Our Correspondent: Peace Deferred
It's back to square one for all parties in the Kashmir conflict
By ANTHONY DAVIS
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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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
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.
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November 30, 2000