Thursday, Mar 30, 2023

Negotiating War

Negotiating War

While the militants seek to reverse President Musharraf's "reluctant rupture with his one-time jihadist allies," J&K and the Indian hinterland could witness a significant resurgence of terrorist violence in the foreseeable future.

Amidst rising tensions in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and in the wake of a vicious terrorist attack in Jaipur by suspected Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists, which killed 80 persons, India's external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, met at Islamabad on May 21, 2008, to review the progress made in the fourth round of India-Pakistan Composite Dialogue. The meeting produced little of substance, but generated a flood of 'diplomatese' on 'important bilateral achievements' of the past, including:

  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to increase the frequencies, designated airlines and points of call in either country.

  • An agreement for the trucks from one side to cross the border up to designated points on the other side at the Wagah-Attari border.

  • An increase in the frequency of the Delhi-Lahore bus service from two to three trips per week.

  • The signing of an agreement on 'Reducing the Risk from Accidents relating to Nuclear Weapons'.

  • A MoU between the Securities and Exchange Board of India and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan to facilitate the sharing of information between two agencies.

  • Completion of the Joint Survey of Sir Creek and adjoining areas.

  • Two meetings of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism.

The ministers exchanged views on the issue of J&K and agreed to continue discussions to 'build on convergences and narrow down divergences'. They also agreed to continue with the implementation of Cross-Line of Control (LoC) CBMs with a view to enhancing interaction and cooperation across the LoC. The two Foreign Secretaries will launch the Fifth Round of the Composite Dialogue in New Delhi in July 2008.

Clearly, the fourth round of the 'Composite Dialogue' was no different from the earlier rounds and, while pro forma diplomatic platitudes were naturally voiced in the Joint statement released at the end of what is increasingly becoming a practiced ritual, there was little sense of any forward movement.

Nevertheless, viewed purely in terms of fatalities, the conflict in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has now crossed the threshold from a high-intensity to a low-intensity level. For the first time since 1990 (when they were 1,177) fatalities in this terrorism-wracked state in 2007 -- at 777 -- fell below the 'high intensity conflict' mark of a thousand deaths. In 2008 (till May 25), 192 persons, including 140 militants and 26 civilians have been killed. At their peak in 2001, fatalities had risen to 4,507. Evidently, 2007 is a watershed year for J&K, bringing tremendous respite to its people. Figures for 2007 and early trends in 2008 reconfirm the continuously decline in terrorist violence in the state since the peak of 2001. According to data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, the fatality index in 2007 decreased by 30.38 percent in comparison to 2006. While there was a substantial decrease in civilian fatalities (164 in 2007 as against 349 in 2006) and those of the militants (492 in 2007 as against 599 in 2006), there was a relatively smaller decline in Security Force (SF) fatalities (121 in 2007 as against 168 in 2006).

On the ground, both in J&K and in the jihadi sphere in Pakistan, there is some indication that the militant groups and their handlers in Islamabad are now gradually seeking to reverse this outbreak of 'peace'. And while there is no direct link between the cease-fire violation and the serial bomb blasts in Jaipur on May 13, any increase in violence is unlikely to be limited to J&K. There is now sufficient indication that Pakistan-based militant groups could be preparing for a renewed offensive against India and could orchestrate attacks on wide variety of soft targets across the country.

Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, however, declared that his government was ready for a "grand reconciliation" with India through dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues "with self-respect and dignity." On the ground, nevertheless, it is a different story. In just ten days, Pakistani troops opened unprovoked machine gun and mortar fire across the LoC on three occasions: in the Samba sector on May 9; at Tangdhar on May 14, and in the Poonch Sector, on May 19, with one Indian soldier killed in the last incident. Exercising enormous restraint, the Indian side withheld return fire. Nevertheless, the ceasefire violations were rightly described as "worrisome" by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh These were the first major violations of the cease-fire by Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC), which has been in force since December 2003. Nevertheless, infiltration across the LoC and international border has been a continuous -- albeit depleted -- flow throughout the period of the cease fire.

The diminished violence in J&K does not indicate any necessary dilution of Pakistani objectives, or decline in the capacity for terrorism, and there are clear indications that the infrastructure that supports and sustains the Kashmir jihad remains intact in Pakistan. Even presently, more than 400 militants are reportedly stationed in launching pads in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), ready to infiltrate through the LoC to step up violence in the state, defence sources disclosed on April 13. Official sources indicated that at least 52 terrorist training camps are still in operation, including 30 in Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan, and the rest in PoK. At least one-third of these camps are known to be 'fully active' at any given point of time. There are currently around 1,200 militants 'active' in J&K. Security agencies believe that current militant activity is also considerably linked to the mainstream political scenario, with the forthcoming Legislative Assembly elections. Nearly one hundred militants are believed to have infiltrated into the Gurez and Lolab Valley in Bandipora-Kupwara belt in the preceding five weeks, sources indicated on April 9. Six to eight groups -- with as many as 10 to 20 militants in each group -- are reported to have successfully crossed the LoC and landed in the Gurez and Lolab Valley in Bandipora and Kupwara Districts, since March 1, 2008.

