Unfavourable record

Print edition : December 19, 2003

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader. - SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP

Given Pakistan's not-so-convincing crackdown on jehadis and overt support to the Islamists in Kashmir, its peace moves are viewed with some scepticism.

"TAKE a deep breath," says a senior military officer, "and then exhale. Somewhere in between, someone will have opened fire along the Line of Control." It is not for nothing, after all, that former United States President Bill Clinton referred to it as "the most dangerous place."

At 12:00 P.M. on November 26, India's Acting Director-General of Military Operations, Major-General Amrik Singh Bhaiya, and his Pakistani counterpart, Major-General Mohammad Yusuf, began their pre-scheduled weekly telephone conversation. This Tuesday, however, the conversation was not routine. In exactly 12 hours, Major-General Bhaiya said, Indian forces would cease fire along the 778-kilometre Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the international border on its southern fringes and the 150-kilometre Actual Ground Position Line on the Siachen Glacier. Troops would, however, shoot to kill if infiltration was detected. Bhaiya ended the conversation by wishing his counterpart a happy Id. World capitals soon started to call in, expressing delight at this development.

Across the corridor from Bhaiya's office, though, no one was popping champagne bottles. Chief of Army Staff Nirmal Vij had called Director-General of Military Intelligence Lieutenant General Richard Khare and other top officers to discus the possible implications of the ceasefire. Their discussions were interrupted a little after lunch time. A subordinate informed Khare that a long-range patrol of the 3 Kumaon Regiment had been ambushed in the mountains above Mahore, near Jammu. Two soldiers and two Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists had been killed. Students of military history often define a war as a combat engagement that claims over a thousand battlefield deaths: and the news was a grim reminder that Jammu and Kashmir crosses that threshold each year.

If nothing else the Id ceasefire has added to the dots on the ongoing India-Pakistan dtente process - and some kind of picture is starting to emerge. The ceasefire was preceded by an unexpected Pakistani crackdown on terrorist groups, and prior to that, Jammu and Kashmir itself had witnessed an unprecedented decline in levels of violence through October. Internal projections prepared by the Intelligence Bureau (IB), based on observed data from January to April, suggest that 2003 will prove to have had the lowest levels of fatalities in five years. U.S. Under-Secretary of State Christina Rocca had responded to this development by congratulating Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf for his efforts to end cross-border terrorism - and India, in turn, by offering the secessionist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) direct dialogue with Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Diplomats from both the U.S. and United Kingdom make no secret of the pressure brought to bear on Pakistan to de-escalate its state-sponsored Jehad in Jammu and Kashmir. After the abnormal decline in violence in October, many believe, Western capitals pushed New Delhi to make some reciprocal moves towards dialogue. The new round of pressure is not altruistic. With their troops increasingly bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Western powers simply cannot afford another major conflagration to the east. "With general elections coming up in India," admits a British Foreign Office analyst, "we believe there is a real danger that a major terrorist attack could provoke cross-border military responses by India. That, in turn, could spark off a major escalatory cycle, with all kinds of unpredictable consequences." To Islamabad, then, the message is blunt: Behave.

JUST how serious, though, are Pakistan's moves towards peace? Since most fire engagements on the LoC begin with Pakistani troops using artillery and mortar to cover infiltrating groups, the ceasefire, at first glance, seems significant. Infiltration, interestingly, has come down in recent months, although that is in part the consequence of the coming winter. Given the direct influence of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) over the Jehadi groups operating in the State, October's de-escalation suggests a more direct signal of intent. Yet, there is good reason to be sceptical about the new ban on Jehadi groups. The groups, now banned, had also been proscribed under U.S. pressure after the attack on India's Parliament House in December 2001, but they continued to operate using new names. The well-respected Pakistani journalist Mohammad Shehzad recently noted that organisations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba had been recruiting cadre, publishing Jehadi literature, and calling for war against India, particularly "infidel" Hindus.

Some Pakistani commentators, like the country's former Ambassador to Sri Lanka Husain Haqqani, believe President Pervez Musharraf's new round of proscription is tactical. "Two years after the banning of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Tehrik-e-Jafariya", he wrote in The Nation on November 19, "their successor organisations Khuddam-ul-Islam, Millat-e-Islamia and Islami Tehrik have now been banned. The rented offices of these organisations are being sealed, just as the offices of the parent organisations were sealed two years ago. Their prominent activists are being rounded up, though the arrests this time are fewer than the 1,400 activists detained in early 2002. Some Jehadi leaders have been detained while others, notably Maulana Masood Azhar, have again proven hard to find. The bank accounts of the banned organisations are being seized, though, as in the past, none of them is likely to have more than a few hundred rupees or a few dollars in them."

