Ceasefire as smokescreen

Published : Sep 16, 2000 00:00 IST

The Central government has no policy on Kashmir because the Bharatiya Janata Party is unable to bridge the gap between the international pressures and the achievable terms of peace in Kashmir on the one hand and the maximalist position of the Ra shtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on the other.

THE declaration of a "unilateral" ceasefire for three months by the Hizbul Mujahideen on July 24 was surely dramatic, perhaps more dramatic than its equally unilateral withdrawal of the offer on August 8. A certain watershed had been reached, and it is u nlikely that the withdrawal of the offer could take the respective belligerents back to where they were before the drama was staged.


In the short run, of course, the Hizb's various moves had the effect of shifting everyone's attention away from the autonomy resolution that the Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly had passed only recently. That was perhaps the great favour that the Hizb di d to the A.B. Vajpayee government, which had felt quite cornered by that resolution. This was, in one sense, quite in the fitness of things. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah knew of the various tracks through which talks on Kashmir were going on: with the Hizb itself, with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the Americans, the Pakistan government. He knew that some sort of breakthrough was in the offing - whether with the Hurriyat or with the Hizb, one could not quite tell. He pushed the resolutio n through the Assembly in order to steal the limelight before the breakthrough came about. With its announcement of the ceasefire, the Hizb took back the limelight.

Everyone seems to have been trying to upstage everyone else. Just as Farooq had been worried by the ongoing talks between the government and the APHC and had therefore tried desperately to reassert his own status as the central figure in Jammu and Kashmi r, it seems fairly clear that the Hizb was equally keen to upstage Farooq and the Hurriyat alike. Leaders of the APHC were to characterise the Hizb's decision as having been "too hasty," and they were of course right. Neither the Hizb nor the Vajpayee go vernment, which had been talking to each other for quite a while, had actually worked out any significant details as to how the ceasefire was to be implemented.

The government seems to have had two concerns: to play off the various parties against one another and thus undermine them all, and to demonstrate "progress" before Prime Minister Vajpayee's trip to the United States. The breakdown itself, so long as it came on the Hizb's initiative, was perfectly acceptable. It could be used to exacerbate tensions within the outfit while the Americans could be told that India had done its part but the other side was insincere. For the Hizb too, "haste" was of the essen ce - to pre-empt the others and to assert its primacy within the jehad.

TO the question of Farooq Abdullah we shall return at some length shortly. Suffice it to say here that Farooq's commitment to real autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir within India, in accordance with Article 370, suits neither the Hizb nor the Vajpayee govern ment. It does not suit the Hizb for the obvious reason that the autonomy resolution commits Jammu and Kashmir irrevocably to India, which is unacceptable to Pakistan government as well as the Hizb. However, the autonomy resolution is not acceptable to th e Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) either, thanks precisely to that same Article 370 which bestows upon Jammu and Kashmir a very special status, to which the whole Sangh Parivar is fundamentally opposed. The Vajpayee government would rather discuss "azadi " with the Islamicists than discuss Article 370 and restoration of autonomy with the anti-Islamicists.

Meanwhile, the Hizb had a profound interest in upstaging the Hurriyat and scuttling the latter's talks with the government of India. The Hizb is an arm of the Jama'at-e-Islami, a powerful political party based in Pakistan which has used the Hizb to estab lish a major presence for itself within the Kashmir valley, where it had very little influence before 1990. The Jama'at-e-Islami fully intends to take power in Pakistan and had in the past tried its very best to impose its ally, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as t he unchallenged ruler in Afghanistan. It is one of the central forces in exporting the jehad to Jammu and Kashmir as well. As such, the single aim of the Hizb since its inception in 1990 has been to establish its own dominance over the fighting fo rces in Jammu and Kashmir.

