During most of July-August 2000, the strategic scenario in South Asia remained dominated by the developments in Kashmir. In the background of a demand for autonomy from the state legislature, release of leaders belonging to the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen and subsequent unilateral declaration of cease fire by the group, the table was set for open and unconditional dialogue amidst hope that the other groups would soon realise the futility of an armed struggle and come forward to participate in the peace process. (The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, The Hindu 1 August 2000). There were welcoming reactions from a large cross section of public opinion both internal and external. Even the organisation of Kashmiri Pundits, Panun Kashmir expected the community’s involvement in the proposed dialogue with militants as its participation to ascertain their views, as they were “part and parcel of the Valley, despite living in forced exile for the last 10 years”. (PTI: The Times of India 1 August 2000) Khawaja Mushtaq Hussain, president of Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front, Europe Zone, hailing Hizbul Mujahideen’s unilateral cease-fire decision, urged for an unconditional dialogue with the representatives of all regions of the State.”People of Kashmir are sick and tired of violence and guns” and want an honorable lasting peace” (PTI: The Hindustan Times 4 August 2000)
There were oppositions nonetheless obviously from vested interests that have been thriving with the continuation of the conflict. Across the border of contention in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir, the Harkatul Mujahideen vowed to pursue its separatist battle in Kashmir, saying only ‘jihad’ (holy war) and not a cease-fire or dialogue could resolve the conflict. “We have decided on oath that we will never betray the blood of martyrs nor would allow anyone else to do so,” (Harkat chief Maulana Farooq Kashmiri at a rally in a village of Bagh district in Pakistan-administered Kashmir; IANS: The Times of India 1 August 2000.) Even in the ranks of the Hizbul Mujahideen on both sides of the border, there were ample signs of disagreement. Almost all political and religious organisations in Pakistan, surprised at Hizbul’s unilateral cease-fire, decided not to support the separatist group even as its chief Syed Salahuddin sought to explain away the reasons behind the sudden cessation of hostilities. Most groups opposed to the cease-fire argued that the move would not help in finding a solution to the long-standing Kashmir problem. (Muhammad Najeeb: The Asian Age 2 August 2000). Even the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders were not optimistic about the outcome of the talks. “These talks will not restore peace (aman) in the state,” APHC chairman Abdul Gani Bhat told The Times of India News Service demanding the association of Pakistan and the APHC in these talks. (The Times of India 5 August 2000). Many in the Hurriyat felt that the Hizbul’s decision to call a cease-fire had undermined their own relevance and deflated their own dialogue with the Center. Panthers Party President Bhim Singh was critical of the talks with the Hizbul Mujahideen alone and said that “Talks are meaningless” and “would be a failure” until leaders of the Hurriyat Conference, which represents all militant outfits operating in the Valley are also involved. He further maintained that the Center should have taken the leaders of Jammu and even Ladhakh into confidence before holding talks with anyone in the State. (The Hindustan Times 6 August 2000)
The least of the surprises however, was the Pakistan’s expectation to be a part of the dialogue (IANS: The Times of India 2 August 2000) which India promptly rejected. New Delhi did not find any place for Pakistan or any other ‘foreign elements’ in the talks to be conducted within the framework of the constitution. India made it clear that it will not let Pakistan enter the dialogue process through the backdoor. (K.K. Katyal The Hindu 4 August 2000)
The talks, finally held on 4 August 2000 was preceded by a spate of terrorist attacks against innocent civilians meant to create a condition of hatred sufficient to derail the process. A series of massacres by militants across Jammu and Kashmir left 91 people, including 26 laborers and eight members of a village defense committee, dead and injured several others. 32 persons succumbed to the shootout at the Pahalgam camp for Amaranth pilgrims. Within five hours of the Pahalgam massacre, a group of militants descended on Katran village in Qazigund area of south Kashmir and massacred 19 laborers. (The Hindu 3 August 2000) The massacres were universally condemned as attempts by Pakistan based terrorist groups to sabotage the talks. “The path we are following is one of peace and we will not leave it. Whatever difficulties we encounter, we will face. A message should go from this House that we will not be cowed down by terrorism,” declared the Indian Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha. (The Hindustan Times 3 August 2000) Union home minister L.K. Advani saw in the latest outburst of violence in the valley a determined bid by those upset at the prospects of peace to abort the initiative taken by the Hizbul Mujahideen last week and indicated Pakistan-backed terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to be behind the massacres. (The Asian Age 3 August 2000.) The establishment, shaken by the worst-ever killings in the decade-long militancy, nevertheless demonstrated a firm inclination to stick to the path of “peace” and persevere in the strategy of negotiation. Though the scale of the killings left almost everyone stunned, it was not entirely unexpected and Hizbul leader, Majid Dar was prompt to convey to the Indian interlocutors his condemnation of the unprecedented violence. (Harish Khare The Hindu 3 August 2000.) Behind the mayhem was the unmistakable hand of Pakistan as aptly pointed out by the Indian Prime Minister that every time India had taken an initiative for peace Pakistan had responded by inciting brutal terrorist acts. The obvious reference was to the Kargil fiasco following India’s bold effort to achieve peace and normalisation of relations with Pakistan through ‘bus diplomacy’. The international community saw through the evil designs and the President Clinton led the world to convey the ‘concern’, appreciated India’s “positive response”, and offered to talk to Pakistan and “to do everything possible to contain such activities”. (The Times of India 3 August 2000.) Even A prominent Kashmiri separatist leader and founding father of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Hashim Qureshi slammed Pakistan for the brutal massacre of innocent people in the state and said these so-called ‘friends of Kashmiris cannot be followers of Islam’. Appealing to the international community to ask Pakistan to shut down the offices of terrorist organisations, Qureshi said, “They will never allow a peaceful solution to the Kashmir problem and Kashmiris will continue to suffer the untold miseries for no fault of theirs.”(PTI: The Times of India 5 August 2000)
