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Report delivered on Kashmir trip

Andrew Thagard | Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A trip to Kashmir by two Notre Dame professors and members of the Kroc Institute to study and promote the peacemaking process was a positive experience, said Dan Philpott, director of undergraduate studies at the Kroc and assistant professor of political science.Philpott traveled to Kashmir on behalf of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, a Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental organization. His colleague, Cynthia Mahmood, director of graduate studies at the Kroc and an associate professor of anthropology, visited the region as an observer to further her research on peace and conflict resolution.”It exceeded our expectations,” Philpott said. “It was very positive.”The trip included a three-day seminar led by senior ICRD vice president Brian Cox in Islamabad on the Pakistani side of Kashmir, along with meetings with politicians, militants and religious leaders in Delhi.Seventy-two people attended the seminar, which included a series of 10 lectures and culminated in a reconciliation service, Philpott said.”We had about 12 or 13 people come forward to speak words of healing,” he said. “One man was a descendent of the Hindus who are seen by the Muslims as having conquered Kashmir. He expressed … repentance and forgiveness for the wounds inflicted by that community.”Philpott said that he was surprised by the participants who attended the seminar, including a signifi-cant number of young people.”It was interesting who the participants were,” he said. “We had many young people who were student leaders and connected to politicians of Azad [the Pakistani side of] Kashmir.”The seminar ended with a discussion circle in which members could voice their opinions regarding the days’ events.”We had people expressing an [appreciation] of the message of reconciliation. Some [said] … that this is what we need in Kashmir,” Philpott said. Philpott and members of ICRD also met with some of their key contacts in Delhi, including Firduf Syed, a former militant leader turned peace activist, and Kemal Chenoy, a human rights activist and supporter of the organization’s work.Both affirmed the positive effects that ICRD’s efforts are having in promoting peace in the volatile region.”[Chenoy] said that over the [past] three and a half years we’ve really built a lot of respect in the Kashmir community as people who are committed to the long term,” Philpott said. “That was very encouraging.”In the future, Philpott said that ICRD would like to hold a bridge building meeting involving members of the four Kashmiri provinces’ civil sectors to discuss reconciliation. At some point, ICRD plans to turn their work over completely to the Kashmiri people and the core and cell groups they have set up to further the peace making process.”Eventually we hope to make ourselves obsolete as the work is carried on at the indigenous level,” Philpott said.Philpott said that neither he nor Mahmood experienced any problems with safety.”We never felt in immediate danger of any kind,” he said.