|Saturday, January 13, 2001||
Kashmir has been an issue ever since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession shortly after the Partition of India. Over the last decade or so, separatist violence has escalated and Kashmir appeared to be on the brink. The new peace initiative by the Prime Minister has kindled hope again. Will the age-old problem be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction? ML Kak reports.
Towards the fag end of the last millennium, a ray of hope for peace, not only in Kashmir but in the Indian subcontinent, peeped out from behind the dark clouds of violence destroying India’s "crown" state and its people.
This hope was
generated soon after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announced a
unilateral ceasefire for the month of Ramzan. Initially the
separatists welcomed Vajpayee’s announcement, but gradually they
started putting conditions for holding peace talks. The separatist
leaders had two reasons for imposing conditions. First, they found
Pakistan unprepared to lend support to any move which aimed at
initiating bilateral talks between the government and the separatists,
including militant groups, operating in Jammu and Kashmir. Second, the
separatists were cowed down by the belligerent attitude adopted by
rebel groups, dominated by foreign mercenaries. Activists of
Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jash-e-Mohammad and Al Badr openly rejected the peace
initiative taken by the Prime Minister and supplemented their threats
with armed attacks on security pickets and convoys.
The separatists, especially the leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), spoke in favour of tripartite talks. They announced that unless Pakistan was involved in the parleys, the dialogue between the rebels and the Indian Government would prove to be a meaningless exercise. Another condition imposed was that leaders of the APHC be given permission to visit Pakistan where they would discuss the peace initiative of the Prime Minister with the militant groups involved with the Kashmir issue.
The Indian Government’s decision to declare ceasefire was aimed at motivating the separatists to come forward for talks for the restoration of peace and normalcy to the state that has been ravaged by Pakistan’s "undeclared" war for the past 11 years. Despite a series of behind-the-scene discussions held by activists of the APHC leaders in Delhi, the much awaited bilateral talks failed to materialise.
The Prime Minister’s peace initiative caused fissures in the APHC. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, considered to be a hawk not only by the Jamait-e-Islami but also by the APHC, was seen on one side of the fence, demanding the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir, while APHC chairman Abdul Gani Bhat, JKLF chief Yasin Malik and Awami Action Committee chairman Umar Farooq were on the other side.
When the APHC leaders were invited unofficially to Delhi for exchanging views, Professor Bhat, Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik responded but Geelani remained in Srinagar, thus projecting himself as a staunch opponent of the bilateral talks. He said Srinagar should be made the venue for holding talks, if any.
Those who had hoped that bilateral talks would begin within days of the ceasefire announcement were mistaken. Neither any separatist outfit nor any militant group has the strength or courage to accept bilateral talks. Over the years it has been experienced that Pakistan holds the strings of peace in its hands. Without Islamabad’s support, separatists and militants cannot take any decision.
It was because of the absence of Pak support for bilateral talks that the ceasefire announced by the Hizbul Mujahideen outfit on July 24 last was aborted within a fortnight. Even the Hizb supremo, Syed Salahuddin, camping in Pakistan for the past three years, had endorsed the ceasefire decision announced by Abdul Majid Dar, chief commander (operations), but within two days Salahuddin buckled under Pak pressure and opposed the ceasefire on the ground that only tripartite talks could resolve the Kashmir issue.
The APHC may not be representing the majority but it certainly seems to represent the interests and aspirations of that section of the people which has not reconciled with the political arrangement that has been in existence in the state for the past 52 years. What seems to be of vital interest is that people have shown keen interest in bringing back normalcy in the state. This has been the main factor responsible for peoples’ support to the peace initiative announced by the Prime Minister.
The peace offer also made some activists of the Hizbul Mujahideen outfit soften their stand. One faction was eager to adopt a wait-and-watch policy so that the peace initiatives were given a chance, while the other group was in favour of fomenting trouble at the behest of their masters across the border. Its supremo Syed Salauddin is said to have been reduced to a non-entity, for he has had to abide by all directions given to him by the ISI and the Pakistani authorities from time to time.
Following the soft stand taken by the Hizbul Mujahideen, the foreign mercenaries-dominated Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jash-e-Mohammad and Al Badr have made a determined bid to wreck the proposed peace process by escalating violence in the state, particularly in the Kashmir valley.
