'Ceasefire' questions

Print edition : February 17, 2001

Is Jammu and Kashmir heading for a situation where it will be re-divided along communal lines with the participation of the BJP-led government, the RSS, the National Conference, the Hurriyat - and Pakistan?

PRIME MINISTER Atal Behari Vajpayee's announcement of November 19 that the security forces would not initiate military action against the militants during the month of Ramazan, starting November 28, has been construed in the media as a ceasefire order. T wo loopholes were deliberately kept open, however, as Home Minister L.K. Advani in particular has been stressing. The security forces were free to retaliate in case of provocation, and they were free to act on information regarding the militants' whereab outs, intentions and so on.

General Pervez Musharraf in Muzaffarbad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, on February 5.-MIAN KURSHEED/REUTERS

Now, the freedom to act on information is indeed a very broad freedom, since all kinds of information can be claimed. What was on offer, in other words, was not a ceasefire but a certain restraint. How limited the restraint was became even clearer when t he Director-General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, A.K. Suri, clarified that the "ceasefire" was not applicable to his forces. This then means, for example, that the Special Task Force (STF), a crack team of the State police which has been much praised by officials over the past two years for its daring actions against militants, and much denounced by others for its special brutalities, is under no such restraint. Widespread charges of brutality on the ground even during this limited "ceasefire" have therefore multiplied.

Although there has been a real decline in the State's own counter-terror, most observers suggest that it is only in areas close to the Line of Control (LoC) that violence has decreased dramatically and real peace prevails. To this crucial point we shall return. Suffice it to say here that whereas it is certainly the case that the security forces cannot adopt an altogether passive and exclusively reactive posture while the jehadis feel free to step up their terror, the persistence of abuses nevert heless means that the kind of goodwill that restraint orders could have generated among the people has not been forthcoming. The real danger is that the persistence of terrorist attacks shall be used as an excuse to call off a "ceasefire" that is yet to take hold.

In a very important sense, the developments since November 19 need to be seen in line with the ceasefire that the Hizbul Mujahideen had declared on July 24 and which had then been allowed to collapse within two weeks. Certain features of that episode hav e become clear retrospectively. First, that the earlier ceasefire was neither a surprise nor was it wholly unilateral. It was the result of a complex set of initiatives on a broad front and the Hizb had selected the timing for its own reasons, in order t o establish its pre-eminence among the jehadi groups and to steal the limelight from Farooq Abdullah's State Autonomy Report as well as the government's talks with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC). It is also significant that the Hizb ha s now demanded in the projected complex dialogue a role for itself, independent of the APHC.

It is also quite clear that the Hizb's initiative had come with Pakistan's backing. We shall return to the issue of Pakistan's restraint since November 19. A couple of things we recall. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, ha d at that time accused Musharraf of having applied undue pressure on the Hizb to offer that ceasefire. It is also significant that at the time of the July initiative too Gen. Pervez Musharraf had offered a six-month ceasefire along the LoC, reduction of forces along the Indo-Pakistan border and reduction in military expenditure, in order to reduce tensions and build toward peace. Similarly, he was reported to have approached foreign governments to set up mechanisms for the return of their nationals who were involved in jehadi groups in Pakistan and Kashmir. Well before the Hizb made its offer, sections of the Indian press had reported that the Pakistan High Commissioner in Delhi had advised the APHC not to insist on involving Pakistan directly i n the initial stages.

Retrospectively, one can also see that practical modalities had not been worked out for a ceasefire with the Hizb alone while the other jehadi groups were not a party to it; that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and the Home Ministry were at odds on a number of issues; and that the Indian government had incorrectly concluded that the offer of ceasefire was a sign of great weakness on the part of both the Pakistan government and the Hizb, and had therefore tried to dictate what amounted to terms for surrender during the talks, before the short-lived ceasefire broke down. The government seems to have persuaded itself that counter-insurgency operations were hurting the jehadis enough to force them to seek reprieve, if not sue for peace alto gether, and that Pakistan was too chaotic internally and too much under U.S. pressure to be able to sustain its policies in Kashmir.