It once fought a fierce and bloody battle against the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), because the latter was secular, was opposed to the idea of the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan, and did not serve the interests either of the Jama 'at-e-Islami or, more generally, of the Islamicist jehad. Since the decisive defeat of the JKLF in the early 1990s (by 1996, at the latest, it had been wiped out quite decisively), the Hizb has been mainly concerned with establishing its dominance over the Islamicist groups themselves, of whatever stripe. For that reason, it has sought to dominate the APHC as well as to undermine it. The Hizb's advantage in the enterprise has been that it indeed is the most formidable fighting force whereas the A PHC is basically a debating society, a public relations outfit, and at best a loose forum through which others can talk to the fraternity of Islamicist groups. The "haste", in any case, was designed to outflank the larger coalition.

In context, then, there was something rather surreal in the way the Hizb appeared in the government's pronouncements as well as in the rhetoric of the dominant media as a darling of both, consistently for some two weeks though not after August 8. We were told that this was positively the first time that a major militant organisation in Jammu and Kashmir had offered a ceasefire, and an unconditional one at that. That was not exactly true. The JKLF had offered a ceasefire in 1994 on almost exactly the sam e terms. The government of the day had not taken the offer seriously because it knew that the JKLF was already cornered and because the government sought not to make peace with the organisation but to split it. The perception was correct and the split wa s successfully executed. However, it was with the elimination of the JKLF that the insurgency came to be dominated exclusively by the Islamicist and jehadi groups wholly loyal to Pakistan.

We were also told that the government was willing to negotiate all kinds of concessions with the Hizb because, among all the Islamicist groups, it was the most indigenously rooted. Indeed, Home Minister L.K. Advani went so far as to refer to the Hizb fon dly as "domestic dissidents," unlike the other groups which were simply "foreigners". That was in some restricted sense true but highly, even dangerously, misleading. Information about the Hizb that is publicly available suggests that the majority of its cadres come from the Indian side of Kashmir. However, the Hizb was in the very moment of its inception specifically a creation of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time when men like Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul were deeply committed to taking t he Afghan jehad into Kashmir.

The Jama'at-e-Islami of Pakistan had cooperated with the ISI in creating the Hizb because it wanted to expand its bases on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) and had also wanted to outflank other Islamicist outfits loyal to political forces wit hin Pakistan, such as the Jami'atul Ulema-e-Islam and the Tableeghi Jama'at, which were competing with the Jama'at-e-Islami for supremacy inside Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir. Thanks to its connection with the Jama'at-e-Islami, the Hizb also benefited from alignment with Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami. All these forces built up the Hizb with a two-pronged agenda against the JKLF: 1. to break a relatively secular force in order to establish the dominance of the Islamicists, and 2. t o eliminate the one major force which stood for the independence of Kashmir so that the whole of the insurgency could be dominated by the elements that seek the amalgamation of Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan.

It was on the instruction of those forces that the Hizb fought an implacable battle against the JKLF and played perhaps a more decisive role in its elimination than did the Indian security forces. Two things can be said with some reasonable degree of con fidence about that episode. One should not forget that unlike the Hizb, the JKLF was mainly a secular organisation, and that it was at least as much indigenously rooted as the Hizb. In and around Srinagar, and in impressive sections of the secular Kashmi ri intelligentsia, it seemed to have had a degree of presence and popularity that the Hizb has probably not had, even though the Hizb does control impressive fire-power thanks to its sponsors.

IN the immediate aftermath of the Hizb's unilateral offer in July this year, we heard a lot about how it was truly indigenous, how it had defied the Pakistan government in making the offer, and how it controlled some 60 per cent of the armed insurgency a nd was as such the real party to talk to. Given the Hizb's often brutal and successful operations against the other jehadi groups, and given that the Hizb is allied with the Jama'at-e-Islami which is now, thanks to the Hizb's own performance in th e fighting, a major political party in Jammu and Kashmir, it is possible that the estimate of 60 per cent is correct. Meanwhile, there had also been a split in the major Deobandi organisation, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, paving the way for the Jama'at-e-Is lami and the Hizb to pick up more support among the Islamicist circles. It was indeed this sense of strength that made it easier for the Jama'at-e-Islami and its front to respond to the American pressure and open negotiations about a year ago, and then t o speed them up after the visit of President Bill Clinton, knowing that it would dominate the negotiating process.

