Disturbing ceasefire

Published : Dec 23, 2001 00:00 IST

Incidents overtake the peace process in Jammu and Kashmir as the Islamic right wing rejects any kind of accommodation until India invites Pakistan for talks.

THERE is fantasy about the Ramzan ceasefire, and then there is fact. Among Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's staff, the favoured official daydream about Jammu and Kashmir sounds like a fairy tale. King Vajpayee's Ramzan ceasefire leads the people of Kashmir to realise that India is not an ogre, but their true friend. His knights in shining armour, Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and emissary R.K. Mishra, in the course of a series of thrilling adventures, expose the diguised villain, Pakistan. In the end, the good fairy, the United States of America, waves its magic wand and binds Pakistan in chains, putting an end to its murderous plots.

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance came to power, a succession of miracle cures have been peddled as solutions to what has come to be known as the Kashmir problem. Starting with Union Home Minister L.K. Advani's promis es of a proactive policy, everything from the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in May 1998 and the sentimentalism of the Lahore bus journey in February 1999 to the ongoing dialogue process have been advertised as enabling a final resolution to the decade-old con flict. True to form, events are not running quite according to script this time either. Although there are signs of fissures within the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), and of U.S. pressure on Pakistan to support the ceasefire, peace remains elusive. Far from declining, violence has in fact escalated during the ceasefire period in the State.

It is not that the ceasefire has failed to produce political momentum. One of its abiding consequences has been to sharpen the fissures between the pro-peace and pro-jehad elements in the APHC. At a December 10 seminar in Srinagar, violence broke out between members of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islamic Students League on the one hand, and backers of the more centrist People's Conference and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The fracas followed the publication of an interview with senio r APHC leader Abdul Ghani Lone in The Washington Post, in which he said that "the biggest danger now is from the (Islamic) extremists". The far right, Lone said, "will make serious efforts to undermine the ceasefire". Geelani responded by attackin g Lone in no uncertain terms. The Dukhtaran-e-Millat's Asiya Andrabi, for her part, charged Lone with "spreading communism in Kashmir" and being "an idiot".

That there are fissures within the APHC is evident from the fact that the organisation has not been able to meet to arrive at a formal position on the Ramzan ceasefire. Lone spent much of his time in Pakistan insisting that terrorist groups must now resp ond to the ceasefire. Some observers believe that his remarks, which came after he met Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf, had some tacit Pakistani endorsement. In this he seems to have the support of the JKLF's Yasin Malik, and other APH C centrists. But Geelani and the APHC's right wing have flatly rejected any kind of accommodation until India begins formal talks with Pakistan and the organisation itself. APHC leaders have not been able to decide who among them should visit Pakistan fo r a dialogue with its political leadership, or what the terms of their engagement will be.

APHC politicians seem to be waiting for some kind of signal with regard to New Delhi's intentions, but the wait could be a long one. R.K. Mishra, who has been acting as a quasi-official envoy of the Prime Minister for negotiations with the APHC, has not made any formal promises. All that the APHC leaders have been told is that their proposed visit to Pakistan would be considered sympathetically. The Union government, however, seems clear that there is no prospect of a dialogue with Pakistan until that c ountry ceases to support cross-border terrorism. Geelani and the Hizbul Mujahideen have flatly refused to back a ceasefire until such negotiations begin. Here again, there are cracks within the ranks. Top Kashmir politician Abdul Qayyum Khan, held by Pak istan, for example, has called for the resumption of a dialogue between the APHC and New Delhi, and said that talks with Pakistan could start later.

For the moment, all elements in the APHC seem more focussed on resolving their internal feuds than on shaping a larger policy aimed at engaging New Delhi. Successive meetings of the body's executive were put off, and one was scheduled for December 17. Ma ny people believe that whatever the outcome of that meeting, the divisions within the organisation are too great to allow any temporary truce to hold. Lone's strong advocacy of peace, for example, is simply unacceptable to Geelani. Should an impasse cont inue, the APHC could find itself on the verge of a vertical split. The organisation has also not been able to decide on the modalities for a potential dialogue, including who its representatives would be or what mandates they would be given.

Pakistan, a key player in shaping the APHC agenda, seems just as confused as the organisation's politicians. That country is clearly under intense U.S. pressure. It announced a ceasefire along the Line of Control days after the International Monetary Fun d (IMF) sanctioned the first tranche of desperately needed aid (article on page 54). The ceasefire has meant that cross-border infiltration levels have dropped sharply. Yet there are no signs that major organisations of the Islamic right, such as the Las hkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammadi, have been pressured to terminate violent activity in Jammu and Kashmir. On the one hand, Pakistan's military establishment cannot afford to alienate its only friends in the political spectrum. On the other, an end to violence would deprive Pakistan of whatever leverage it has.

Mishra and the APHC leaders in New Delhi, sources told Frontline, agreed that all violence must end before a meaningful dialogue can begin. There is no clarity, however, on the shape such a dialogue might take. U.S. policy establishment figures su ch as Michael Sheehan are believed to have told the APHC that they must prove their credentials as representatives of Jammu and Kashmir through by securing some form of electoral mandate. In real terms, this means the APHC would have to share its status as a representative of the State's people with the National Conference, and even more hostile forces of the Hindu and Buddhist right from Jammu and Ladakh. More disturbing, the Hizbul Mujahideen, much against the APHC's wishes, has made clear it wants a direct voice in any future negotiations, a prospect politicians in the secessionist coalition are determined to resist.

