Conciliation Resources supports peacebuilding across the Commonwealth by hosting Commonwealth Fellows - mid-career professionals from Commonwealth countries.
For the past six years, the fellowship has brought together Kashmiris from both the Indian and Pakistani administered regions of Kashmir. This creates a space for discussion and often profound transformation of the Fellows’ approach to, and understanding of, the conflict.
Ershad Mahmud is Executive Director of the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), which, among other things, works with Conciliation Resources to develop conflict sensitive tourism. He is also a co-founder of the Kashmir Initiative Group (KIG), an intra-Kashmir peacebuilding platform which aims to build bridges between community perspectives and policymakers. CPDR has conducted tourism training for 60 people in two regions close to the Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). In 2011, Ershad participated in a peacebuilding fellowship.
In Kashmir we can also try to find some creative ways and means to achieve political goals without resorting to violence.
How did undertaking this fellowship impact you personally?
The fellowship has made a lasting impact in my mind. I have been talking about aspects of it ever since. Examples of peacebuilding I saw in Northern Ireland provided us with a useful template. Talking about Northern Ireland as part of my work has inspired others, helped people gain a broader understanding and encouraged them to reconsider their political stances in Kashmir. It offers them a new, creative way to look at their own political thinking and strategy.
What specifically did you gain from this fellowship?
Learning from Conciliation Resources and the different teams helped me to understand how to build our own organisation’s thinking, communications, and methods. From Northern Ireland, I gained a good understanding of the process – how they conceived of, managed and communicated transition, while at the same time being able to convince people of the process. Some specific examples, such as free travel for people of Northern Ireland to Ireland, are directly relevant to the Kashmir agenda. The fact that, without breaking relationships with either government, we could have jobs and free travel, made me think.
It particularly struck me when one member of the assembly, who has joined mainstream politics, was asked: “Has your aspiration for a separate homeland gone, now you have no chance to establish a country?” He answered: “No, I haven’t given up my aspiration, I have only changed my strategy to achieve the same political goal”. We could do a similar thing in Kashmir.
How have you applied what you learnt to your work?
When I returned home, I used a lot of learning from the fellowship and examples from Northern Ireland, including in media appearances. Many people, in particular colleagues working with CPDR, found my experience and findings very interesting. In subsequent meetings, we discussed aspects of how experiences from Northern Ireland could be replicated in Kashmir, such as how militant actors can become transformed into participatory political groups. We engaged with some young combatants, who asked for more literature and examples of the Northern Ireland peace process. Providing such materials to people made them think.
The visit also helped me to formulate my thoughts so my work can have wider influence and impact. Following the fellowship, we spoke to political organisations and leaders in AJK and contributed to mid-level debate during the elections. This included speaking to separatists/pro-independence militant leaders who historically run campaigns against the elections. I had opportunities to engage with the election debates through TV and radio appearances, as well as written articles. I talked about the Northern Ireland peace process and how Sinn Fein became part of the political process.