Indian military and intelligence experts support Haqqani's contention of official dishonesty. The freeze on jehadi groups' bank accounts, they point out, came well after the ban was announced, allowing plenty of time for fund withdrawal. The new-brand Lashkar-e-Toiba was not banned, but merely placed on a watch-list; several large terrorist groups like the Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami and ostensibly ethnic-Kashmir organisations like the Hizbul Mujahideen have not been touched. More important, Jehadi capabilities have not been significantly undermined. Pakistan has not seized the large stockpiles of weapons and explosives held by Jehadi groups, nor shut down training camps where the cadre are taught military skills. "In essence," suggests a senior IB official, "all Pakistan has demonstrated is that it has the capability to give us what we want, that is a de-escalation of violence - if, that is, we give the Pakistan Army what it wants."

Syed Ali Shah Geelani, leader of the Islamist faction of the APHC.-NISSAR AHMAD

What Pakistan now wants in Jammu and Kashmir is no secret. Its military-backed Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, recently told The Dawn that Pakistan supported the Islamist faction of the APHC led by Jamaat-e-Islami dissident Syed Ali Shah Geelani, not the moderate group with which the Indian government will open negotiations after Id. "They," Jamali said of the Islamists, "were the main active partners, and I think he (Geelani) is the one who has been very active and very vocal throughout, and I think people respect him in the Valley also." The term "active partners" presumably refers to Geelani's support for Jehadi groups. Many of these groups have opposed the ongoing dialogue process; others, notably the Jamait-ul-Mujahideen, have demanded along with Geelani that any political engagement on the future of Jammu and Kashmir include Pakistan as a party.

PAKISTAN'S overt support for the Islamists is certain to have considerable influence on the course of the post-Id dialogue. In mid-November, the APHC announced it was willing to open dialogue with the Union government as soon as it receives a formal letter of invitation. One of the key proponents of dialogue within the APHC, Srinagar-based religious leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has been authorised to conduct negotiations. Mirwaiz Farooq was, along with the assassinated centrist APHC leader Abdul Gani Lone, a key figure in covert and overt contact with the Indian state in 1999 - a process of engagement that culminated in the current dialogue offer. Lone and Farooq were also participants in contacts between the centrists and Pakistani intelligence brokered by the U.S. in 2001.

The APHC's decision followed an October 22 announcement that Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani is willing to hold direct talks with the secessionist coalition. Officials in New Delhi have already let it be known that they intend to issue an invitation soon, perhaps after the end of the month of Ramzan. For once, the APHC centrists have shown considerable flexibility. They have not, notably, demanded that they be allowed to travel to Pakistan to consult armed groups there before dialogue commences, a precondition that has in the past proved a spoiler. Lone had fallen out with Geelani over this precondition in the months before his assassination, following which terrorist groups intervened to settle the dispute directly. Neither Pakistan nor the Jehadi groups, quite obviously, will sit and watch themselves getting marginalised now.

As things stand, those in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs charged with drafting a formal letter of invitation to the APHC are grappling with a nightmarish exercise in semantics. Their letter must use terms that allow the APHC to claim that all options, including independence, are open for discussion, and that New Delhi acknowledges it to be a legitimate arbiter of the fate of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. At once, the government must be able to claim that secession is not on the agenda, and that the APHC is not the representative of a nation. Past experiences in letter writing have not been heartening. A 2001 letter issued to the APHC by the then-Union government mediator on Jammu and Kashmir, K.C. Pant, received no response. Another, to the non-APHC secessionist leader Shabbir Shah, led first to a desultory correspondence and then an equally desultory dialogue. The current mediator, N.N. Vohra, perhaps wisely chose not to write letters to anyone at all.

Almost all mainstream parties in Jammu and Kashmir have welcomed the Id ceasefire and backed the dialogue process - but they, like the moderate APHC faction, are not a principal to the conflict, and have no influence over armed groups. Indeed, even some centrist groups like the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, chose not to participate in the APHC meeting that authorised dialogue. The Islamists led by Geelani have such influence, but will not use it since they have not been invited to feast at the peace table. Geelani has, in no uncertain terms, said that the centrist APHC has "betrayed the trust of the people of Jammu and Kashmir". Without a de-escalation of violence, however, the Union government will obviously find it very hard to sell even the smallest concession to a public increasingly bewildered by the startling lurches in official policy.

Despite Musharraf's expression of concern about the bad press Pakistan is getting for its covert support to terror, the Jehad in Jammu and Kashmir is an enterprise he seems unwilling to wind down - at least just yet. Unless, by some miracle, violence does de-escalate significantly, the guns will open up again along the LoC. Villagers along the LoC will be grateful for a quiet Id: but they too know it is not without reason that pessimists on Jammu and Kashmir turn out to be right with depressing regularity.

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