Fayaz Ahmad Dar works with young people on the Indian-administered side of Kashmir. He has conducted research and produced reports on the needs and aspirations of around 3,000 youth in the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh. Fayaz participated in a fellowship in September 2011. 

The Kashmir Valley has been the epicentre of the conflict but everyone is suffering. My personal politics are shaped by the Valley, that is where I am from.

How did undertaking this fellowship impact you personally?

The fellowship has provided me with ideas and inspiration.  It has also given me confidence. The fellowship happened at the right time for me. I had just got into the ‘thick of things’ in my context after undertaking a needs assessment with youth in the Kashmir valley, and I was thinking of next steps in my work and of doing similar needs assessments in Jammu and Ladakh – culturally and politically different areas from the Kashmir Valley. The experience in London and Northern Ireland gave me the confidence to engage with ‘the others’. That is, both with people in Jammu and Ladakh, as well as with those on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC). 
The visit to Northern Ireland really impacted me – talking to organisations that represent two different sides. Many of the concerns people have faced are similar to those faced by people in Kashmir. It felt like a real context, with people talking about things that felt relevant to me. The settlement agreed there was creative and helped them move forwards to end violence. However, despite being viewed as a ‘post-conflict’ situation, I got the sense from many that it is not, that the underlying discontent remains.

What specifically did you gain from this fellowship?

I learnt a lot from our interactions with different kinds of organisations working on similar contexts. For example meeting people at Chatham House, a think tank; witnessing a presentation of the Basque Country at the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict; interacting with a group of people at the International Institute of Strategic Studies and meeting the different teams and the board at Conciliation Resources. These experiences helped me to better understand the context in which international organisations work and look at examples of different ways that people are transforming conflicts in other places.
I also appreciated the opportunities I had to share what I had learnt, what was happening in Kashmir and what the young people of the region had to say.

How have you applied what you learnt to your work?

Focusing specifically on conflict and different aspects of dealing with it, and looking at examples of practical peacebuilding happening – be it in Northern Ireland or London – definitely helped me strengthen my own work. Not only in terms of technical information and skills, but more importantly, it broadened my thinking in terms of what I can do and how we can organise things. Being exposed to different ideas and approaches while I was thinking about the next steps in my own work, galvanised my thinking. A lot of what I learnt has seeped into my understanding, work and behaviour.
The needs assessments were focused on the issues faced by the young people – the complaints they had. Now our work has moved to a ‘solutions’ phase and we have produced a vision for the future. Through interactions in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir and across the LoC, we have been able to identify the core values that will guide and bind our work – these are articulated in our Vision 2020 document. Exploring and trying to live these values has opened up possibilities of building a constituency for real peace.