The Elusive Peace

The Elusive Peace
February 2001

Three extensions, the last one longest and declared in the background of fierce public outcry against unabated spells of violence, later the Peace in the troubled Valley remains as elusive as ever. The remarkable restraints shown by the Government Of India and its security forces to the provocations has demonstrated firm persistence to the process of peace and makes the motives and sincerity of the policy makers in India transparent. It also contains a message to the skeptics that peace cannot be obtained with mathematical countdowns and certainly not without sacrifices of sorts. On the other side of the border too there has been signs of a change of postures with the military rulers in Islamabad coming down to the perception that if some progress is to be made the beginning should be to shed mindless recourse to conditionalities and accept each others ground realities. That is how the Pakistani Foreign Minister described Islamabad stand that it would not insist on its involvement on the dialogue process at the initial stage itself for settlement of the Kashmir dispute.i India also formally conveyed its desire for early resumption of a “composite dialogue” with Pakistan offering “progressive and constructive” engagement. India wanted Pakistan to create an appropriate environment for talks by reaffirming faith with bilateral agreements particularly the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration; reaffirm prevention of violation of the LoC with a stern message to infiltrators and rein in militant outfits such as the Lashkar–e–Taiba and the Harkat–ul-Mujahideen Gen. Musharraf, reiterating the commitment to implement all bilateral agreements, made it a point to include the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir. The process of resumption of dialogue should not be linked to cessation of violence by militant outfits, he said.ii Even as the suspense continues over the issue of travel documents to some leaders of the All-Party Hurriyat Conference to enable them travel to Pakistan, the Indian Government has categorically conveyed to the military government here that it does not consider that Hurriyat sole representatives of the Kashmiris. The major bane of contention between New Delhi and Islamabad has been the locus standi of the APHC with the latter reiterating that it considered the APHC the legitimate representative body of the Kashmiris. The other factor has been Pakistan’s emphasis on talks without a firm commitment to rein in key insurgent groups. While Pakistan insists that talks on resolving the Kashmir issue should begin straight away, India wants Islamabad to rein in the terrorist groups and stop cross-boarder terrorism. India has put the onus of creating a conductive atmosphere for talks on the Pakistan leadership. “We have strongly demonstrated our sincerity to create a conducive atmosphere for talks through specific confidence building measures, such as unilateral cessation of combat operations in Jammu and Kashmir.” However the continuation of terrorist activities in and outside the State showed that the purpose of Indian unilateral initiatives was not being fulfilled. India wanted that Pakistan should demonstrate its sincerity and commitment to the dialogue process by unequivocally condemning violence by militant groups and checking their anti-India activities. What was particularly distressing was that Islamabad had done nothing to restrain terrorist outfits, operating from its soil, even as it professed eagerness to resume talks. Its argument that violence would stop once the talks began was strange, and neither convinced India nor the international community. There could not be meaningful talks for resolving outstanding issues and normalising bilateral relations when the guns of terrorist outfits did their own talking.iii

Cease-fires cannot follow each other in a vacuum. Either they must be followed up by further progress or they must come to an end. And even though extensions display boldness and self-assurance the rationale remains that “violence must be ended and peace, which has been welcomed by the people of Jammu and Kashmir, be given every chance.” The argument that has been favouring the extensions was the view that the peace initiative did make an impact on the State’s people, who were reasonably convinced of the New Delhi’s desire for peace. The fact that the militant groups were now targeting civilians and civilian casualties had gone up considerably, was bound to make the people in the Kashmir Valley realise the militants’ lack of interests in peace. The international community had appreciated India’s willingness to give peace a chance, and that the new administration in Washington would get enough time to lend a helping land.iv In each of the extensions India has to contend with a host of contra indicators both on the security and the political fronts, notably the worrisome escalation in the killings by the militants outfits and the cracks it caused in the national matrix of pro-ceasefire political consensus. By all accounts, there has been considerable improvement along the Line of Control, thanks to Pakistan’s positive response by way of exercising “maximum restraint” and announcing partial pullout of its defense forces. On the militant font, however, the signals emanating from the military establishment on the other side of the border have been admittedly feeble and less than positive, whatever might be the reasons for it.