The problem, however, was that by the government's own assertion there was another motley crowd of armed groups which controlled 40 per cent of the jehad and were not a party to the ceasefire. How was that still formidable section to be mollified and restrained in the observance of a ceasefire to which it was not a party? What became quite clear soon after the announcement of the ceasefire offer was that neither side had a firm idea of how an effective cesaefire was to be implemented in this flui d situation. Nor had the two parties agreed on a formula before the "unilateral" announcement was made. Indeed, the two positions that emerged over the next week or so were so far apart that one found it difficult to believe that either side - particular ly the Indian side - had been serious in the first place. For, the Hizb simply reiterated the position that every significant group involved in the Kashmir insurgency has held: tripartite talks that would fully include Pakistan, and a framework of talks outside the Indian Constitution. The Indian government, on its part, seemed preoccupied with one objective alone: getting as many of the Hizb commanders to come overground as possible.

At one level, the Hizb's ceasefire offer was being used as the JKLF's offer had been used some six years earlier: to force as much of a split, and as many splits, as possible.

The other calculation, also reasonably sound, was that the Indian security forces need do nothing to undermine the ceasefire; other Islamicist groups would accomplish that effectively enough. There were some problems too, however. First, the timing seems to have been dictated not by the level of preparation for a durable ceasefire but by the prospect of two short-term tactical gains: circumventing Farooq Abdullah's move on the question of autonomy, and the need to report to the Americans. Second, the ve ry media blitz that the government itself organised, and the confusions in which the blitz collapsed, raised the hopes too much and then dashed those hopes too fast.

When the Hizb announced its offer, it was built up as a truly indigenous force - sons of the soil, as it were - defying the Pakistan government. When, two weeks later, it withdrew the offer, it was portrayed as having succumbed to Pakistani pressure. Nei ther the government nor the media was quite able to tell how it was that the Hizb fell so very quickly under that same pressure which it was supposed to have defied so dramatically only a few days ago.

THE Hizb is an arm of a Pakistani political party that was intimately aligned with Nawaz Sharif and now maintains a complicated relationship both with Gen. Pervez Musharraf and with the U.S. administration. Its local commanders in the Valley may have con siderable leeway but, in the end, the Hizb is not its own master. It may draw most of its cadres from the Valley but it uses Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and Pakistan itself, for sanctuaries, supplies, recruitment, training and territorial depth. It is possible that some individual commanders have been softened up by the Indian side but it is inconceivable that the Hizb would break with Pakistan simply because some Indian officials have talked sweetly to them.

The same applies to the offer the Hizb made. In sum, it made a conditional offer: a ceasefire for three months that could be extended indefinitely, if the Indian government was willing to hold unconditional talks with the Hizb itself, with Hurriya t and with Pakistan. Nor had this offer been "unilateral". Some discussion with the various players, including the Pakistani Jama'at-e-Islami, has been going on for a while. Then, the Hurriyat leaders had been released to synchronise the event with the C linton visit. The Indian government had by then opened separate dialogues with the APHC leaders and with the Hizb's organising chief Abdul Majid Dar. In other words, this particular phase of behind-the-doors negotiation began with Clinton's visit and was meant to produce some results before Vajpayee's return visit to Washington. The fundamental flaw with this whole process is that none of the parties involved - least of all the Indian government - has clear policy positions and objectives. All are respo nding primarily to external pressures and therefore floundering from one ad hoc move to the next.

If India is under pressure to show progress, Pakistan is more so. Musharraf has made his own offers for a six-month ceasefire along the LoC, reduction of forces on the India-Pakistan border as well as reduction in the military budget, to reduce tensions. Similarly, he is known to have approached some of the foreign governments to take back their nationals currently based in Pakistan as 'guest mujahideen'. Some weeks before the Hizb made its offer, major Indian newspapers had reported that the Pakistan A mbassador in India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, had advised the APHC leaders not to insist on Pakistan's direct involvement in the impending talks. The Hizb's so-called "unilateral" offer was part of this larger initiative.