These outfits have been reportedly given the task of carrying out armed attacks on the camps and pickets of security forces and on the soft targets to force the Indian Government to accept their demand for holding tripartite talks. During the first three weeks of the Ramzan month, they carried out a series of gun and grenade attacks in which more than 45 civilians were killed and more than 165 injured. In these incidents of violence as many as 30 security personnel lost their lives and more than 55 were wounded. Though nearly 50 militants were killed in retaliatory action by the security forces, the rebels were able to create a scare among the people and among the separatists.
Another important development came in the shape of Islamabad’s directions to its troops to observe maximum restraint on the LoC. The result was that the rate of mortar shelling and firing on the Indian border villages and pickets from Uri to Rajouri and from Akhnoor to Kathua registered a marked decline. According to the Defence Ministry authorities, Pakistani troops used to fire about 50,000 rounds from MMG and Mortar guns on the Indian border villages per day. After India’s ceasefire announcement, the border firing reduced to about 15,000 rounds a day. This rate further fell to 500 rounds per day after Islamabad declared maximum restraint on the LoC.
What has been surprising is that no mainstream political organisation, including the National Conference, the Congress and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), has ever dared to launch a political campaign against pro-Pak elements determined to disrupt the peace process. Had they done so, it could have encouraged people to raise a voice against those trying to thwart the proposed peace parleys.
During the past 10 months, the state unit of the Congress has been in a total disarray. Factional feuds have made it a toothless tiger, depriving it of the strength to give a political fight to the separatists. The ruling National Conference leaders prefer to remain either in hibernation or have kept themselves busy in laying foundation stones of projects which are unlikely to be completed on account of resource crunch.
Though the Chief Minister, Dr Farooq Abdullah, has been opposing talks with Pakistan so long as it continues to aid cross-border terrorism, the National Conference General Secretary, Sheikh Nazir Ahmed, who happens to be his close relation, has been favouring tripartite talks. This has caused confusion. The PDP, led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, could have filled the gap. Sayeed, however, failed to do so because of his obsession with the Chief Minister whom he wanted to be ousted through fair or foul means.
The state unit of the BJP, which wields influence in various areas of the Jammu region, has remained engaged in balancing its role between those demanding trifurcation of the state and those opposing separate statehood for Jammu. Despite Centre’s firm stand against trifurcation and Dr Farooq Abdullah’s warning that vivisection of Jammu and Kashmir would lead to the disintegration of the state, several political and cultural organisations recently demanded separation of the Jammu region from the Kashmir valley.
The demand for trifurcation, though aimed at countering NC’s plan for restoring greater autonomy to the state, saw political parties concentrating on issues which had no link with the much needed popular movement to be build against Pakistan’s proxy war.
Amid this political confusion, the Awami League headed by Kuka Parrey, MLA and a top renegade militant, organised a public rally in Srinagar in support of the peace initiative of the Prime Minister. He was able to motivate several thousand people to be present in Sher-i-Kashmir Park, where he defended Vajpayee’s offer for talks. It was an isolated event that surprised separatists. He could not do more as a lone crusader against Pakistan-trained militants. No other political organisation of any consequence picked up the thread which Kuka Parrey had left in the Sher-i-Kashmir Park.
Though majority of the people in the state have been in favour of the peace process, hardly any attempt has been made to remove alienation of the Kashmiris who have remained sandwiched between the guns of the security forces and the militants for the last 11 years. The basic infrastructure in the state, especially in the Kashmir valley, has been destroyed in the militancy-related violence. Thousands of families that earned their livelihood through tourism and other related trades have been hit hard. The youth has also suffered in the absence of job avenues in the state. Though the National Conference government absorbed about 3.50 lakh youth in various government and police departments, the unemployment figure has been increasing.
Since the state continues to reel under
economic depression, a sizeable section of the local youth prefer to be
with the militants, who assure them pecuniary rewards. Those who have
been instrumental in fomenting anti-India hysteria, at one stage or the
other, have been receiving large sums of money from Pakistani agencies
and other Islamic countries. This flow of money has registered an
unprecedented rise in the number of new houses and shopping centres in
the valley. Dr Farooq Abdullah blames vested interests and Pakistan for
trying to sabotage the talks. The BJP leader and Union Minister of State
for Civil Aviation, Prof Chaman Lal Gupta, holds the same view. The PDP
Chief, Mufti Sayeed, too accuses vested interests of thwarting peace
talks. But none of them has named the vested interests. And the
confusion continues. Neither is the Centre prepared to make its plan
clear nor have the militants or the separatists divulged their future
strategy in plain terms. Their demand for tripartite talks alone cannot
help the two sides to come closer. And the political and security
scenario continues to be fluid in the state.