Heard in the high offices


M Farooq Kathwari roped in diplomats, academics and intellectuals to study Kashmir and suggest ways to bring honourable peace to the strife torn paradise, a Kashmir Life report

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One of the most prominent and influential Kashmiri Americans, Mohammad Farooq Kathwari (born August 16, 1944) is president and CEO of Ethan Allen Interior Inc, a home furnishings and interior design giant. While he was part of President Clinton’s global initiative on poverty, Obama recently appointed him to the Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a body that would help him get increased access to and participation in federal programmes.

Farooq Kathwari

A resident of Srinagar, Kathwari was pursuing BA English Literature and Political Science in Srinagar when police started hunting for him in 1965. His political activism offended the government and he was arrested. His father had, at one point of time been on the other side of the LoC, and that was enough for him to be indexed.

Somehow, he was set free and it led him to leave Kashmir. He went to US as a political refugee and lived in Brooklyn. Then he was 21. While working for a printing company in US, making envelopes, he did his MBA in international marketing from New York University. It was from US he consented on phone to marry Farida in 1968 because travelling would have proved a costly affair on security grounds.

The consignment that made Kathwari to become a businessman was actually sent by his father from Srinagar. It comprised candlesticks and other household accessories worth $15,000 in the US.

In 1973, he and Ethan Allen formed a joint venture company to develop home accessories. The company merged with Ethan Allen in 1980. Kathwari became its president in 1985 and chairman and CEO in 1988. In 1989, he led a management buyout of Ethan Allen and took the company public in 1993. Since then, it has been a trend setter in the USA. It runs a huge retailing chain across USA and a few select countries abroad comprising over 300 stores besides a number of manufacturing facilities.

Though the recession cost the Western market heavily, the company with a staff of over 4000 had a sale turnover of US $ 590.10 millions (which equals almost two-third of the tax income of J&K state or the state’s yearly expenditure on purchase of power) in fiscal 2010. This is slightly more than half the sales it had recorded in pre-recession 2008.

At the peak of Afghan jihad against erstwhile USSR, Kathwari’s eldest son Irfan joined Mujahideen despite opposition from the family. He died fighting in the Kabul outskirts at the age of 19 and lays buried there. Other than Irfan, Kathwari has a son and a daughter.

The death of his son in Afghanistan led Kathwari to devout some time, energy and resources towards the conflict resolution and philanthropy. In the aftermath of the Kashmir earthquake, Kathwari flew to both sides of Kashmir and contributed funds for the rebuilding process. He is serving a number of non-profit organizations in different capacities. These include National Retail Federation, Refugees International, Council on Foreign Relations, World Conference of Religions for Peace, Freedom House, Henry L Stimson Centre. His contributions to the American society and the human cause worldwide have been acknowledged by the Washington government. In 2009 he was inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame.

However, his major contribution to Kashmir was the setting up of Kashmir Study Group (KSG) which is not unfamiliar to the policymakers in India and Pakistan. After years of thinking, Kathwari roped in almost every former US diplomat familiar with South Asia and asked them to find a way out in Kashmir that has lost one percent of its population to the turmoil since 1990. He got all the former US ambassadors who served in Delhi and Islamabad as KSG members irrespective of who supports India and who has an inclination towards Pakistan. Of all the think tanks in Kashmir, it has been the first major exercise in the USA to identify ways for tackling Kashmir. It is widely believed that one of the many forces that pushed India and Pakistan to talk in Agra was Kathwari, who had earlier met General Parvez Musharaf and Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Since then Kathwari has been a frequent visitor to India and Pakistan. Almost every policymaker on the two sides of the Radcliffe divide knows him personally. He has had prolonged meetings with almost everybody including N N Vohra when he was appointed as an interlocutor on Kashmir.

Most of the political dignitaries who visit the US ensure that they have a sitting with Kathwari. He believes the situation for an honourable solution could be arrived at only in a violence-free atmosphere and that the solution has to be honourable, for all the parties, and feasible on the ground.

In December 1998 KSG developed the Livingston Proposal that recommended that a portion of the former state of J&K be reconstituted as a sovereign entity without an international personality. Based on the suggestions it received from various quarters, KSG came with “a more extended set of proposals” in September 1999.
The extended proposal explores three fundamental ideas.

(1) Creation of two Kashmiri entities — one on each side of the LoC, each with its own government, constitution, and special relationship with India and/or Pakistan.

(2) A single Kashmiri entity straddling the LoC with its own government, constitution, and special relationship with India and Pakistan.

(3) Only one entity on this side of the LoC.

KSG insists that under any of these formulae, the areas that choose to join a Kashmiri entity on this side of LoC would be those “imbued with “Kashmiriyat” and/or those that interact with the Kashmiri people to an extent sufficient to wish to maintain close political ties with them”. The reconstituted part shall be determined through an internationally supervised ascertainment of the wishes of the Kashmiri people on either side of the LoC.

This ascertainment would follow agreement among India, Pakistan, and representatives of the Kashmiri people to move forward with this proposal. The sovereignty of the new entity would be guaranteed by India, Pakistan, and appropriate international bodies. In all the KSG has offered six hypothetical Kashmiri states more or less based on religious and ethnic bases.

Besides, the KSG has offered “additional ideas and options” for “rationalizing the LoC in conjunction with the creation of one or two reconstituted Kashmiri entities” in which the possible “territorial exchanges would be based on economic, ecological, cultural, and security considerations and can be implemented in such a way as to be of benefit to both India and Pakistan as well as to the local population”.