But the cease-fire can, at best, be only a means towards generating a meaningful engagement can not be an end in itself. This has, despite persistent efforts, not happened. It would have been naïve to expect Pakistan to cooperate with New Delhi’s peace offensive. Nonetheless, the manner in which militant outfits and other agencies in Pakistan have sought to manipulate the composition of APHC delegation to the country, shown not even the slightest willingness to clamp down on the militants, and escalated the violence against civilians in the valley, leaves no doubt that Pakistan is deeply insecure about any peace process involving New Delhi and Kashmiris.v

Many interpretations have gone to the direct telephonic talks between Indian Prime Minister and his Pakistani counterpart in the context of latter’s offer of help to Gujarat earthquake victims. The larger diplomatic implications of the move must therefore be ceased upon by both the sides. The most significant aspect of the brief conversation between the two leaders is their resolve to “keep in touch”. By its prompt response, the military leadership has sought to demonstrate its “keenness” on a resumption of dialogue with India for resolution of all differences including Kashmir. While the Government’s decision to give a positive spin to the post-Gujarat interaction with Pakistan was evident, analysts feel that its impact was still confined to the improvement of “atmospherics”. India’s key objections to Pakistani support for cross-boarder terrorism, it was evident, still remained The Pakistan Government too underlined the need to build on the first ever direct contact between the Chief Executive, Gen Pervez Musharraf, and the Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, as a “positive development for peace” that needed to be carried forward. The pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen welcomed the telephonic talk, between Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Vajpayee and said it was ready to co-operate with every positive step taken by the two countries to resolve the Kashmir issue. Though Kashmir did not figure in the telephonic talk, it was an important development in the backdrop of “extremely stained relations” between the two countries. The Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdulah, hailing the move as one that can break the ice hoped that militant outfits would follow suit and ensure peace in the State and that the talks between Mr. Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf should be translated into new dawn of peace so that “people in Kashmir could breathe in peace.” vii

The feel-good factor generated in India and Pakistan out of the brief telephonic conversation was short-lived however. In a strongly-worded messages on the eve of the Kashmir solidarity day, Gen Musharraf left none in doubt that Pakistan was not satisfied with Indian moves to resolve the Kashmir conflict, and chose the opportunity to reiterate “full moral, diplomatic and political support” to the people of Kashmir “at all times and under all circumstances” in their fight for “self-determination.” viiiThe Pakistan Chief Executive went on to raise an alarm that there was a danger of India and Pakistan slipping back to their ” policy of confrontation” if New Delhi continued to dither over the insurance of travel documents to the All-Party Hurriyat Conference leaders.ix

The earthquake did indeed brought a pause in the initiatives as priorities changed. Pakistan’s Chief Executive may have chosen a diplomatically contentious occasion to call upon the Indian Prime Minister to act in a statesmanlike manner so as to avoid a reversal of the recent positive trends on the bilateral front. He has also said that he would like to be remembered as the leader who resolved the Kashmir dispute hinting that there was a “change” in the attitude of Indian leaders over the issue. “I certainly would like to go down in history and it will be a dream to solve this longstanding dispute.” xSurely, the military ruler’s direct appeal punctuated the former’s impassioned exposition of Pakistan’s support for the idea of “self-determination” in respect of Jammu and Kashmir. Given this milieu of deep emotions across the India-Pakistan divide, it will be easy for New Delhi to take a cynically dim view of what it might tend to regard as a trite Musharraf-speak. However, the New Delhi dispensation should guard against the dangers of a new lurch to an old policy of drift in the bilateral sphere. There can be no two opinions on the need for a sense of purpose – a point articulated by Pakistan’s leader, albeit within the ambit of his own diplomatic agenda. The manifested pause cannot be explained adequately by any reasoning for a very long period. Natural disasters need not totally paralyse diplomats and strategists, and the Gujarat tragedy has certainly not slowed down the vendors of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Sooner than later the establishment will have to do something to demonstrate that it has not lost the initiative. Having established that the Indian state had the staying power, New Delhi should find ways and means of engaging the separatist elements in some kind of dialogue. Those who have come to terms with the futility of the gun need to be given the space to convince fellow-secessionists that there is no dishonor in exploring the peace option.xi

It makes eminent sense to begin at the top if India and Pakistan wants to move the peace process forward. General Musharraf has once again expressed his desire to come to India to restart the stalled dialogue between the two nations. “I am prepared to go to Delhi for talks if invited by the Indian Government….But I will go only if I have a formal invitation.” This is in sharp contrast to the earlier stand that Pakistan was not going to beg for talks with India. A reciprocation of sorts from India is what is wanted.

Prominent peace activities from India and Pakistan have urged the two Governments to begin talks with each other on all standing issues to resolve them amicably. In the pursuit of an Indo-Pakistan rapprochement, the non-official side can achieve the intended results by adopting an independent approach and not letting its interaction be affected by the prejudices of officials. “We cannot forget that there are forces on both sides and also outside both countries that flourished on hatred, who want the arms race to go on and are determined to build ever more nuclear weapon and missiles to carry them.”xii

The climate created by the cease-fire must be used to start a broad-based dialogue with all concerned especially the Kashmiri people. The initiative has been widely appreciated internationally and has evoked positive response from Pakistan. The International sentiment has been aptly expressed by Dr Satu P Limaye of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Hawaii, “The international community will certainly welcome any measures that reduces the tensions and violence that have affected India and Pakistan relations and Kashmir specifically. India’s decision to extend its unilateral cease-fire is a positive step if it leads to bilateral conversations between India and Pakistan on settlement of Kashmir.” xiii

