What happens at Pugwash?

Pugwash has always been a closed door affair since it first started to host voices from India, Pakistan and Kashmir at different venues across the world. Some of US cables, as read by Shams Irfan give an insider’s account of what actually happens at the two Kashmir specific conferences in Nepal and Pakistan.

After a recent expose by whistleblower website Wikileaks, a lot of confidential cables sent from American Embassies in Islamabad and New Delhi to Washington revealed what happened at two important conferences held at Kathmandu and Islamabad during 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Pugwash, an international organization based in Washington, London, Geneva and Rome that focus on security and conflict resolution, organizes the conferences.

According to the cable dated January 25, 2005, sent from the US embassy in New Delhi, reporting about Pagwash conference held at Khatmandu in December, the former US ambassador to India David Mulford noted that “Academic and policy conferences on Kashmir tend to be of limited value for several reasons.”

The embassy’s political staff reported, “First, events like Pugwash are usually sponsored by a clearly pro-India or pro-Pakistan group and are thus perceived as biased. Secondly, such state sponsorships deprive these conferences of any credibility with major constituencies, as the ‘right people’ are not there. They usually boycott, or are prevented from leaving their countries or cannot obtain visas.”

However, the Kashmiri voice was represented by a number of moderate leaders from All Party Hurriyat Conference [APHC], including Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat, “The veteran hardliner leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was absent,” said Ved Bhasin, editor of ‘Kashmir Times’ newspaper, who according to US represents a pro-independence view.

The cable reviews that such weaknesses have been part of the Kashmir seminar landscape for decades, and continue to characterize the vast majority of periodic efforts by academics, politicians, and others to discuss this issue seriously outside India and Pakistan.

Former Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan G Parthasarathy criticized New Delhi’s position on documentation for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus, arguing that as India claims this territory as its own anyway, passports should not be necessary.  “It is a myth that more cross LoC travel would increase terrorism. There should be even greater interaction between Kargil and Skardu, not just J&K and POK,” said Parthasarathy.

The second cable dated March 17, 2006, sent from US Embassy in Pakistan reported Pugwash Conference 2006 held at Islamabad.

The former US ambassador to Pakistan Ryan C. Crocker said, “The conference was mainly aimed at endorsing the Pakistani President Parvez Musharraf’s out-of-the-box peace formula for Kashmir issues solution.”

The cable also disclosed that during the conference President Musharraf had a one-on-one session with pro-India Kashmiri politician Omar Abdullah. “Musharraf has shown greater flexibility than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,” remarked Omar Abdullah.

The three days of meetings proceeded under the rotating chairmanship of Pakistani General (retd) Talaat Masood [a respected policy analyst and Embassy contact], his Indian counterpart and Pugwash Secretary General Paolo Cotta-Ramusino.

However, according to Talat Masood, the conference had highlighted that ‘the age of favorites is over’ as evidenced by the fact that Pakistan and India had been talking to a range of Kashmiri leaders.

“Pugwash had been talking to Kashmiri militant groups, including Hizbul-Mujahedin (but not ‘dangerous groups’ like Lashkar e-Tayyiba), and that they too were interested in dialogue,” said Masood. “The conference had highlighted a significant challenge, namely the divisions among the militant groups in Kashmir,” Masood observed.

Masood reported that during one session, the Kashmiris from the diaspora and from both sides of the LoC had been sent into a room to deliberate on possible solutions to the Kashmir conflict, while the Pakistani and Indian delegates were sent into a second room with the same instructions.  The latter group came to agreement on some recommendations, while the Kashmiris ‘could not agree on anything.’

“Kashmiri diaspora have created ‘an industry’ out of the Kashmir conflict. Even Kashmiri ‘rightists’ are unhelpful because of ‘insecurities’ as they were caught between militant groups on the one hand and an evolving peace effort on the other,” said Masood.

“Yasin Malik was trying to be a champion of the militants, but that militant groups were shunning him out of concern that he was too accommodating on Musharraf’s agenda,” Masood  had said according to one the cable.

“It was because of him [Yasin Malik] that the proposed concluding statement of the conference, ‘violence in all its forms should cease forthwith’ got hijacked.” The cable quotes Masood saying.

The leaked documents also reveal that Yasin Malik deliberately down played the significance of the conference as he wanted militants to be included in the dialogue process.

“I have also told Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh that for any peace initiative to succeed in Kashmir militants need to be included first,” the cable quotes Yasin Malik.

According to the leaked cables, Talat Masood noted that former Pakistani President Musharraf was much more forward-leaning and flexible than some of his supporters. “Even his advisors in the military and intelligence services were ‘out of sync’ with the President himself.” Masood revealed as mentioned in the cable.

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