The proposal also argued for creating free-trade zones and open borders.  The proposal includes a memorandum prepared by Hurst Hannum, Professor of International Law, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University that offers detailed discussion on the autonomy of the proposed entity with citizenship, foreign affairs, defences, economy, legislative, executive and judicial set-up. It bears reference to many similar crises from Tyrol to Andorra.

Though the proposals triggered a stir, there was nothing that could be official. However, KSG refined its proposals in 2005. This time it suggested five geo-cultural autonomous entities on either side of the LoC without preventing them from maintaining their association with India and Pakistan.

The new plan wanted Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir as three self-governing, autonomous entities in J&K and ‘Azad’ Kashmir and Northern Areas on the other side of the divide. Without seeking any change in the status of LoC – unless India and Pakistan think so in mutual interest, the proposal wanted free transit of people, goods, and services in accordance with arrangements to be worked out by all the parties involved.

However, it wants demilitarization in all the entities and suggests that neither India nor Pakistan could place troops on the other side of the LoC without the permission of the other state. “All displaced persons who left any portion of the entities would have the right to return to their home localities,” it says.

On both sides of the LoC, there would be a body each to coordinate issues of interest to all of them like trade and transportation. Besides, there will be an “All-Kashmir body” with representatives from each of the five entities as well as from India and Pakistan to coordinate areas of broader interest such as regional trade, tourism, environment, and water resources.

All these five entities, as per KSG proposal, would have its own democratic constitution, its own police force, citizenship, flag, and legislature which would legislate on all matters other than defence and foreign affairs. Defence of these entities would be the responsibility of India and Pakistan.

“Citizenship of the entities would also entitle individuals to acquire Indian or Pakistani passports (depending on which side of the Line of Control they live on). Alternatively, they could use entity passports subject to endorsements by India or Pakistan as appropriate,” it says.

Terming it a new approach to the “seemingly intractable problem”, the KSG believed the “the proposal represents a practical framework that could satisfy the interests of the peoples of the Kashmir region, India, and Pakistan”. Apart from ending civil strife and the tragic destruction of life and property, the KSG believes the plan would offer enormous economic benefits to all the parties involved – Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and the entire South Asia region.

Dr Fayaz Shawl

Dr Fayaz Shawl

His clientele (patients) consists of the who’s who of the world politics. An interventional cardiologist to most of the US presidents, Dr Fayaz Shawl is facing a libel suit in a Srinagar court. He had accused some functionaries of the government of corruption and of sabotaging his proposed cardiac centre in Srinagar that triggered a crisis and earned him a defamation suit.

The resident of Narparistan, Fateh Kadal, Fayaz is son of a middle-class handicrafts dealer, Mohammad Saleem.

After graduating from the Government Medical College Srinagar in 1972, Shawl was posted in Rajouri’s Shardha Sharief belt. For most of the week he was a doctor and on Sundays, he would act like a judge to settle their disputes.

Soon after, he went to the UK accompanying a friend with barely $50 in his pocket. A chance interaction with a senior professor fetched him Residency. In 1977, he flew to the USA and completed his cardiology fellowship at The Walter Reed Army Medical Centre. Currently, he is heading two interventional cardiology institutions in the US. Trained with the angioplasty pioneers, Andreas Gruentzig and Richard Mylar, Dr Shawl is solely responsible for taking “US military into the balloon age”.

Considered as one of world’s three best interventional cardiologists, Dr Shawl is credited for the Shawl Technique, where a heart-lung machine used in such a way that the machine takes over heart function while the doctors perform the angioplasty without opening the chest. The world’s best-known intervention cardiologist, Dr Shawl stakes claim to around 20,000 interventional procedures, a record. His patients include the big shots – Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Nawaz Sharief, most of the Saudi kings and Hollywood.

Shawl lives in US with sons David Salim Shawl and Jonathan Hussain Shawl (from his first wife) and his six-year-old daughter Isabella Banu Shawl, with his second wife Jina, a nurse.

Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai
Prior to the last US elections when a visiting Kashmiri politician asked a group of Indian diplomats in the US that if Republicans win what policy shift do they foresee? There was just one answer: Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai will be stronger. The leader laughed.

But at the same time, it did convey the lobbying significance of the man. Many credit him for most of the “successes” that Islamabad had over New Delhi and most of the Hurriyat camp does see him as their “ambassador”. He presides over the Kashmir American Council since he founded it around 1990 when armed militancy broke out in Kashmir.

Hailing from Wadwan village in the central Kashmir district of Budgam, Fai was a full-time Jamat-e-Islami (JI) worker. After doing his masters in Philosophy from AMU, he got admission and the scholarship in the Um-ul-Qura University in Makkah (Saudi Arabia) where he studied for a couple of years. He holds PhD in mass communications from Temple University, Pennsylvania.

Then in 1983, he returned to Kashmir for a brief time and left for Saudi Arabia where he had a brief stint as a teacher. He returned to USA where he joined the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) as a full-time worker. In 1990, when the Kalashnikovs started rattling in Kashmir, Kashmiri Americans founded KAC of which Dr Fai became the Executive Director.

Since then, he has been travelling across the world lecturing on Kashmir. Apart from speaking at forums like the UN Commission on Human Rights, European Parliament, OIC and the Congressional Caucuses in the USA, he is a full-time Kashmir activist. Off late, his visible activities have reduced to hosting regular Kashmir Conferences that have a fixed guest list from India, Pakistan and the two halves of Kashmir.
Dr Fai is a Republican Kashmiri American. He has two children from his Chinese (second) wife. His first wife continues to live in Wadwan.


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