The cessation of shelling on the border has no doubt given a fillip to the peace process, apart from reducing loss of life and property. Pakistan has seen in the initiative an opportunity to engage India in a dialogue which could enhance the credibility of the military Government, and, more importantly, push India towards discussing Kashmir which in its perception is the core issue between the countries. The Pakistani move may also be regarded as a response to pressure from its creditors to take steps on the ground to facilitate the resumption of dialogue with India. The only way to make Pakistan stop cross-border terrorism and accept what India regards as a realistic solution to the Kashmir problem is to bring about a change in its perception that it can carry on its proxy war without impunity. This change can be brought about only by winning over the Kashmiri people to India’s side. The climate created by the cease-fire, therefore, must be used to start a broad-based dialogue. xiv

A three-month extension of the cease-fire in Jammu and Kashmir will achieve India’s larger interests better than a monthly dose of scepticism. It is also part of a larger and well-through-out plan to provide the needed assurance from New Delhi of its commitment to a peace process in the troubled State. Unfortunately, the focus has been allowed to remain on the cease-fire as a product rather than on the process of bringing about a change in the people’s outlook in the State. The fact remains that the cease-fire is at best a way for the Government to buy time till it evolves a Kashmir policy even as it wards off international pressure The cease-fire must not be allowed to become an issue in itself, it must be seen as an instrument to energise the momentum for peace. “We must allow the cease-fire to play out its various aspects. A process like this is either not started at all; or, once started, must be allowed time for all the parameters to work themselves out. The Government’s decision to extend the cease-fire is a logical step in a process that has been given considerable thought.” (Former Foreign Secretary K Raghunath) What is needed now is boldness in building the peace constituency in Jammu and Kashmir.

If the objective is to find a political solution to the vexed Kashmir problem the cease-fire has necessarily to be part of a broader and well-crafted package of political and diplomatic initiatives, one that seeks to co-opt the various political and regional interests for an enduring solution to the multi- dimensional problem. Regrettably, there have been no discernible signals, so far, of New Delhi having formulated any such clear policy. The few signals as are available only point to a lack of direction; a notable example is the way the Government has handled the issue of the Hurriyat’s offer to visit Pakistan in an effort to make the cease-fire a two-way street. The Hurriyat’s to-be-visit had generated tremendous interest in the valley. However, as the issue got mired in controversy after hard-liner Geelani’s inclusion in the team, the excitement it had generated, ebbed considerably. Unless the Government comes up with a political initiative without any further loss of time, it will run the risk of losing the advantage of a national consensus. xv

The three-month duration of the cease-fire acquires particular significance in the context that it gives New Delhi a space to put in place mechanisms to react to the possible changes in policy directions from the new establishment in Washington. The three month extension also makes sense instead of buying the argument that cessation of combat operations had produced no tangible result. The initiative on the part of India must be followed up with a strict watch on official human rights violations and a massive information campaign about the nature of the peace process and the true character of militancy. Reacting to the third extension of cease-fire, the Hurriyat Conference chairman, Mr. Abdul Gani Bhat told “now that the Centre is extending the cease-fire once again, let us hope that the Government spells out the rationale behind it with a view to dispelling doubts about it in Kashmir. As a matter of fact, dialogue should have preceded the declaration of cease-fire… However, now cease-fire and dialogue should go hand in hand…. “extension (of cease-fire) or no extension, let the word go across that unless the dispute is addressed, peace can never return.” Does this rhyme with what Indian Prime Minister wrote in his ‘Musings from Kumarakom’ – “In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely the beaten track of the past?” If this made up the rationale for extensions, the initiative must be carried to its logical conclusion.

i THE HINDU. pg. No. 10, JAN 14, 2001
ii THE HINDU pg. No. 1, JAN 16, 2001.
iii THE HINDU pg. No. 1, JANUARY 18, 2001
iv THE HINDU pg. No.1, JANUARY 24, 2001
v THE HINDU. pg. No. 12. FEB. 2, 2001
vi THE HINDU. pg. No. 13. FEBRUARY 3, 2001
vii THE HINDU. pg. No. 8, FEB. 4, 2001
viii THE HINDU. pg. No.1, FEB. 5, 2001
ix THE HINDU. pg. No. 13, FEBRUARY 6, 2001
x THE HINDU. pg. No. 13, FEBRUARY 10, 2001
xi THE HINDU. pg. No. 12, FEBRUARY 8, 2001
xii THE HINDU. pg. No. 12, TUE, FEB20, 2001
xiiiThe Pioneer 26 February 2001
xiv THE HINDU. pg. No. 12, TUE, FEB20, 2001
xv Edit: The Hindu 23 February 2001
xvi Edit: The Times of India 23 February 2001
(End of Part Two)



Arabinda Acharya