Some of it can be gathered from the statements of Qazi Ahmed Hussain, the Amir of the Jama'at-e-Islami in Pakistan. As the custodian of the jehad in Kashmir, he cannot afford to be seen as a dove even though he too has been involved in behind-the- scenes diplomacy leading up to the ceasefire. He has been issuing all kinds of statements, some highly belligerent and others equally conciliatory, but what he keeps repeating is that the decision was "hasty" and that the pace was forced by the Pakistan government. If the Indian government is blaming Pakistan for sabotaging the ceasefire, the Jama'at-e-Islami is blaming the Pakistan government for the making of the offer in the first place.

Pakistan does not have to prove that it should be brought into the talks; the whole world is demanding that India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue through bilateral talks. And because it knows that no final settlement in Kashmir is possible without its involvement and agreement, Pakistan can be quite flexible as to when and how it enters the negotiations. Indeed, just as it has conducted a 'proxy war', some degree of 'proxy negotiations' may be to its advantage. It may watch and see what India off ers without committing itself to anything.

The Hizb and the APHC want Pakistan directly involved in the negotiations as soon as possible, for their own reasons, because they want Pakistan to take responsibility for the outcome. Sponsors have a way of dropping their clients or simply leaving them in the lurch. Here, the clients are the ones keen to involve the sponsor. Meanwhile, if India is serious about a negotiated settlement of the insurgency in Kashmir, it too needs to bring Pakistan into the negotiations because any agreement with this or t hat jehadi group shall remain largely meaningless unless Pakistan is a party to it. That is why every major party outside the BJP-led alliance, from the Congress(I) to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has urged that India open a dialogue wi th Pakistan as well.

That the Hizb would pre-empt the APHC's own dialogue with the government by acting unilaterally, but that it would then insist on the Hizb's participation, also makes sense in its own terms. Most other groups cannot even function much without help from t he Hizb, and the Hizb is keen to prove that it is very much the first among equals. This insistence in any case coincides with the objectives of the Jama'at-e-Islami, its parent organisation in Pakistan. However, the Hizb also knows that no real ceasefir e is possible unless other components of the APHC (as well as the jehadi groups outside it, such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba) also observe the rules of the game.

THE two weeks when the ceasefire was formally in place showed the impossibility of keeping the peace in Jammu and Kashmir under these circumstances. The synchronised massacres of August 1, which came exactly one week after the announcement of the ceasefi re and left one hundred dead, showed the untenability of the situation in one way. On August 4, three days after the massacres and four days before the Hizb withdrew its offer, the French news agencies reported a massive military operation by the Indian forces across much of southern Kashmir, specially the districts of Doda and Banihal, which was said to have involved attack aircraft, helicopter gunships and thousands of ground troops.

Having committed itself to a ceasefire, the Hizb found itself caught in this cross-fire. It had no means of stopping the fighting, nor could it restrain all its cadres on the ground from joining the fight when such operations were mounted. It had the cho ice of either allowing its cadres to join the fight on the side of the other insurgent groups or to fight against such groups on the side of the Indian security forces. In this situation, it simply stuck to its deadline of August 8 and then withdrew the offer altogether, no doubt creating much confusion and even dissension in its own ranks.

THE Indian government must have known the Hizb's compulsions and anticipated some such outcome. Why did it let all that happen?

On the tactical level, the answer is simple: it welcomed the possibility that the untenable position in which the Hizb was putting itself might lead to major splits within it, while in entering the negotiations at all the government could report 'progres s'. More fundamentally, however, there really is no policy because the BJP cannot bridge the gap between the international pressures and the achievable terms of peace in Kashmir on the one hand, and the maximalist position of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sa ngh (RSS), on the other.

That maximalist position has three components. First, the abrogation of Article 370. Second, the militancy is to be seen exclusively as a Pakistani conspiracy, with no indigenous roots, to which then there can only be a military solution. Third, the RSS envisions not a peaceful India but a nuclearised India with delusions of being a world power.

This maximalist position makes impossible any serious negotiations with either Pakistan or the militants. Indeed, no serious discussion is possible even with the elected government of Jammu and Kashmir which is itself an ally of the BJP at the Centre. Th is one can illustrate by recalling the forked tongue with which the BJP and its Hindutva allies had responded to the autonomy resolution which Farooq Abdullah had expected to be a ground for negotiations, modification and discussion in Parliament. That w as not to be.

