Benazir regrets end of Hizbul ceasefire
9 August 2000
ISLAMABAD: Former Prime Minister and PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto has expressed regret that the cease-fire announced by Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen has come to an end before the three month expiry period. ''The announcement of a unilateral cease-fire by Hizb ul Mujahideen had given rise to new hopes for peace in the region'', the former Prime Minister said in a statement here on Wednesday. ''Given that both India and Pakistan are nuclear armed and have fought three wars in the last fifty years, the people of Kashmir, India and Pakistan need to manage the conflict to prevent a nuclear holocaust'' she said. Benazir added ''moderates in the triangle of conflict need to understand that hawks will be there so that they can prevent the hawks from jettisoning moves towards lessening of tensions''. Whilst noting that India had declined to have tripartite talks between Kashmiris, Indians and Pakistanis, she said, ''The Kashmiris and the Pakistanis could have won enormous good will had APHC gone to talks with India and asked for Pakistan to be included in the negotiations during the talks. Had India failed to respond, the onus of calling off the talks would have been on New Delhi.'' She said, ''a window of opportunity'' had been opened ''by the Hizb cease-fire, the Indian counter cease-fire with Hizb and the meeting in Srinagar between Hizb and Indian forces''. She hoped that Hizb would reconsider the calling off of the cease-fire and announce its resumption. She also regretted that the Pakistani Foreign Office had failed to use its good offices with Hizb to keep the cease-fire going. ''The cease-fire would have created a conducive atmosphere for a meeting between General Musharaf and Prime Minister Vajpayee when both go to America in September. She further stated that the holding of the press conference by Hizb leader Salahuddin in Islamabad was showing insensitivity to the situation. ''The press conference could as easily have been held in Muzzafarabad'' she said, ''thus preventing the perception that the Hizb is Pakistan based.'' Noting that General Musharaf had offered ''talks at any time and any place'', she said that such talks could be jeopardised by the hardening of positions following the calling off of the Hizb cease-fire prior to the three month period. Benazir said that the present geo strategic situation presented a special time frame for the management of the Kashmir Dispute and to the building of peace in the region. ''Once the American Presidential elections are over, it will take time for the new administration to settle in. Peace moves encouraged from behind the scenes could take some time to revive.'' She feared that hawks who had scuttled the peace process could resort to a new cycle of violence adding to the hardships of the Kashmiri people, particularly the women and children. She called upon Hizb and Indian authorities to contact each other and put the cease-fire back in place, even if talks between Indians and Kashmiris failed to immediately materialise, for a further period to ''allow greater reflection on how to proceed forward''. She noted the offer of Hizb leader Salahuddin to persuade other militant groups to join the cease-fire should India include Pakistan in the talks. She said that Pakistan could not be left out of the talks because ''Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris were all part of the problem and part of the solution''. However, she said that'' these points could be made more forcefully though forums other than press conferences''. Benazir said that the PPP believed that tripartite talks were necessary to move in the direction of conflict management and had in fact been the first Party to propose it in 1999. However, she disagreed with the breaking of the cease-fire. She said that a tripartite meeting could have materialised sequentially to the bilateral meeting. ''It seems that hard liners have won initially'' the former Prime Minister said, ''but moderates have also gained great ground in the last year. Today the Indian authorities are willing to have unconditional talks with the Kashmiris. Separately, they previously committed to unconditional talks with Pakistan on Kashmir at the Cyprus Commonwealth meeting. The Hizb, by their unilateral cease-fire earlier, has indicated their willingness to engage in confidence building steps by renouncing violence, even if for a particular period. It is hoped that the moderates would re-assert themselves and save the people of South Asia from the threat of a potentially nuclear conflict by addressing the Kashmir Dispute and seeking the path of conflict management.''