The government has shown extraordinary courage and sagacity in extending the Kashmir ceasefire by another month. The fact that the Cabinet Committee on Security took three hours to arrive at this decision shows how evenly balanced were the arguments for and against doing so. On the one hand, an extension of the ceasefire was bound to be welcomed by the Kashmiris. But the government had already demonstrated its commitment to peace by extending the ceasefire once. Politically, therefore, another extension would yield only diminished returns. On the other hand, there was a real risk that another month of restraint by the security forces would permit the jehadis to consolidate their bases in Kashmir.
This apprehension arises from the fact that behind their attention-catching fidayeen attacks on the Red Fort, Srinagar airport, and various army barracks, the jehadis have been building a base for themselves in Kashmir by terrorising the people. They have been doing this by selectively killing members of the National Conference, counter-insurgents and surrendered militants, among whom the death toll has trebled in the last two months. Their goal is to eliminate all those who are most likely to inform the security forces of their presence, and to terrorise others into remaining silent, as they succeeded in doing to the survivors of the Chitsinghpura massacre.
While several considerations must have gone into the decision, perhaps the most important was that calling off the ceasefire now, and resuming counter-insurgency operations, would have prematurely aborted the peace process the government had been trying to initiate over the past month. One of the main purposes of the decision to extend the ceasefire till January 26 had been to give the Hurriyat a chance to mediate a reduction, if not complete suspension, of violence by the jehadis. This was the reason why Delhi seemed inclined to allow a delegation of Hurriyat leaders to go to Pakistan on January 15. The ceasefire's second purpose, as Vajpayee's musings revealed, had been to give Pakistan some more time to curb the jehadis on its own and thereby clear the way for talks with New Delhi over the future of Kashmir.
Neither of these things happened. The prospect of being cast in a central role in the Kashmir dispute brought the deep underlying differences between the pro-Pakistan and pro-independence members of the Hurriyat to the surface. Led by Ali Shah Geelani, the former asserted that the jehadis were Kashmir's saviours, and refused to consider any move by Hurriyat to ask them to curb their violence. This stance was echoed by the jehadis in Pakistan who, very possibly, were silently encouraged by Islamabad. By finally picking a delegation that included Geelani, Hurriyat chairman Abdul Ghani Bhat jeopardised the entire mission. Delhi, understandably, had second thoughts about sending a man to Pakistan who, instead of prevailing upon Islamabad to meet the minimum conditions it has set for a resumed dialogue with Pakistan, was going to do the exact opposite.
Pakistan also let the month slip by without taking a single step that could reassure India that it really intended, or even had the capacity, to control the jehadis. It may have chosen to remain inactive because it preferred to leave the negotiation of a ceasefire with the jehadis to the Hurriyat rather than tackle them on its own. But Pakistan has sent absolutely no signals on its intentions, or the strategy it is pursuing. Taken in conjunction with the orchestrated crescendo of criticism of the Hurriyat by jehadi organisations when it seemed likely that only pro-independence leaders would go to Islamabad, and the sudden turnaround in their attitude the moment Geelani was included in the delegation, this silence has left Delhi with no option but to assume that Pakistan is more interested in manipulating Hurriyat into supporting the jehadis and therefore its bid to annex all of Kashmir on religious grounds, than in finding a negotiated (and therefore compromise) solution to the Kashmir dispute.
Vajpayee's decision to extend the ceasefire again has thrown the ball back once more into Pakistan and Hurriyat's court. Both should entertain no illusion that the ceasefire will be extended again if they do not stick to their part of the implicit bargain. The Hurriyat needs to accept that its purpose in going to Islamabad is to facilitate the creation of conditions in which India and Pakistan can start talking to each other once again. It is not to announce from Islamabad a set of steps India must take to resume a dialogue with Pakistan. Nor is it to use the publicity it will receive in Islamabad to announce its own agenda for Kashmir. That's for New Delhi and Islamabad to decide after talks begin, though without a doubt the Hurriyat and other political parties and groups in Kashmir will continue to be consulted on the issues that arise. Pakistan too has another month to demonstrate the sincerity of its desire to resume talks with India. So far Gen Musharraf has responded to the Indian demand that it curb cross-border terrorism as a prelude to talks with the observation that jehadi attacks will die down on their own once talks start. But India has too much bitter experience of Pakistan's broken promises and half-promises to set much store by such vague commitments.
If Musharraf is serious about curbing cross-border attacks once talks start, he'd do well to spell out precisely how this decline can be monitored. He could, for instance, propose that talks begin on a host of confidence-building and other measures designed to reduce the risk of war, especially nuclear war, but accept that the Kashmir issue will be taken up only after his prediction that jehadi violence will decline once talks begin is borne out. Whether he makes such overtures or not will show the sincerity of his desire for peace, and confidence in his capacity to control jehadis once the ice that enfolds Pakistan's relations with India is broken.
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