The Centre's decision to call off the six-month-long ceasefire in Kashmir and simultaneously invite Gen Musharraf to India is being portrayed by officials in New Delhi, and by sections of the world community, as a clever initiative to marginalise the Hurriyat, go on the offensive against the jehadis once more flooding the valley—now that the snows have melted—and at the same time move towards peace and an eventual settlement of the Kashmir dispute by resuming a dialogue with Pakistan. In actual fact, the move amounts to a sudden, drastic and ill-considered change of policy towards both Pakistan and Kashmir that could easily end in disaster for India.
Let's take the end of the ceasefire first. No one can seriously suggest that it should have been extended further in the way it had been implemented during the past five months. The original ceasefire had been part of a strategy which was to have been followed speedily by a meeting between Hurriyat leaders and perhaps the prime minister himself, followed by a visit by the Hurriyat to Pakistan to persuade Islamabad and the jehadis to observe it too. But after the frosty reception Islamabad gave Abdul Ghani Lone, Hurriyat leaders knew their chances of succeeding were small. They, however, believed a less than enthusiastic reception by Islamabad and the United Jehad Council would have demonstrated to Kashmiris that the Hurriyat had no option but to start talks, and find a settlement, with India. When the home ministry aborted the visit, and the jehadis stepped up their attacks on high-profile targets in Kashmir and India, the rationale for the ceasefire ceased to be.
The Kashmiris understood this. That can explain the depth of their anger with Delhi at its failure to let the Hurriyat go to Pakistan. But they also understand that with the snows having melted a renewed jehadi onslaught is imminent. They also know that the numbers coming over the passes far exceeds the number that had come last year—so much so that some Hizbul Mujahideen leaders in the valley are sarcastically accusing Delhi of having decided to hand Kashmir over to the Lashkar-e-Toiba.
In any case, for most Kashmiris, the ceasefire had ceased to exist as far back as the end of January when the Special Operations Group of the Kashmir Police decided to ignore the Centre and launch its own private war against former and suspected militants. In the past four months, the sog has littered the countryside with the corpses of Kashmiris, many of whom were killed in custody. Kashmiris are therefore living once more in fear. The revocation of the ceasefire makes only a marginal difference to their lives.
But there is a world of a difference between just resuming full-scale counter-terrorist operations and declaring that ceasefire has been revoked. By doing the latter, the government has dealt a body blow to the process of dialogue K.C. Pant had started, for it has given all those who had opposed the dialogue with him a chance to say, "Look, India says it wants to restore peace in Kashmir, but it has unleashed its forces with full vigour on our people." To this accusation Messrs Advani & Jaswant Singh have left India with no answer.
Pant's initiative has already been under attack, strangely enough, from the Kashmir Police. As the prospect of dialogue has brightened in the past few weeks, the sog, occasionally in tandem with elements of other security forces, has unleashed a spate of custodial killings. In the week ending May 20, there were no fewer than seven custodial and near-custodial murders of young Kashmiris. These climaxed with the killing of Aijaz Kitab, a member of Shabir Shah's own party—the Democratic Freedom Party—on May 19. This caused an anguished Shah to exclaim: "On the one hand they are inviting us for talks, on the other, extra-judicial killings continue." The impact on Kashmiri public opinion of this publicly revoked ceasefire has to be seen against this backdrop of anguish, anger and mounting distrust.
The public revocation of the ceasefire has undermined the champions of Kashmiriyat—those who defend Kashmir's unique ethno-nationalism against all comers—a second time. Shah had gone out on a limb against all of the Hurriyat and the entire pro-Pakistan lobby to begin a dialogue with Pant. Since he did so, his office has been bombed twice, and he has received a spate of death threats, but has clung tenaciously to his resolve. After Kitab's death, he'd said: "Many vested interests don't want the return of peace to the valley," but asserted it wouldn't dampen his spirits.
Shah wasn't alone in trying to get a dialogue started. An entire generation of Kashmiri intellectuals, political dissidents, human rights activists and separatists had roundly criticised Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat for raising issues in order to sabotage peace talks that should have been raised during the dialogue itself. The extent to which the Hurriyat had become isolated in Kashmir had become apparent at a conference it had itself organised on May 20 to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq, father of Mirwaiz Umer. In that conference, Geelani's representative, Qazi Ahadullah, found himself almost completely isolated from the rest of the participants in his denunciations of those willing to talk to New Delhi. One can only wonder how Shah, and this solid backbone of Kashmiri nationalism, has been affected by the public revocation of the ceasefire.
