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From Our Correspondent: Peace Deferred
It's back to square one for all parties in the Kashmir conflict

By ANTHONY DAVIS

August 10, 2000
Web posted at 5:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 5:30 a.m. EDT

Expect yet another upsurge of violence in Kashmir in the coming days. On Aug. 8 Hizbul Mujahideen, the state's largest militant faction, announced the end of the ceasefire that it had unilaterally declared earlier. Now other guerrilla groups -- and their mentors in Islamabad -- will be keen to slam the door firmly shut on any prospect of peace talks that do not include Pakistan in the calculus. After the embarrassing division in the militants' ranks in the past two weeks and with Indian Independence Day celebrations scheduled for Aug. 15, the pressure will be on to get everyone back in line and step up the killing.

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There was a bleak inevitability in the demise of this quixotic gesture from Hizbul, a faction that consists mostly of locals and had become acutely aware of the thirst for peace in the Kashmir Valley. It now appears fairly certain that the July 24 announcement by Abdul Majid Dar, Hizbul commander in the Valley, of a three-month ceasefire to "give peace a chance" caught other militant factions -- and Islamabad's ruling military -- by surprise.

It was not a pleasant one. First came howls of outrage and betrayal from the United Jihad Council, the umbrella grouping of militant factions that is based in Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir. Hizbul was expelled and its Pakistan-based boss, Syed Salahuddin, sacked as UJC chairman. Then came clearly coordinated waves of terrorist attacks on Aug. 1-2 that butchered some 100 innocent (mostly Hindu) civilians.

It is difficult to find any logic behind the suggestion proferred by the Islamabad government -- which condemned the slaughter -- that this was the work of renegades in the pay of Indian security agencies. After a decade of disappearances, custodial killings and near-routine torture of militant suspects, humanitarian sensitivities are not held at a premium among India's frontline intelligence and security personnel. But what interest any of them might have in ordering actions likely to derail New Delhi's best hope in a decade of peace talks on its own terms is frankly difficult to see.

Far more convincing is the probability that these killings were by angry militant factions facing marginalization should the Hizbul- New Delhi ceasefire stick. Their aim was twofold: sideswiping India's willingness to go along with Hizbul's ceasefire; and at the same time underlining a brutally simple message: a ceasefire with Hizbul alone can never bring peace to Kashmir. The intriguing question that then raises itself is whether hardline militant organizations such as Lashkar e Taiba, based in Pakistan and largely Pakistani-manned, would have been ready to undertake such operations without specific encouragement or instructions from their liaison officers in the Pakistan military.

The answer may lie in what followed. No sooner had the atrocities been perpetrated than the Hizbul line on talks with India promptly hardened. Specifically came the condition -- with a short-fuse deadline attached -- that Pakistan must be included in any peace talks. And not surprisingly the hard line was voiced not by Abdul Majid Dar in the Valley but by Salahuddin in Islamabad. It seems reasonable to assume Salahuddin's new-found toughness was prompted.

How far (if at all) there is now a rift between Salahuddin and the Pakistan-based leadership and Dar and his commanders on the ground is difficult to gauge. The coming weeks should make matters clearer. But significantly New Delhi's hopes that, after the success of the first round of talks, Hizbul leaders in the Valley would be willing to extend the Aug. 8 deadline proved hollow. With a mixture of carrot and stick, Pakistan appears to averted, at least for now, a politically embarrassing rift within Hizbul, followed probably by clashes between Hizbul and hardline, Pakistani-dominated factions.

Where politically New Delhi goes from here is not easy to see. It has already summarily dismissed state chief minister Farooq Abdullah's proposals for autonomy last month. It has channels open to the separatist Hurriyat Council but none appear to lead anywhere. It may hope to re-establish back-channel contacts with Hizbul commanders unhappy over Islamabad's support for non-Kashmiri factions. But for the present Indian security forces would be well advised to brace for renewed attacks.

Write to Asiaweek at mail@web.asiaweek.com

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