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Remarks of Farooq Kathwari February 25, 2006 at EPIIC Conference at Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts

It is a pleasure to share my thoughts with you and an honor to receive the 2006 EPIIC Dr. Jean Meyer Global Citizenship Award.

In December 2005 I had the opportunity of leading a team of six Directors of Refugees International, which I chair, to the earthquake affected areas in South Asia.  As you may know, in less than 40 seconds over 70,000 people lost their lives, thousands are disabled and millions homeless in a mountainous area during the winter months.  It is hard to comprehend unless one visits and feels the tragedy.

The visit to Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan administered Kashmir, and being met by hundreds of people including the Prime Minister of the region and all his key associates reflected the association of my family and me to the areas of Kashmir under both Indian and Pakistan administration.  As a child, my father had left Srinagar, which is in Indian administered Kashmir, where our family comes from, to Muzaffarabad where his two week permit to return was cancelled.  We joined him one year later except my older brother and sister stayed with our grandparents in Srinagar as they were in school. Our family thought that we would be re-united in less than a year. We finally were able to go home after ten years while our father had to spend another seven years there. My mother did not see or have any contact with her two children for ten years and my father had no contact with his two children or parents for seventeen years.  Our family, like many in the Kashmir region, has been part of this conflict.  And on a wider scale, the growth, development and the focus of leadership of entire South Asia has been negatively impacted.  The December 2005 visit to Muzaffarabad was in a Pakistan Airforce helicopter and while in the region the pilot advised us that we were about 15 minutes from Srinagar.  That made me realize the impact, the foolishness and the tragedy of this conflict, especially to people like my parents who were so close to their children and yet so far.  Leadership of the region, in my view, has failed in their responsibility to end this conflict and has not been held accountable. In fact, the environment created was such that the more irresponsible the leadership acted, the more it was considered patriotic and right. Obviously this is not limited to South Asia. We see it all across the world from the East to the West. I feel strongly that it is the responsibility of the leadership to understand that their main job is to work for the welfare and dignity of their people and to do that they must use all their resources to end or reduce to the maximum conflicts. It is the leadership’s responsibility to shape the debate and if they fail to do so the debate is taken over by people with louder voices and most of the time with agendas that divide people rather than unite them. I believe that one of the biggest challenges leaders’ face is to manage conflicts. As CEO of Ethan Allen, one of my main responsibilities is to ensure that the leaders in our enterprise devote their energies on constructive matters and not on areas that will create conflicts and thereby impact creativity and growth.

In the early 1990’s the conflict over Kashmir turned violent severely impacting the lives, dignity and welfare of all the communities, especially in the Kashmiri speaking areas with reported deaths of over 60,000 persons, mostly young.

With my personal background and reasonable access to all sides, I felt that I could help the parties as an un-official interlocutor and more importantly help in changing the paradigms of the last 58 years which were based on the basic premise that Jammu and Kashmir as it existed in 1947, is an indivisible unit. India, Pakistan, and some leaders claiming to speak for Kashmir, have asserted that the whole region, as it existed in 1947, must belong to them alone. The United Nations, in its resolutions, also appeared to endorse the indivisibility of the erstwhile State. Unfortunately, these positions have led to great loss of life and destruction. It was important that these rigid and unrealistic positions had to be debated in the open and more realistic ideas developed.

I came to the conclusion that to address this major challenge of changing the rigid positions of the parties we needed to have a Study group consisting of persons with interest in South Asia, with diverse expertise and acceptable to the parties. In 1996 we formed such a group and called it the Kashmir Study Group, today consisting of twenty-five members, with the objective of interacting with the people in the region and, through these interactions, to develop ideas.  I also realized, being a marketing person and spending twenty years in repositioning an American classic brand that we needed time and that our message had to be clear and must be conveyed repeatedly in the region and outside the region. Therefore, we developed a position that the Kashmir dispute must be resolved peacefully, the outcome must be perceived as honorable by all sides, and the solution must be implementable. A feasible solution needs creative and practical approaches. In the final analysis, it is the parties themselves who need to consider and discuss various options. The Kashmir Study Group papers of 2000 and 2005, referred to as ‘Kashmir-A Way Forward’ and available on the www.kashmirstudygroup.org website, have depicted the historic, demographic, geographic and linguistic background of the Kashmir region. These studies provided various options for dispensation of the Kashmir region that could generate solutions that are implementable and can also be perceived as honorable by the concerned parties. Also included as part of these studies are memorandums prepared for the Kashmir Study Group by Dr. Hurst Hannum, Professor of International Law, at the Fletcher School of Tufts University.

Any initiative such as this is viewed with suspicion by many people. In fact, most good ideas go through stages – first, rejection, then toleration and finally acceptance. I am gratified to state that the ideas developed by us through interaction with the parties have reached the stage between tolerance and acceptance.  A great deal of discussion is taking place in the region on ideas to resolve the Kashmir issue. The parties have moved from their rigid positions and are discussing the need for flexibility. Many concepts are being suggested, and the ideas proposed by the Kashmir Study Group of self-governance of the various regions of Jammu and Kashmir are among the most debated ideas. Both President Musharraf of Pakistan and Prime Minister Singh of India have talked about looking for creative ways of solving the Kashmir issue. In fact, today February 25, 2006 the Prime Minister of India is conducting a round table discussion on Kashmir in New Delhi where he has invited persons of various perspectives from the Indian administered Kashmir region to join. While some important elements from the Kashmir region are not participating mostly on issues of format, meetings like this are part of the process and a few years back would have been unthinkable. In mid-March a meeting in Pakistan is planned where leadership from the various regions of Jammu and Kashmir from both sides of the Line of Control, reflecting various perspectives and religions, are planning to meet. The main topic of discussion is the concept self-governance. In December 2004 a meeting of persons from the Kashmir region from both sides of the Line of Control was held in Kathmandu, Nepal. This was the first such meeting in fifty eight years where persons belonging to different regions, religions and perspectives participated with approvals of both India and Pakistan governments. I was requested by the participants to moderate the meeting. In a few hours time this diverse group reached a consensus statement calling for an end to violence by all sides, finding an honorable and feasible solution and to work for the welfare and dignity of the peoples of the region.

I believe the leadership of the region has a great opportunity to move forward. Courage and wisdom is required on all sides. There exists an opportunity to work out solutions that could satisfy the vital interests of the peoples of the Kashmir region, India and Pakistan. The main responsibility of the leadership is to end conflicts so that the people of the South Asia region have an opportunity to live in peace and with dignity.

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