BOTH assumptions were erroneous. As events since July - before November 19 and after - have shown, there is no significant decline in the will and capacity of the jehadi groups. And, the U.S. is undoubtedly anxious about the Islamic "fundamentalis m" emanating from Pakistan and radiating into Kashmir. It is therefore more sympathetic toward Indian positions than ever before, a sympathy which is greatly enhanced by its profit-making interest in the Indian economy. However, the U.S. is equally conce rned about the possibility of a war that may lead to a nuclear conflagration, and it has therefore exerted much pressure for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, which it sees, as Pakistan and others see, as the main source of instability.

There points about that pressure should be understood, however. First, India is in a completely different league in terms of geopolitical power equations and the U.S. therefore treats it differently and more courteously, but the pressure has been there o n Pakistan, India, the APHC and all other players in the Kashmir imbroglio. Second, Pakistan has common borders with West Asia, Russia, China and India, and the historic U.S. position - as of all major powers - on Kashmir is that it is a disputed territo ry and that India and Pakistan need to settle this issue bilaterally in a way that takes into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. This means, then, that Pakistan is too important for the U.S. to let it simply collapse as a state or to let it go ou t of its orbit, and that in an important respect the U.S. simply does not accept the Indian position and therefore shall not exert on Pakistan the wholesale pressure that India would prefer.

Finally, all the major powers want a solution to the Kashmir problem but none of them, including the U.S., is wedded to any particular solution. During his visit to New Delhi in October, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin recommended that a so lution be found on the basis of a compromise; variants of this sentiment have come from Japan, China, the European Union as well as the U.S. All these countries and groups would probably be perfectly pleased if India and Pakistan would agree to, and the people in Kashmir would accept, the LoC being turned into the international border. All of them emphasise (a) that there be an agreement between the two states and (b) that the solution be acceptable to the people of Kashmir, because no stable peace can be secured unless these two preconditions are met.

Be that as it may. The Indian government squandered the July initiative because it was internally too divided on the issues involved; had made neither practical arrangements for the implementation of a ceasefire nor had set itself any clear goals that we re to be pursued during the period of the ceasefire; and simply started looking for quick results. So the initiative collapsed. However, as was expected ("Ceasefire as smokescreen", Frontline, September 29 2000), neither side could just return to the earlier position and a certain momentum therefore remained.

The Hizb staged a couple of highly visible actions after the breakdown of the ceasefire in August, for demonstration effect, but essentially went dormant and withdrew much of its logistical support to the other jehadi outfits. Its chief, Syed Sala huddin, was soon to withdraw the demand for tripartite talks as well, saying: "Let India and Pakistan start and involve the Kashmiris later. Let Delhi and the Kashmiris start, how does it matter?" By October, he was calling upon the Indian government to declare a unilateral ceasefire as a gesture of good faith.

When that "gesture" came, Pakistan's reaction was swift. Already on November 21, two days after Vajpayee's announcement, an "understanding" was reached between the Directors-General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the two countries to de-escalate firin g along the LoC. After the restraint orders went into effect on November 28, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Inamul Haq announced in Islamabad on December 2 that his country would observe "maximum restraint in order to strengthen and stabilise the ceasefire ". When Vajpayee extended the ceasefire by another month, Pakistan was quick to announce a partial withdrawal of its troops from the LoC. The second extension in January brought from Musharraf the offer to come to India for talks, if invited, and then th e goodwill gesture of some aid for relief in Gujarat and a brief telephonic contact.

There has been no real "ceasefire" between the Indian security forces and the Jammu and Kashmir Police on the one hand, the jehadi outfits and the Kashmiri populace on the other. But there has certainly been something of a ceasefire between India and Pakistan on the LoC. It is generally agreed that there is more peace at the LoC today than virtually at any point since the Shimla Agreement. The much-touted Lahore Declaration did not bring anything remotely comparable to what Musharraf, the suppose d "architect of Kargil", has been able to produce in response to the Indian initiative.