Indeed, the RSS spokesmen had openly criticised Vajpayee for "compromising" on the question of abrogation of Article 370 even before Farooq had armed himself with that resolution. Then, Kushabhau Thakre, the then president of the BJP, dismissed the auton omy resolution as "a retrograde step" on June 26, as soon as it was passed. On June 27, Advani said that the matter would be decided by Parliament, and on June 30 Vajpayee said that the resolution was within the Indian Constitution. As it turned out, the resolution was not even presented in Parliament for discussion.

The pressure had by then mounted in an orchestrated campaign. Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had already demanded on June 28 that the Farooq government be dismissed. The RSS then passed a resolution calling the resolution "a step short of actual secession " and demanding the abrogation of Article 370, dismissal of the Farooq government and the ouster of the National Conference from the ruling alliance. J.P. Mathur, the senior vice-president of BJP, called Farooq a representative of "Islamic fundamentalism ". On July 4, then, the Cabinet rejected the resolution "unanimously" at a single sitting, demonstrating not only the BJP's own intransigence but the utterly supine character of the coalition partners as well.

It needs to be recalled here that, irrespective of the timing, the actual content of the autonomy resolution was not some surprise that Farooq had suddenly sprung. At the swearing-in ceremony in October 1996 when he returned as Chief Minister, and which was attended by leaders of all the national parties except the BJP, Farooq had emotionally declared, "The last drop of my blood will go to defend India. Kashmir has been, is and will always be part of India." But, then, in an interview with Outlook soon thereafter he was to reassert that he had fought the elections on the plank of maximum autonomy, by which he meant the revival of the 1952 Accord between the National Conference and the Government of India, which had conceded charge of defence, co mmunications and foreign affairs to New Delhi while leaving all the rest to State authorities.

Whether Farooq was being reasonable or not in dreaming of going all the way back to 1952 can be debated, but he was being doubtless consistent; he was saying in June this year what he had said four years ago. He had also made it clear time and again that all this was up for discussion, which implied that he would settle for appreciably less but that, for a political solution to be found, the Centre would have to restore a large part of the autonomy that Jammu and Kashmir had lost over the years, startin g with a clear reaffirmation of Article 370. The refusal of the BJP to start with that reaffirmation is the clearest sign that it is serious in none of its negotiations: not with Abdullah, not with the Hizb, the Hurriyat or anyone else. It is only becaus e of external pressure that it is going through the motions.

The Hurriyat has said that "the way the BJP and the Centre reacted to their own ally Farooq Abdullah shows they have no regard for their own Constitution."

One does not have to be on the side of the Hurriyat to see the justice of that statement. Whatever else may be wrong, a couple of things about Farooq Abdullah are undeniable: he is not a paid agent of Pakistan, he does not threaten the territorial integr ity of India with a gun, he is fully committed to autonomy within the Indian Constitution, and he is - for better or worse - the only elected Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir we have. And he has armed himself not with a gun but with a piece of paper: a resolution passed by a duly elected State Assembly.

ANY government that is serious about peace in Jammu and Kashmir must begin with a serious dialogue on the issue of autonomy. It must give Farooq the role that is due to a Chief Minister but it must also involve in the peace process a whole range of other secular, democratic forces in the State from outside the National Conference as well. The jehadis cannot be defeated purely through military means unless a popularly-based secular coalition of Kashmiris is there to oppose them within the Valley p olitically. A powerful secular coalition is the only real answer to religious zealotry, whether of the Islamicists in Kashmir or of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its cohorts all over India.

Instead of bestowing prestige upon the Islamicists by accepting them as the chief interlocutors, the Indian state should devote its energies to building such a coalition consisting of forces drawn from all the regions of the State, all the religious comm unities and all the significant political alignments that are committed to the secular unity of the State and the country. But the government has been captured by the frontmen of the RSS. A secular solution in Kashmir has been rendered impossible twice o ver: by the Islamicists, and by the present Indian government itself. So, the bloodletting is likely to go on for the foreseeable future, theatrics notwithstanding.

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