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Subcontinental Drift: Mirage in the Mountains
How Hizb-ul-Mujahideen used its ceasefire to play politics

August 9, 2000
Web posted at 2:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 2:00 a.m. EDT

When I predicted last Thursday that the ceasefire in Kashmir would not last the weekend, I hoped fervently to be proved wrong. Sadly, I was off the mark by only 48 hours.

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The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

From Our Correspondent
Personal perspectives on the news
Why was I so sure the negotiations between the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and the Indian government would fail? Because they were never meant to succeed. For the militant, separatist group, the ceasefire was not so much a peace overture as a political ploy, designed to shore up its position and that of its leader, Syed Salahudin.

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Once a dominant militant force in the Kashmir Valley, Hizb has in recent years been overshadowed by more determined and ruthless groups like the Lashkar-i- Tayyaba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which comprise mainly of 'jihadis' (holy warriors) fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan, even Sudan. These men are better funded, armed and motivated than their Kashmiri counterparts, and they have been hogging the headlines from Hizb. Indeed, Kashmiri fighters have found themselves reduced to playing guides and trackers for the foreigners.

Salahudin had also been sidelined within the United Jihad Council, an organization of 14 geurrilla groups. And worst of all, Hizb was losing its legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Kashmiris. When I visited the Valley last October, practically every conversation I had involved Lashkar and Harkat when Hizb came up at all, it was usually a lamentation of the group's decline.

Clearly, Salahudin needed to pull a rabbit out of his hat to restore his group's credibility. Hey presto: a ceasefire!

It was plain from the start that Hizb's unilateral offer of a three-month cessation of fighting was a sham. After calling for unconditional negotiations with the Indian government, Hizb promptly set two conditions of its own -- that New Delhi must talk outside the framework of the Indian constitution and must bring Pakistan into the parleys. India has long maintained that it would do neither, so the Hizb leadership knew full well that their conditions would never be met. Nor did Salahudin attempt to get other members of the UJC to join in the ceasefire, effectively dooming it to failure. All that was left was the public posturing about peace and the feigned anger at Delhi's duplicitousness.

As a political gambit, it worked to perfection: Hizb is back in the headlines and in the minds of Kashmiris. Its fighters will undoubtedly be energized by all the attention they've been receiving. Salahudin's suspension from the UJC will quickly be revoked: he will be welcomed back as a hero.

But in the long run, like all too many political ploys, this one will do more harm and good to the cause of peace. Delhi, always reluctant to consider non- military solutions to the Kashmir crisis, will now feel justified in sticking to its guns -- literally. Freed of the strictures of the ceasefire, the Indian Army will seek vengeance for the slaughter of scores of innocents in the Valley last week. Hizb fighters, meanwhile, will want to prove that the ceasefire is over. The dogs of war will once again run loose in Kashmir.

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