Pak. leverage in J&K may be affected
1 August 2000
New Delhi: The ceasefire call by the Hizbul Mujahideen is likely to undermine Pakistani leverage in Jammu and Kashmir and is a result of extensive back-channel diplomacy, highly-placed sources in the Government said. Sources point out that unlike the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Harkat- ul-Ansar, which have a large foreign militant component, the Hizbul Mujahideen cadre are mostly local Kashmiris. Mr. Amanullah Khan''s Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front is the other group operating in the Valley with mainly Kashmiri antecedents. The Hizbul Mujahideen had, in the past, openly expressed pro-Pakistan leanings while the JKLF consistently advocated the cause of Kashmiri self-determination. The Hizbul is led by Syed Salahuddin, a colourful personality who sees himself as a guerrilla fighter and statesman in the Yasser Arafat mould. Unlike other organisations in the State, the Hizbul, in the past, had been the hub for propelling militancy in the border State. It provided security and ensured that cross-border supplies reached many smaller outfits in the Valley. The Hizbul''s decision to put the fighting with Indian forces on hold, is the result of extensive back-channel contacts. Reports that the Hizbul leader, Mr. Abdul Majid Dar, who announced the ceasefire, took a commercial flight from Dubai to New Delhi before emplaning for Srinagar without being halted en route by Indian authorities, itself indicates that his travel plans had been worked out in advance. Besides, the Government''s clear directive to the Army, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Border Security Force and the Special Operations Group of the State police not to engage the Hizbul cadre, also shows that New Delhi was ready to respond to the ceasefire call in advance, analysts say. The announcement of the ceasefire offer by Mr. Dar was preceded by extensive consultations with the local Hizbul commanders, observers say. According to sources, the announcement by the Hizbul to put fighting with the Indian authorities on hold has taken Pakistan completely off-guard. In fact, given the Hizbul''s overarching stature, its talks with Indian authorities threatens to snap Pakistan''s life line to the Kashmir militants. Threatened by a possible loss of leverage in Kashmir, Pakistan has apparently galvanised the essentially non-Kashmiri Lashkar-e-Taiba into action. Not surprisingly, the Laskhar-e- Taiba, on which it exercises considerable influence, attacked an army camp in the Bandipore area of Kashmir on Monday. Analysts, however, feel Pakistan may find it difficult to fully unleash these groups in the Valley. Given the international interest for peace in Kashmir, Islamabad then can well be accused to sabotaging the budding peace process in Kashmir. In fact, Pakistan may move perilously close to being declared a terrorist state by the United States, in case violence directed at undermining the Hizbul''s overture is prolonged. Despite the legitimate apprehensions of the security forces, analysts here point out that difficulties in implementing the ceasefire plan may not be insurmountable. Once the Hizbul leaders declare that the ceasefire has been enforced and the cadre withdrawn from the battle zone, the security forces would be free to engage any militants when attacked.