It is not hard to see why violence, not high politics, is at the centre of the discussion. A study of hard figures does nothing to bear out the general air of optimism about the ceasefire. Those arguing that the ceasefire should be extended beyond Ramzan point to the sharp decline in violence-related fatalities, which have fallen from 148 in the fortnight before the ceasefire to 83 in the subsequent fortnight. But this figure does not actually mean much. The decline is the consequence of the fall in kil lings of terrorists, which dropped from 73 to 21 during the same period. In other words, the decline in killings is not the consequence of a fall in levels of violence, but because the security forces are no longer initiating aggressive seek and destroy operations.

Further analysis of the figures throw up several interesting issues about the post-ceasefire security landscape. Although the number of civilians killed dropped from 53 in the fortnight before the ceasefire to 35 in the fortnight after it began, the numb er of those injured almost trebled. The number of attacks and bombings by terrorists, which intentionally or otherwise cause civilian casualties, have actually risen marginally. Disturbingly, the numbers of security force personnel killed has risen in th e post-ceasefire phase. Officers make no secret of their frustration over a situation where they have, in effect, become target practice dummies.

Read against data for the second fortnight of November 1999, the ceasefire period numbers are even more grim. That was a particularly bad month, recording the highest levels of violence that year. This was because of dislocations in the security grid in Jammu and Kashmir, brought about by troop withdrawals in the course of the Kargil war. But the first fortnight of the ceasefire has seen more violent incidents and more killings than the second half of 1999. The only substantive fall has been in the numb ers of terrorists killed, which have been almost halved. That this level of violence exists despite marked reductions in the Hizbul Mujahideen's operations suggests that ultra-right groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammadi have been a ble to hold their own successfully.

What the data does, in essence, is to debunk two cherished propositions of the ceasefire's proponents in New Delhi. The first is that a decline in the Hizbul Mujahideen's scale of activity would bring about a marked decline in levels of violence. Such a decline, it had been argued, would then open space for a meaningful political dialogue. The second proposition was that the Ramzan ceasefire would bring international pressure to bear on Pakistan, compelling it to de-escalate hostilities. Although Pakist an has been pushed to terminate fire along the LoC, there is no evidence to suggest that pressure has been brought to bear on the Lashkar or the Jaish-e-Mohammadi. Impressionistic accounts of a decline in violence, based largely on the political climate in Srinagar, clearly do not reflect the ground realities.

Any debate on a possible extension of the ceasefire must address these issues. Two broad lines of thought exist within New Delhi's Jammu and Kashmir policy establishment, now under the effective command of Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser. Those arguing for the extension of the ceasefire beyond Id say that it will build diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. An extension, it is believed, will also allow dialogue with the APHC to progress, and help build c onfidence among ordinary Kashmir residents. Critics, however, suggest that a unilateral ceasefire, which does not command the respect of terrorist groups, would undermine the security apparatus, and bring no real diplomatic dividends in the short to medi um term.

For the moment, it appears that advocates of an extension of the ceasefire period are winning the argument. No one seems aware of or willing to discuss the details of Mishra's covert dialogue with the APHC, but the Prime Minister's Office seems optimisti c about their outcome. U.S. Under-secretary of State Thomas Pickering's December 14 description of the Ramzan ceasefire as an "important development" has also been interpreted to mean that the U.S. will compel Pakistan to rein in the ultra-right terroris t groups. "There's been an enormous overheating of expectations," notes a Home Ministry official. "A lot of people seem to think some miraculous resolution of the Kashmir problem is around the corner and achievable. They draw analogies with the Oslo proc ess (for peace in West Asia), but do not look at what has happened to all the diplomatic agreements on the ground."

How the Hizbul Mujahideen and other terrorist organisations would respond to an extension of the period of the ceasefire is far from clear. Hizb spokesperson Saleem Hashmi, in a December 13 press release, claimed credit for an attack on State Public Work s Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar. Four days earlier, Hizb chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah, who uses the alias Syed Salahuddin, told the Karachi-based weekly magazine Wajood that his organisation would only accept a ceasefire if India first agreed to engage Pakistan in dialogue. Part of this posture may be driven by pressure from Pakistan's intelligence establishment. But right-wing elements like Shabbir Bhadur i, Mohiuddin Ahanger or the Pir Panjal Regiment's Samsher Khan, affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami's Rashid Turabi faction, have made clear their opposition to the ceasefire. The Right could influence the organisation's Majlis-e-Shoura (general council), which holds meetings each winter in Pakistan. That, in turn, could lead the Hizb to recall pro-peace commanders from Jammu and Kashmir, and replace them with hardliners.

While the political spaces that have opened up through the Ramzan ceasefire are indeed a tangible gain, it would be unrealistic and unwise to expect dramatic results soon. No Indian government would be able even to push maximalist 1953-style federal auto nomy to Jammu and Kashmir through Parliament, let alone grant quasi-independence to a part of the State. No APHC leader in his senses would be able to settle for the kind of autonomy the Indian government might be willing to offer. And the configuration of Pakistan's politics makes the prospect of far-right Islamist organisations being reined in minimal, no matter how many IMF loan tranches are dangled before Musharraf. It is going to take patient work by the diverse political players to prepare the gro und for peace. There is no deux ex machina that can bring down the curtain on the conflict: waiting for a fairytale ending is unlikely to be time well spent.

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