Another ceasefire

Print edition : November 25, 2000

The declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the Union government has shaken up political life in Jammu and Kashmir.

FOR believing Muslims, the sighting of the Ramzan moon is among the most important religious events of the year. This year, it is going to be a question of life and death, literally.

When Indian troops scale back operations in Jammu and Kashmir on November 28, most ordinary people in the state will be hoping for the first violence-free Ramzan in over a decade. Most of the politicians who claim to represent them, however, appear to be unhappy about the prospect.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's declaration on November 19 that Indian troops will observe a unilateral ceasefire during the Mah-i-Ramzan (the month of Ramzan) shook up political life in the State. The announcement created panic within the secessio nist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), which could find itself on the edge of a split. It could also drive a deep wedge between the factions in the Hizbul Mujahideen. Mainstream politicians, ranging from Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to his arch-o pponent Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, welcomed the ceasefire offer, but their aides were making no effort to conceal their fury with the peace process.

No one in the APHC seemed certain about just how to react to the announcement. Speaking to mediapersons in New Delhi, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani said ceasefire was not an "everlasting solution". That, however, left open the question whe ther he, and other hardliners in the APHC, thought it should be respected by terrorist groups or not. APHC centrists, many of whom are in Pakistan to attend the wedding of Abdul Ghani Lone's son with Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Amanullah Khan's daughter, have not yet spoken about the development. But when they do, Lone and figures like Srinagar religious leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq could find themselves in open confrontation with the hardliners.

It is also clear that the Hizbul Mujahideen will face serious factional conflicts in the days to come. Just one day before Vajpayee's announcement, top Hizb leader Abdul Aziz Sheikh, better known by his nom de guerre General Moosa, had announced h is support for a ceasefire from the Srinagar Central Jail. Sheikh, whose release had been demanded by the hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 last year, said he hoped that "after taking into confidence Hizb commanders on both sides of the Line of Control, my Amir (chief) will announce a ceasefire during Ramzan". Hizb chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah did not respond in public to Sheikh's appeal, but it is clear that growing numbers of the terrorist organisation's predominantly Kashmiri cadre endorse the peace efforts.

Abdul Majid Dar, the architect of the abortive Hizb-led ceasefire announced in August, is certain to be delighted with the results of his covert efforts to secure support within the organisation. Shah, however, is under intense pressure from Pakistan's m ilitary establishment. Should he endorse the ceasefire, the Hizb could find itself in frontal conflict with Far Right terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammadi. Alternatively, if the Hizb imposes conditions for a ceasefire , such as a diplomatic dialogue involving Pakistan, it could face disquiet within its own ranks. In October, Shah had himself called for the Indian government to declare a ceasefire as a gesture of good faith. Pakistan had then believed that the Vajpayee government would find it politically impossible to do so, an assumption that has backfired.

Farooq Abdullah faces problems that are structurally similar to those of the Hizb and the APHC. For the past several months, the National Conference has been seeking to rebuild its mass credentials, by condemning alleged human rights violations by the se curity forces and distancing itself from its allies in the National Democratic Alliance. These efforts, along with the N.C.'s autonomy platform, were aimed at protecting the party in the event of elements from within the Hizb and the APHC joining mainstr eam electoral politics. Now, the political initiative has been seized from the N.C., and its agenda displaced from the foreground of state politics. Politicians like Sayeed, who had predicated their future on a dialogue process with terrorists, have also been marginalised by the declaration of a ceasefire they can take no credit for.

INTERESTINGLY, the idea of the Union government declaring a unilateral ceasefire came first from the Communist Party of India (Marxist). CPI(M) MLA Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami had argued the need for such a move on November 7, and sources say he was a key fi gure in subsequent discussions on the issue. The idea was extensively discussed in the Ministry of Home Affairs through the month, and also won the endorsement of the Chief of the Army Staff, General S. Padmanabhan. The Prime Minister's key aide, Brajesh Mishra, was among those who supported the ceasefire move, but sources say Home Minister L.K. Advani was less enthusiastic. Advani, who is believed to have opposed the August ceasefire, warned of the prospect of disruptive massacres and strikes by terror ists which would discredit the government. Advani finally agreed just two days before the ceasefire was declared.

On the eve of the declaration, the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Juma Masjid, Syed Ahmad Bukhari, was roped in to ask Mohammed Yusuf Shah to support a Ramzan ceasefire. Abdul Aziz Sheikh then used the Imam's call to demand that his leadership back a ceasefire. T here is little doubt that the Hizb's operational ability has declined significantly since the last ceasefire. Much of its cadre now wish for an end to violence.

Indian officials, for their part, say that they will not tolerate movement across the Line of Control, and that troops will respond if fired on. Should the ceasefire hold, the question of initiating an eventual dialogue with the Hizb and other secessioni st forces will then come centrestage. Efforts to put an end to violence in Jammu and Kashmir by sundering it on communal lines have been gathering momentum. Such a division, ironically, is something that elements in both the APHC and the Rashtriya Swayam sevak Sangh appear to agree is inevitable. Should the dialogue process become a pretext for such an enterprise, the price of peace could prove more awful than that of the bloody war in Jammu and Kashmir.

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