THE one bright spot in Delhi's new initiative is that by inviting Musharraf, it has demonstrated India's willingness to involve Pakistan in the search for peace. But the cost of this 'demonstration' is prohibitive—for it is nothing less than an abject surrender before Pakistani intransigence. Ever since the Kargil war, India has taken the perfectly justified stand that since Pakistan initiated aggression in Kashmir, India will not talk to it until it stops that aggression, that is, stops cross-border terrorism from its soil. In its April 5 invitation to Kashmiri groups to enter into a dialogue, it expressed the hope that Pakistan will help in the resumption of a dialogue by 'curbing cross-border terrorism and putting an end to the vicious anti-India propaganda emanating from Pakistan". In his reply to Shah on May 13, Pant further diluted this condition and simply expressed the hope that Pakistan would "cooperate with India and initiate measures that would facilitate the process".
The common thread running through these formulations was that all of them required Pakistan to take some action on the ground that would demonstrate its willingness to enter into a search for a solution to the Kashmir dispute through negotiation. The essential requirement of any peaceful settlement of a dispute is a willingness of the disputants to be flexible and seeking a compromise that falls some way short of their maximal demands. Only once in 54 years has Pakistan shown the slightest willingness to climb down from its almost mystical stand that Kashmir belongs to it virtually by God's law.That was during the Simla Agreement of 1972, which converted the ceasefire line into the Line of Control and described it—by implication in its last paragraph—as an interim settlement of the Kashmir dispute. But that was when Bhutto was trying to bring back 93,000 prisoners of war. The moment he succeeded, he lost all interest in turning the interim into a "final settlement". Since coming to power, Gen Musharraf has repudiated the Simla Agreement times without number.
Today one has only to listen to the utterances of Pakistan's factotums in the Hurriyat Conference—Bhat, Geelani and Shaikh—to see that Pakistan's hunger for Kashmir has not abated by an iota. For all of them are insisting that there should be a plebiscite in Kashmir with only two choices—Pakistan or India.
During the entire period of the ceasefire, while India has been moderating its demands and virtually entreating Pakistan to respond, Musharraf has categorically refused to curb the jehadis, and maintained a stony silence on the Kashmir issue. On ground, the jehadis have multiplied, killed pro-India Kashmiris at leisure, and extended their guerrilla activities to the Indian capital. Despite all this, between May 13 and May 23, the government has turned turtle, dropped its demand that Pakistan provide some proof of its willingness to compromise in search of a peaceful settlement, and invited Musharraf to Delhi. How do Messrs Vajpayee, Advani and Jaswant Singh expect Musharraf not to regard this as a complete victory over India, a victory of steely nerve over bumbling, fumbling, purposeless strength? And having achieved victory by following a particular strategy, why on earth should he abandon it now?
Let us suppose that I am wrong. Let us suppose that Musharraf has no such illusions. Let us even suppose that the US has, through coercion and cajolery, made him amenable to compromise. Can we be sure that generals on his staff do not harbour the belief they have that India is cracking at last as they have been predicting for the last decade? Can we be sure that the jehadis are not claiming this to be a victory for them, since by their reckoning it is they who have driven India to its knees through their sacrifices in Kashmir. So even if Musharraf is inclined to compromise, why should his generals and advisors let him do so?
So what will Pakistan and the jehadis do? The answer is obvious: they'll do more of what they've been doing so far. Pakistan will harden its stand further and, scenting victory, the jehadis will pour into Kashmir in even larger numbers. They'll be entering a region where, thanks to the killing spree indulged in by Farooq Abdullah's goons in the sog, they're assured of shelter and a warm welcome by people driven to desperation by the unending oppression of war, and confused by appeals to religion; where civilians are snatching the bodies of slain Lashkar militants, and women are anointing their dead hands with mehndi before sending them off to a ceremonial burial; where a still small but rapidly growing number of young people are chanting slogans such as "Jeeway, Jeeway Pakistan, Lashkar ke mujahideen hum tumhare saath hain". Really, Mr Advani, Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Vajpayee, what world have you been living in? Do you have any idea of what you have done?