That initiative too seems to be better prepared this time, at least procedurally. A broader range of experienced diplomats seem to be involved. There is less of haste to obtain quick concessions from the other side, be it the APHC or Pakistan itself; mor e concern with confidence-building measures and procedural care; and a greater understanding that the violence shall not cease immediately. The Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. S. Padmanabhan, has played a most constructive role in openly supporting the ini tiative and thus sheltering it from those who wish to use the terrorist violence to derail the initiative. And, much as India must continue to speak of "cross-border terrorism" as an article of its policy, there seems to be a general appreciation of the fact that the rate of infiltration has dropped sharply since November 19, even compared to similar wintry conditions in the past. This is highly significant, since it is in masterminding infiltration that the Pakistan Army plays the central role.

The terrorist violence continues unabated, though. In fact, it is chastening to realise that there has been no significant decline in terrorist activity despite the fact that the Hizbul Mujahideen has basically played no part in it in the recent phase. I t had been previously assumed that the Hizb accounted for some 60 per cent of the jehad; was the most indigenous and therefore more able to move safely within the population; and provided the crucial logistical support without which the other j ehadi groups could not really function. The experience of the past three months, however, is that in the short run at least, those other groups can keep up the momentum and do great damage on their own.

This jehadi capacity is bound to be a major issue in the coming weeks and months. Any expectation that the violence would just stop and everyone would now settle down to nice, courteous dialogue is of course unrealistic. However, Pakistan must dem onstrably cease or at least considerably minimise its role in the infiltration and re-supplying of intruders. India should, on the other hand, realise that it is only over time and through attrition that terror from the infiltrated jehadis would a ppreciably decline; even a small number of fanatical youth seeking martyrdom can organise quite a few suicide squads and terrorist attacks. But the Indian government must also recognise the full extent to which the roots of the insurgency are indigenous, and that some degree of violence will persist so long as those aspirations are not addressed which the jehadis exploit. Far from using the persistence of jehadi violence as an excuse to call off the initiative, there has to be the will to combat it and isolate it while also enlarging the scope of the normalisation of civil life in the State, for which too the security forces shall have to take risks.

It was with deliberate care that the Indian government chose to take its initiative at a time of the year when severity of weather conditions permits neither a high level of infiltration nor a high level of search and destroy missions by the Central secu rity forces. The Jammu and Kashmir Police forces have not ceased or appreciably scaled down their operations in any case. Now the immediate danger is that having demonstrated to its own satisfaction that it has observed all the restraint it could, the Bh aratiya Janata Party-led government may call off the initiative before the warm weather sets in. It could then proceed to unleash the counter-terror in full force on the one hand, and proceed with its plan for a communal re-division of the State on the p olitical front. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) spokesperson M.C. Vaidya told journalists in Jammu on December 24 that the organisation remained committed to the splitting of Jammu and Kashmir into three separate entities along its main ethnic-religiou s fault-lines. In addition to this, he said, the RSS believed in the need for a new enclave, a homeland for Kashmir's Pandit community.

One of the more alarming aspects of this potential development is that Farooq Abdullah, who is dead set against the policy of military restraint, is nevertheless already inclined toward that communal re-division, his unhappiness with his allies on the St ate Autonomy Resolution notwithstanding. Even the APHC would probably be inclined toward that re-division so long as it gets recognised as the chief interlocutor, alongside Farooq, on matters pertaining to the Valley itself and a couple of districts in J ammu.

It is not clear how Pakistan will react to this situation. Its previous Foreign Minister, Sartaj Aziz, is on record as having suggested that the plebiscite - that Pakistan never tires of demanding - could be a "district-wise" one. This suggests that Paki stan too is drawing closer to a position where it would accept as a final solution, with or without a plebiscite, the Muslim parts of the State going to Pakistan with India keeping the rest. So we may yet have a situation where the State is re-divided al ong communal lines with the full participation of the BJP-led government, the RSS, the National Conference, the Hurriyat and Pakistan itself, with Pakistan calculating that this internal re-division would pave the way for the implementation of the two-na tion theory in Kashmir as well, parts of it getting annexed to the two states that arose out of the fires of 1947.

If that were to come about, it will not have been the first time that Hindu and Muslim communalists, formally enemies of each other, will have colluded to deny a people a secular and tolerant identity and a composite culture which has been their rightful aspiration and patrimony. Such an outcome is all the more likely since no secular, democratic, left alterative has been defined thus far. On what basis can such an alternative be constructed? That is the question facing the progressive forces of the cou ntry today.

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