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Towards Civil War?

Pakistan must realise that with Indian guns silent, every bomb blast in Kashmir erodes whatever gratitude Kashmiris had felt towards it and the "guest militants".

Towards Civil War?
Politics has taken an ugly turn in the Kashmir valley—one that could plunge the state into internecine civil war if not arrested soon. This is signalled by the attempt of two gun-toting terrorists to kill Hurriyat leader Shahid-ul-Islam. Maybe it was motivated by personal rivalries. Shahid-ul-Islam, whose real name is Aftab Hilali, apparently blamed some renegade militants. But he heads the youth wing of the Awami Action Front headed by Mirwaiz Maulvi Umer Farooq, which staunchly favours independence for Kashmir and a peacefully negotiated settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan. In July last year, in the absence of the Mirwaiz, he was the first militant leader to openly welcome Hizbul Mujahideen's offer of a ceasefire. It is thus also possible that the attack was a reflection of the widening rift between militants who favour independence for the whole of Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and those who want Indian Kashmir to become a part of Pakistan.

This rift has been evident ever since Abdul Ghani Lone first welcomed the PM's offer of a ceasefire and then, on his return from Islamabad in the middle of December, condemned attempts by Pakistan-based jehadis to provoke Indian security forces into taking up counter-militancy operations. His condemnation was criticised by Ali Shah Geelani, the most unabashedly pro-Pakistani member of Hurriyat's executive council. His outburst galvanised a number of other smaller organisations into attacking Lone, Yasin Malik and the Mirwaiz, the chief protagonists of Kashmiri independence in the Hurriyat.

Significantly, pro-Pakistan militants are not directly advocating merger with Pakistan because they know there aren't many takers for it. Instead, they have decided to draw the battlelines around the issue of the jehadi's role. The jehadis, they claim, are risking their lives daily to liberate Kashmiris from Indian oppression. Criticising them tacitly endorses the Indian demand that Pakistan should rein them in and weakens the Kashmiris' hand in negotiating with the Indians. It is, therefore, an act of disloyalty to Kashmir. From this it has been a short step to accusing the pro-independence leaders of having become Indian stooges. Geelani took this step at the end of December when he accused pro-independence leaders of having gone to Delhi to negotiate privately with Indian officials in violation of Hurriyat's constitution.

In the first ten days of January, this dividing line has hardened and is threatening to become the central line of a new conflict between Kashmiri nationalism and pan-Islamic fundamentalism. On the one hand, there is a perceptible closing of ranks among Kashmir nationalists. In an interview he gave to the Stimson Center in Washington on December 8, the chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir, Abdul Majid Dar, urged Pakistan to restrain the jehadis to give peace a chance. Later in the month, one of the early presidents of the jklf, Hashim Qureshi, returned to India from Holland, risking prison, in order to be part of the peace process in Kashmir.

On the other hand, there has been a spate of statements from the other side of the LoC that reflect a growing distrust of the Hurriyat. The first was made by the Islamabad-based Hizb chief, Salahuddin, in an interview to Dawn around December 30. He asserted that the Hurriyat had no mandate (from the Kashmiri people) for asking the mujahideen to respect Vajpayee's ceasefire in order to give peace a chance.He threatened that the jehadis and the Hizb would intensify their strikes if India did not make a categorical declaration that Kashmir was a disputed territory and agree to resolve the dispute through 'meaningful' tripartite talks.

A day later, a Hizb spokesman in Islamabad said that the Hurriyat could not play the mediator's role in the dispute between India and Pakistan. Two days later, the Muzaffarabad-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen took up this refrain and expressed a lack of confidence in the leaders of the Hurriyat. It added that 'meaningful' progress on Kashmir was possible only if jehadi organisations were included in the talks. A spokesman for the Harkat-ul-Ansar also questioned Hurriyat's right to talk on the Kashmiris' behalf. They threatened Lone with dire consequences if he persisted in attacking the jehadis. This was the first direct threat to a member of the Hurriyat council. The attack on Shahid-ul-Islam could be a sequel. The growing denigration of the Hurriyat by pan-Islamists has been accompanied by a step-up in violence by the jehadis, of which the two bomb attacks that killed three and injured 48 persons on January 9 and (if police reports are accurate) the plan to set off two more car bombs and kill some Kashmiri leaders around January 26 are the most recent examples. If this trend continues, a civil war in Kashmir will become a distinct possibility.

This will be in neither Pakistan's nor India's interest. Pakistan must realise that with Indian guns silent, every attack or bomb blast in Kashmir erodes whatever gratitude Kashmiris had felt to it and the 'guest militants'. It, therefore, needs, in its own interest, to curb the jehadis and discourage the denigration and delegitimisation of Hurriyat by its minions in Kashmir. New Delhi's role is necessarily more restricted. But repeated statements that it too will only let some of Hurriyat's leaders go to Islamabad have not helped India's cause in Kashmir. It's also still not clear whether the home ministry will give passports to only some or all of Hurriyat's leaders. If it does the former, those who do get passports will be branded both in Pakistan and in Kashmir as quislings. This will severely damage their capacity to negotiate a cessation of jehadi violence and to break the ice between Pakistan and India.

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