Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

International conferences often produce lots of good sentiments, but it is less common for concrete, effective proposals to come out of such gatherings. Johan Galtung, the famed Norwegian scholar and peace maker, apparently caused a stir at a major conference in New Delhi last week celebrating the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s satyagraha movement. He proposed a thoughtful, visionary, approach to solving the seemingly intractable conflict over Kashmir.

Galtung, Director of the conflict resolution project Transcend, chaired a session proposing a world free of nuclear weapons. He suggested that India and Pakistan should establish an “India-Pakistan condominium” in the Kashmir Valley and in the Muzaffarabad district of the Pakistan-controlled section of Kashmir, known as the Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Galtung recommended that the aspirations of the people living in Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh should be major considerations for both countries. He suggested that the residents of much of the disputed territory might want to be part of India, and those wishes should be respected. The interesting aspect of his proposal was for what he calls a condominium arrangement for the Kashmir Valley and Muzaffarabad. He meant that those areas should be jointly administered by both countries.

Borders of those territories would be open to the free movement of goods and people, though investments and residency would be subject to government regulations. He suggested that the residents in the condominium areas could have passports with double identities, if they wanted them. He indicated he had made his proposal to the national governments of both countries.

His visionary proposal to solve the problems in the Jammu and Kashmir region would of course help stabilize the sectarian problems that have also stirred Ladakh for many years. The news report about Galtung’s speech indicates that the Congress Party leaders present at his talk quickly distanced themselves from his proposal.

The conference, titled “Peace, Non-violence and Empowerment—Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century,” was organized by India’s ruling Congress party and was attended by Nobel laureates, heads of state, prominent peace makers, and world leaders. Sonia Gandhi, president of the party, hosted the event, which attracted more than 300 delegates from 88 countries. The conference delegates proposed that October 2, Gandhi’s birthday, should be designated as an international day for non-violence, but most of the headlines were generated by the world leaders who attended.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as he always does, had many profound observations to make. “We will never win a war against terror …. We can be free together, we can [be] safe together, we can be prosperous together, we can be humane together,” he said. He observed that evil and injustice would not prevail; instead, “truth, compassion and forgiveness shall prevail.”

Nelson Mandela, addressing the conference via a satellite link, said that “in a world driven by violence and strife, Gandhi’s message of peace and non-violence holds the key to human survival in the 21st century.” Mandela added, “[Gandhi] rightly believed in the efficacy of pitting the sole force of satyagraha against the brute force of the oppressor, and in effect converting the oppressor to the right and moral point.”

Mandela was eloquent in his praise for Gandhi’s strategy of nonviolence in confronting oppression. “He is the archetypal anti-colonial revolutionary. His strategy of non-cooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators, and his nonviolent resistance inspired anti-colonial and antiracist movements internationally.”

Retired president of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda, another major anti-colonialist African leader, electrified the conference with a speech that “stole the show,” as one report put it. He blasted at the stupidity of the Iraq War. “I would appeal to Bush and Blair and their allies to stop the war. No one with sensitivity and humanity can watch that senseless destruction on television.” He appealed to the world to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria rather than terrorism.

Lech Walesa and Mohammed Yunus, both Nobel laureates, and various heads of governments attended and gave speeches covered by the press. Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh delivered an eloquent address, the full test of which is available on the Web.

During the week following the close of the conference, the press has continued to carry stories about it. A delegate from Uganda was especially impressed by the way the entire event was so effectively organized. Thinking about an upcoming international gathering slated for his country, he wrote with envy on February 5th about how well the details had been handled: delegates were properly met at the airport, everyone was effectively registered at their hotels, and people were transported promptly to the conference site.

Another report from Monday this week complained that the conference had focused too much on Sonia Gandhi. According to the writer, the leaders of the BJP, the opposition party, had been excluded from the proceedings. The partisan attack, not unusual in the vibrant Indian political scene, concluded that “though the theme was the Mahatma and his philosophy, … the way the conference was organized left no one in doubt that its real objective was the greater glorification of Sonia Gandhi.”

Despite all the wonderful sentiments at the conference about the value of nonviolence, the place of Gandhi in history, and the need for peace and harmony, one of the most important speeches, to judge from the hundreds of press reports, must have been the one by Johan Galtung. His practical approach to settling the Kashmir dispute, which would also substantially help Ladakh to become more peaceful, certainly bears monitoring.