
It is very important to scrap the internal geographical barriers and connect people through all the ways and means of connections. These connections will act as social connectors and provides avenues where communities can interact, understand, identify areas of differences and develop a widely acceptable solution. For example it is vital that Kargil should have Zojila tunnel to be connected with people beyond Zojila pass throughout the year. The Zojila tunnel will act as social connector not only between Kargilities and beyond but it will also connect the larger population of Ladakh to rest of the valley and Jammu. Similarly, Leh and Srinagar should have more frequent flights than having air service once a week. In addition, efforts should also be made to open cross LoC roads like Kargil-Skardu, Jammu-Sialkot, Turtuk-Khapulu, Chamb-Jaurian-Mirpur, Gurez-Astore-Gilgit, Tithwal-Chilhan, and Jhangar (Nowshera)-Mirpur-Kotli. Making these borders irrelevant will help people in the state and across communicate and reach out each other without any geographical and topographical obstacle. Thus, these steps will not only help in addressing the problem of connectivity in the region but it will also facilitate to evolve a common consensus on Kashmir in future.

"I am called Tunnel Wala by many for my insistence on Zojila tunnel but believe me there is a new light and new hope across the tunnel".

(The author, a native of Kargil, is Assistant Professor in Higher Education and can be mailed at

[Kashmir Times]

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