Ceasefire Is Not Enough For Securing Peace in Kashmir

No doubt an Indian would feel ashamed to admit that we are carrying the burden of a 53-year old problem like Kashmir into the twenty-first century. In fact, over the whole period the Indian government has only messed it up more with each ‘attempt’ to resolve it. The main reason behind the failure has of course been lack of sincerity, precisely because so far the Indian establishment has in fact never reached a clear-cut solution on its own part. It is as if the problem of Kashmir and the foreign policy perception linked to it is something immutably built into the Indian policy framework. Hence perpetuation of the stand that accession of Jammu and Kashmir into India is final and beyond dispute. Even till date the Indian establishment doesn’t know what it really wants, as the hi-fi India Today columnist Tavleen Singh put it, “So far all that A.B. Vajpayee’s Government has done is fumble around in the dark.” In this situation, what would the ceasefire declaration in the month of Ramzaan or its extension by a month on 23 January would mean, other than a momentary gimmick, while the occupation-like situation in Kashmir perpetuates on?

Firstly, one thing that the ceasefire has really drawn is the concrete Pak response of unilateral pull-out of troops along the Line of Control in Kashmir. Shelling across the border has considerably declined and the India Army and Border Security Force have heaved a momentary sigh of relief. That is why the Army Chief Gen. S. Padmanabhan strongly advocated extension of ceasefire and the Defence Minister George Fernandes had to agree despite airing to press his opinion just two days before that it should not be extended. There is no doubt some substance in Musharraf’s reading that Indian Army has started showing signs of “fatigue” in dealing with Pakistan-based militancy in Kashmir, which has even extended to other parts of India. The second response from Pakistan was to invite Hurriyat, a step that Musharraf has termed as an intermediate link in the chain leading to tripartite talks, or the Pak version of Track-II diplomacy.

But the Indian government wants more. Vajpayee and all his lieutenants are parroting the same old rhetoric that while guns do talking, no meaningful dialogue can be initiated with Pakistan. By guns they do not mean Pak army guns, they mean guns belonging to Pakistan-based militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Coupled with Indian government’s attempt to silence the indigenous Kashmiri militant groups by roping in better part of Hurriyat leaders, this wish is tantamount to temporarily getting rid of the whole phenomena of insurgency in Kashmir by this “peace offensive” alone! Given the situation, isn’t Indian government demanding too much a price for its unilateral ceasefire?

After all, this ceasefire just means no “search and cordon” operations by security forces. However, security forces will operate against mercenaries on “specific information”. As regards more important confidence building measures, like amnesty to political prisoners, cessation of fake encounters and credible investigation into cases of custodial killings and rapes, no progress has been made by the Indian government even in the first month of ceasefire, nor there are any pronouncements to do so in the immediate future. In fact, a few days before the extension, one forest department jeep driver Bilal was killed in police custody because the jeep was used by extremists, leading to protest by forest department employees and neighbourhood people. The Farooq government is busy holding panchayat elections under the cover of security forces, supposedly promoting grassroots democracy even as civil rights stand severely jeopardized in the state.

Even as the ceasefire has been extended, hawks and doves in the government, media and expertdom are one in asserting that nothing considerable has been achieved by the ceasefire so far, and it is Pakistan which must be blamed for this failure. The hawks, however, opposed extension of ceasefire saying that this was the wrong direction. The same is the opinion of Kukka Parrey, the government’s counter-insurgency commander recruited from among militants. On the other side of the border too, militants said this was just a gimmick and condemned Musharraf for announcing unilateral pull out of troops from the LoC. Even if it is admitted that incidents of militant attacks have not declined during the ceasefire, rather more adventurous attacks like storming the Red Fort, attack on 15th Corps Headquarters, suicidal attack on the airport and attempt on Farooq Abdullah have taken place during this period, there is nothing to suggest a qualitative jump in militancy in this period. On the other hand, people in Kashmir have positively appreciated the extension of ceasefire. Hurriyat leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone have agreed that they should contribute to the success of the move.

But then, the government itself has thrown a spanner in the gear of “peace process” by withholding passports to select hardliners of All Party Hurriyat Conference. The delegation of 5 decided by Hurriyat executive includes Syed Ali Shah Geelani of Jamat-e-Islami and Sheikh Abdul Aziz of People’s League, but the Home Ministry has not cleared their passports. After all, what does the government hope to achieve by denying Geelani and Aziz participation in the Hurriyat delegation’s visit to Pakistan? When everybody knows there are differences among the Hurriyat leaders, in fact there are lots of serious differences in the whole Kashmiri movement, it does not make much difference whether they are aired in India or in Pakistan, which is also a party to dispute. The government knows fully well that all Hurriyat leaders agree to the minimum position that the Kashmir problem includes both sides of the LoC and there is no other way than the tripartite talks between India, Pakistan and Kashmiri representatives to resolve the tangle. Their differences are on tilts to this or that power and ways and means to achieve their goal. As the tussle continues, hawks are shown on the TV downplaying the credibility of Hurriyat, and asking pre-emptive questions like what can Hurriyat achieve from visiting Pakistan. Some even ask whether Indian government considers Hurriyat as the true representative of Kashmiris while an elected government headed by Dr. Abdullah is functioning in the state.

One significant indication being given by analysts nowadays is that Indian foreign policy experts have started accepting that the Kashmir problem is international and they would not mind international intervention to resolve the problem. This clearly means that Indian government is now banking on American intervention in the name of Track-II diplomacy. This trend is evenly discernible in the ruling establishments of both neighbours. Whereas with the change of guard in America, pro-saffron establishment intellectuals like Swapan Dasgupta think that Conservatives may be less agreeable socially but they are world-wise, so Bush will be better for India, his counterparts in Pakistan hope a turnaround in US-Pakistan ties, reversing the “pro-India” tilt of Clinton. It is based on the assumption that traditionally Republicans have been more favourable to Pakistan. Thus in this era of globalisation, comprador bourgeoisie of both the countries seem to agree to openly “internationalise” the vexed question of Kashmir. It would always have been better for Indian government to talk to Pakistan directly to avoid this fate. India and Pakistan have common history and there was really no need for a third party mediator to resolve Kashmir problem. Opportunity is still there but the present dispensation is shying from availing it. Moreover, the precondition of achieving any genuine peace in Kashmir is restoration of human rights and democracy there, and for that first of all security forces must be removed from Kashmir. All the cases of state brutality and custodial killing and rapes must be probed and guilty punished in order to restore faith of the people. It is this lack of democracy and human rights in Kashmir that has made it a breeding ground for militancy. Without the indigenous support no militant group from a neighboring country can operate in Kashmir. Is it not strange that whereas no political party has raised the problem of the people in Kashmir where power supply condition is worst -- only four hours a day -- Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba has announced that if power situation was not improved it would blow up power stations in India.

The Indian government must stop dishing out half-hearted measures, which are mere gestures for international consumption. It must show a sincere attitude towards peace. To this end, first and foremost it is necessary to openly come out with proposals for having a dialogue with Kashmiri militants and also proposals for resolving the Kashmir question. The government must be open-hearted to admit its part in creating the problems that are being faced by the people of Kashmir, because only then there can be some meaningful dialogue with the militants. If the problems are solved at home, Indian government would be better placed to resolve the international side of the tangle. Secondly, in that case Indian government would be somewhat objective in arriving at a solution that will be agreeable to the majority of the people and forces involved. The response of the people in the Valley to the ceasefire extension is more or less positive. It is high time the Indian government cast away oneupmanship and showed some genuine sincerity.

—BB Pandey