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"Geography and History conspire to make peace in Kashmir a challenge"

NEW YORK: 'We are a long way from justice as a dominant condition in the word,' stated former United States Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, at the Kashmir Peace Conference 2015 held in New York on 7 December. Nearly 88 years old and evidently frail, Ramsey Clark has spent his lifetime as a lawyer campaigning for human rights.  Born and educated in Texas, he served in the Justice Department in both the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations, before becoming Attorney General under Johnson from 1967-69.  

A longstanding opponent of the death penalty, I first met him a decade later, in 1978, when he came to Pakistan to meet General Zia-ul Haq, Pakistan's military ruler,  to request him not to uphold  the death sentence against former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the event Bhutto's appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan failed.  As we know, the former Attorney General's plea fell on deaf ears and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, aged 51, was executed on 4 April 1979. Those days now seem a lifetime ago.

Since then Ramsey Clark's  achievements include a litany of activities, some controversial, like founding the 2002  movement to impeach President George W. Bush or his role  in the defence of Iraq's Saddam Hussein at his trial before the Iraqi Special Tribunal.  

Clark was also one of the founding members of the protest organisation, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER).  As the recipient of the 1992 Gandhi Peace Award as well as the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for his commitment to civil rights, the hallmark of his career has been attempting to secure justice in troublespots throughout the world.

Speaking in New York about the situation in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, he had evidently lost none of the forthright manner which, at times, has ruffled both conservative and liberal public opinion in the United States. 

Describing Kashmir as 'a place of beauty caught in geography and history that makes the possibility of general peace and prosperity a challenge, not only for its people but also for its neighbours,' he said that if peace could be achieved, Kashmir could be 'a symbol for the world.'  But, he cautioned, how does a world 'full of ambition and too many hands possessing the capacity for total destruction' achieve such a goal?  'We don't like to think about it but we still spend billions of dollars on how to kill millions of people where hunger and sickness could be eradicated. We know better but we obscure our knowledge, because the truth hurts, it hurts to know the existence of poverty and suffering.'

When trying to bring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir to the attention of the American people, Mr Clark conceded that the average American's knowledge about Kashmir was 'less than negligible' and that when hearing the name 'Kashmir' they were more likely to think of a 'bouquet of soap' rather than the disputed state. 'We're busy and it's a big world and everybody has their own problems and needs and wants.' But, he said, knowing about the suffering and needs of others 'is essential to peace on earth. 

Kashmir remains in the mind as a lovely sounding place that few have ever visited, which means that we have a real challenge in terms of education.' Observing that the human rights of others were also a most important component in bringing peace, he said that 'peace in Kashmir and a resolution of the conflict would be a major element of peace in the region.'   When questioned on the role of the United Nations, which, ever since the resolutions passed by the Security Council and the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) in 1948 and 1949, has had the disputed state on its agenda, he described how the ability to focus on the real needs of the population was overshadowed by the special interests 'of those who control the representation of power that guides the United Nations.'

As Ramsey Clark walked slowly out of the conference room, I did not think I would see him again, so 'dilapidated'- to use his own description of his physical condition - was he. But his resolve is undimmed. Before leaving, he had assured his audience: 'I am with you in heart and spirit. Give me a call and I will see do what I can.'

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