The first round of talks between the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Indian Government ended with a positive after note, both sides agreeing to go ahead with the process and nominated two committees for the purpose. Direct talks were held between the Union Home Secretary, Mr. Kamal Pandey, assisted by special secretaries in the Ministry and four Hizbul commanders – Mr. Riyaz Rasool, Mr. Masood, Mr. Farooq Riyaz and Mr. Zaffar in the presence of Hizbul-nominated mediator, Mr. Fazal-haq-Qureshi, the chief of People’s Political Front. India’s determination to build on the cease-fire offer and attempt for dialogue received general acclamation. “We are encouraged by the determination of the government to build on the cease-fire offer and the moves to address the concerns of people in Jammu and Kashmir.” ( US ambassador to India The Times of India 5 August2000)
The cracks in the ranks of The Hizbul Mujahideen however, caught up with its leaders. In an apparent about turn Hizbul chief, Syed Salahuddin made a demand for tripartite talks outside the framework of the Indian Constitution involving Pakistan and set a deadline for the Indian Government to respond at the threat of a reconsideration of its cease-fire declaration. (B Muralidhar Reddy: The Hindu 4 August 2000) This demand put a question mark on the future of the Hizb-Centre talks on chalking out the modalities for a cease-fire monitoring mechanism. Resistance to keep Pakistan away continued with Jammu and Kashmir Awami League, political wing of counter-insurgents, cautioning the Center against “falling into the trap”. “The government should beware from falling into a trap by accepting the condition of Hizbul supreme commander Syed Salahuddin for involving Pakistan in talks,” (Capt S K Tickoo, general secretary: The Times of India 5 August 2000) Dr. Abdullah, the Chief Minister of JK while foreseeing a role for Hizbul Mujahideen in the state politics, ruled out tripartite talks involving Pakistan. “Government of India is not going to talk to Pakistan unless cross border terrorism is stopped. (PTI:The Hindu 8 August 2000)
Pakistan reaffirmed its resolve for tripartite talks involving India, Pakistan and the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), as logical and in accordance with international law and principles. “According to the United Nations Security Council resolutions, Pakistan and India are the two major parties to Kashmir conflict and Kashmiri should also be included in the talks. (The Hindu 6 August 2000) With the Indian Government standing firm on exclusion of Pakistan and expecting the Hizbul Mujahideen leadership to withdraw the August 8 deadline set by Syed Salahuddin second round failed to take off. (PTI: The Hindu 6 August 2000) The curtain finally came down with announcement of withdrawal of offer of cease-fire and resumption of fighting in Kashmir by Hizbul Mujahideen on the plea that India has failed to respond to its demand for a tripartite dialogue outside the ambit of the Constitution, the Hizbul chief, Syed Salahuddin, taking the extraordinary step of explaining to world diplomats how India “failed to give peace a chance.” ( The Hindu 8 August 2000) Salahuddin blamed India having failed to reciprocate its gesture and demonstrating “traditional intransigence”. Conditions for “review and reconsider” its decision were announced- India must prepare itself to “break the barrier of rigidity – tripartite talks involving India, Pakistan and Kashmiris or implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution for a plebiscite to determine the will of the people of Kashmir.
A wave of disappointment swept across the valley raising fears for increased violence in the days ahead. “We had a chance to restore peace in the blood-soaked valley and we lost it,” said Shabir Ahmad Shah, a senior separatist leader. (The Indian Express 9 August 2000) The Hurriyat leaders as also Pakistan-based militant organisations engaged in fighting in Kashmir rejoiced at the Hizbul’s decision to call off the cease-fire as a vindication of their stand. “We had said and reiterated that the Hizbul’s decision lacked vision and this decision was hasty. The boys (militants) had not consulted other groups fighting in Kashmir. Any decision relating to cease-fire has to be collective and not an isolated one.” (Tariq Bhat: The Indian Express 9 August2000)
Regretting the decision of the Hizbul Mujahideen The US urged all parties to “nurture and continue a process of peace in Kashmir… We welcomed the initiation of the discussion between India and the Hizbul Mujahideen and we encourage the resumption.” Washington however was guarded in its opinion on nature of participation. “The decision on how the talks are structured need to be made by the parties involved,” (The Hindu 9 August 2000) New Delhi held “Pakistani agencies” responsible for putting “intense pressure on the Hizbul Mujahideen leadership in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to revoke the cease-fire.” At the same time, the Government reiterated its firm commitment to the “peace process” and called upon “on all those have taken to arms to return to the path of peace.” (The Hindu 9 August 2000)
As peace lay buried under the games of one up-manship and the region is threatened with violence of the deadlier kind (“India will have to pay heavily for its refusal to have tripartite talks on Kashmir…The Hizbul during the next few days will undertake bombings on a scale that has never been witnessed during the past ten years of the liberation struggle.”), it is pure optimism that keeps the hope aloft. The Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, believes that the withdrawal of cease-fire by the Hizbul Mujahideen is not the end of the game and is confident that some groups will come for talks. Pakistan says it is ready to a join a “purposeful dialogue” with India for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Government will not swerve from chosen path, says Advani, refraining from operations, which could impede the possible revival of the peace dialogue with the militants. Meanwhile scores will continue to die and the valley will remain to be one of discord and disharmony spewing out its venom that will affect the security and long term prosperity in the sub-continent.