The logic of unilateral ceasefire

Print edition : February 17, 2001

UNLESS the unilateral ceasefire declared by the government in Jammu and Kashmir is supplemented by more measures, it is likely to be subjected to the law of diminishing returns. The separatist conglomeration Hurriyat, which had enthusiastically welcomed the first announcement of ceasefire in November 2000, reacted to its latest extension by saying that "ceasefire declarations are aimed to mislead the world as it (sic) lacks seriousness as well as sincerity." On the eve of the extension declaration, the Kashmir Valley observed a bandh in protest against human rights violations during the period of the ceasefire. As if to lend credence to the charge, the State Chief Minister declared that he had asked the police to kill any militants they got hold of as there was no place for such people in his jails. Here, the onus of proving that one is not a militant lies with the victims.

On the other hand, the militants reiterated their belief that "jehad is the only way to settle the Kashmir dispute." Speaking on behalf or the alliance of 13 organisations, the Muttahida Jehad Council, the leader of the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, Ghula m Rasool, asserted that peace would come only "if India withdraws its troops and there is complete accession of Kashmir to Pakistan." Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Muhammed Saeed resolved to continue the jehad "even if the Hurriyat and Pakistan fina lly decide to start talks (with India) on ending the crisis in Kashmir."

Apart from the attempts to set off blasts at the Red Fort, the Srinagar airport, the Doordarshan station, posts of the security forces and police stations, the militants have, according to an official estimate, gunned down 176 civilians during 58 days of the ceasefire. The above facts indicate how difficult it is to continue the ceasefire unilaterally for too long. Its success depends on the confidence of the security forces in their capacity to remain secure in a defensive war and not to over-react to threats and provocations. The Chief of the Army Staff would have made an assessment on the basis of these factors before recommending another extension of the ceasefire. But no ceasefire will be worth the while if innocent civilians continue to be killed either by the militants, for their religious or political beliefs, or in the retaliatory over-reactions of the security forces. The Hurriyat and other separatists certainly have a right to protest against human rights violations by the security forces o r the local police which unfortunately do take place. But they are unable to protest against mass killings by militants of Kashmiri Pandits, Sikhs, Hindu Behari labourers, truck drivers, bus passengers, pro-India Muslims, political workers and their rela tives and innocent civilians. Sometimes they accuse the Indian forces of having "started killing Hindus in order to discredit the ongoing freedom movement." It may be risky for them to open a second front against the militants or they may give the benefi t of the doubt to the militants for lack of clear evidence.

While the compulsions of the separatist groups on the first count is understandable - and nothing can be done immediately to help them - it should be possible to provide sufficient credible evidence not merely for their satisfaction but for that of the p eople at large about the excesses of the militants. If, for instance, an independent inquiry, as promised by the Chief Minister twice, had been held into the March 20, 2000, killing of 35 Sikhs at Chattisinghpora, the killing of five so-called killers of Sikhs at Pathribal by the Army and the killing of eight protesters against the latter killings by the police at Barakpora, there may not have been a question mark on the identity of the Chattisinghpora killers. More rigorous discipline, restraint and tr ansparency in the behaviour of the security forces should be logical corollaries of the unilateral ceasefire.

In order to create a constituency of peace in Kashmir, which should be the minimum objective of the peace initiative, it may be necessary to set up a credible agency to monitor human rights violations by either side. It should not be difficult to find pe rsons who can inspire universal confidence. Justice Ratnavel Pandian, who inquired into the police firing at Barakpora, for instance, became a popular legend in the region for his impartial findings. The services of such persons can be enlisted for the m onitoring work so that anybody or any party not joining in the disapproval of excesses against innocent civilians would be isolated. The increase in the number of demonstrations against human rights violations that has accompanied the second extension of the unilateral ceasefire may not necessarily indicate and increase in the number of such violations. It may also be owing to higher expectations of peace and a settlement of the problem.

Disillusionment on this count can create a backlash. What other explanation can one find for the first-ever demonstration in protest against the death of six militants, none of them Kashmiri, who had made a bid to attack the Srinagar airport?

The lack of any progress in the matter of talks and the consequent disillusionment may also be reasons for the lukewarm response of the Hurriyat to the second extension of the ceasefire. A non-issue such as the grant of passports to the members of its de legation to visit Pakistan was blown up - as if it was more important than the main issues of the Kashmir dispute. (Incidentally, whatever be the decision on the passports issue, it should have been quick and firm.)

Ceasefire in itself could not be an end. Unless it leads to some progress, it would only lead to frustration. Some indications of this fact are already visible in Kashmir. The wide gap between expectations in Kashmir and fear in Jammu and Ladakh that the ceasefire caused was tending to cause a communal polarisation in the politics of the State. This may not only complicate further an already complex problem but may have dangerous implications for the secular basis of India and peace in the subcontinent.

In this context, one may note the naivete reflected in the apparently well-intentioned suggestion to hold what is called the intra-Kashmir dialogue, between people or leaders on the two sides of the Line of Control (LoC), as a first step towards finding a solution to the problem. Although in the process of seeking an overall settlement the wishes of the people across the LoC should also be ascertained and no borders should divide people permanently, is it not more important for Kashmiri Muslims to start a dialogue with the Kashmiri Hindus who speak the same language than with non-Kashmiri speaking people across the LoC? There is no need for passports or a ceasefire for the two communities, who are an integral part of the Kashmiri identity, although the y are mentally divided, to take steps to overcome the temporary divide and discuss their common destiny.

Likewise, nothing should prevent Kashmiri leaders from having a dialogue with leaders of Jammu and Ladakh on inter-regional relations. It will be unfair to the latter to expect them to support talks on the status of the State without satisfying themselve s about the status of their own regions within the State.

It may be useful for the dissident Kashmiri leaders to learn from the experience of Sheikh Abdullah. Even though he was capable of taking a decision on behalf of his people, on account of his unchallenged leadership, he convened a people's convention to which he invited people of all shades of opinion. It adopted a five-tier internal constitution for the State (which this writer had drafted) as a basis of discussions with India or Pakistan for a solution of the Kashmir problem which "should keep in view interests of all the three regions of the State and strengthen secular democratic forces." Participants in the convention included pro-Pakistan organisations such as G.M. Karra's Political Conference, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq's Awami Action Committee and t he Jamaat-e-Islami, apart from stalwarts such as Maulana Masoodi, Bakshi Ghulam Mohd, Prem Nath Bazaz and Plebiscite Front leaders.

While the government of India should demonstrate its sincerity and seriousness with regard to finding a solution to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir and initiate talks with the dissident leaders of Kashmir as also with Pakistan at appropriate stages, it should not do anything that may promote communal and regional tensions. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was right in not insisting on the framework of the Indian Constitution for the talks. But the framework of the Kashmiri Insaniat is too sac rosanct to be violated. Fortunately, Vajpayee's personal sincerity and seriousness are yet not doubted in Kashmir. This is true about many Pakistanis too. His peace initiative still has wide support within India, which has also earned him rich diplomatic dividends. It is therefore important that this rare opportunity to establish a lasting peace in the subcontinent is not squandered. For a relapse would be much worse than the situation before the initiative was launched.

Balraj Puri is president of the Jammu Autonomy Forum. He was working chairman of the Committee on Regional Autonomy, until the Jammu and Kashmir government removed him from the post.

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