The decrease in violence in J&K is certainly not due to any change in intent, but is rather the consequence of "changes in capacities and compulsions in Pakistan." The multiplicity of crises in Pakistan has diluted Islamabad's capacities to sustain past levels of terrorism in J&K -- "particularly since a large proportion of troops had to be pulled back from the Line of Control (LoC) and the international border for deployment in increasingly violent theatres in Balochistan, NWFP [North West Frontier Province] and the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]… Pakistan's creeping implosion has undermined the establishment's capabilities to sustain the 'proxy war' against India at earlier levels." On a more general level, the decline in violence since 9/11 can be attributed to Pakistan's domestic compulsions, the ongoing peace process, the American pressure on Islamabad and the successes of the counter-insurgency grid in J&K. Official sources indicate that the ratio of SFs to terrorists killed has seen an upward trend from 1:3.6 in 2006 to 1:4.3 in 2007 -- a clear indication that the counter-insurgency grid is working well.

The India-Pakistan peace process remains, in substantial measure, tactical rather than substantive, with Pakistan in particular treating the negotiations as a parallel instrument to terrorism, to exert pressure on India. Further, the hiatus between the rival positions on Kashmir is unbridgeable, and it is unsurprising, consequently, that the two sides are yet to commence substantive discussions on this issue. The restoration of communication links, people-to-people exchanges, Track Two diplomacy and a range of CBMs have all gone smoothly and have largely been successful. However, the bottom-line is that, even though the varied CBMs currently operational between the two countries have strengthened processes of 'emotional enlistment', they do not, in any measure, alter India's and Pakistan's stated positions on the Kashmir issue. They do little, consequently, to change the fundamentals of the conflict in and over Kashmir.

The unstable domestic scenario in Pakistan has had an impact on the Kashmir jihad, though it has not led to any change in the intent or the infrastructure that orchestrates violence. Addressing a conference in the PoK capital, Muzaffarabad, on April 21, 2008, the chief of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) and of the United Jihad Council (UJC), Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, asked the new Pakistani government to replace the "apologetic and one-sided policy of Musharraf with an aggressive policy that should be on parity basis." Demanding that 75 per cent of the PoK budget should be allocated for jihad, he said, "jihad is a duty and it is the only solution to the Kashmir dispute." Speaking on the eve of the Composite Dialogue process, Salahuddin said in Sialkot in Pakistan's Punjab province, that the Hizb would wage "war in Islamabad and Lahore" if the "Kashmir liberation movement suffered due to the Pakistani rulers' cowardice, retreat and pro-India policies." Earlier, on March 19, 2008, Salahuddin had said Pakistan could not stop supporting the Kashmiri militant groups, adding that Pakistan has continuously been providing both military as well as political support to the Kashmiri militants.

Further, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, in Chakwal (Punjab province) on May 19, 2008, urged the Pakistani government to "shun the policy of unilateral friendship and adopt a principled stand." Any solution to the Kashmir issue that was imposed on the Kashmiri people and went against their aspirations would not be acceptable to the Pakistani nation, he said. Earlier, on April 2, 2008, he had stated that a strong Pakistan cannot be realized until Kashmir becomes a part of Pakistan. While noting that the previous government had caused irreparable damage to the Kashmir issue, he asked the new government to restore the confidence and trust of Muslims by adopting Pakistan's 'principled stance' on the Kashmir issue. Addressing a LeT meeting on March 1, 2008, in Muzaffarabad, Saeed announced that restrictions placed on jihadi operations would soon be lifted. Praveen Swami reports that the Lashkar war-machine is stirring.

Last month [February 2008], it began installing a new state-of-the-art wireless communications equipment at its control station in Kel, just across the LoC from the critical infiltration routes across the Lolab mountains. A training centre just outside of Balakote, in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir's Muzaffarabad District, has been revived under the command of one of the Lashkar's top irregular warfare instructors, Wagah-resident Sagir Ahmed. And, since January, a former Pakistan Army officer known to his subordinates as 'Captain Salim' has been training cadre for combat in Jammu and Kashmir at a new camp in Lala Moosa near Gujranwala."

Significantly, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) "has resumed direct funding of the Hizb, which was shut off under international pressure in 2006. Married cadre at the Hizb's camps in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir are now receiving Rs.10,000 a month, up from Rs.5,200; single men Rs.8,000 against the Rs.4,200 on offer before the ISI funding was cut off."

Leaders of several militant groups operating in J&K, sources said, met in the garrison city of Rawalpindi in Pakistan on April 6, 2008, and vowed to continue their jihad. The meeting, organised by the Al-Badr Mujahideen at a mosque in Rawalpindi, was addressed by Syed Salahuddin, Al-Badr chief Bakht Zameen Khan and leaders of the LeT, Hizb-i-Islami-Kashmir and other militant groups. "The continuation of the jihad in Kashmir is linked with the survival of Pakistan," Salahuddin told the 500-strong gathering. Sources have indicated that, in recent months, shackles imposed on groups like the LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are gradually being relaxed, the impact of which will be visible in the proximate future in J&K, which goes to polls later in the year.

Importantly, Prime Minister Gillani, while denouncing President Musharraf's proposals on Kashmir as "half-baked things" which "didn't have the mandate of the Parliament," has stated that the "core issue" of Kashmir must be settled "in line with UN resolutions and the aspirations of the Kashmiri people." Implied here is Pakistan's return to its more traditionalist position of a plebiscite. Furthermore, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, during a visit to forward locations near the LoC in March 2008, reaffirmed the commitment of the Pakistan Army to the Kashmir cause "in line with the aspirations of the nation."

While the militants seek to reverse President Musharraf's "reluctant rupture with his one-time jihadist allies," J&K and the Indian hinterland could witness a significant resurgence of terrorist violence in the foreseeable future.

Kanchan Lakshman is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal