Govt announces Ramzan truce in Kashmir
19 November 2000
The Times of India
New Delhi: In an apparent effort to breathe life into the frozen Kashmir peace process and dialogue with the militants, the Union government on Sunday took an unusual step of ordering a halt to combat operations by security forces in the troubled state. The government took the opportunity of the advent of Ramazan, the holy Muslim month of fasting beginning November 26, to usher in a unilateral ceasefire and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in an official statement expressed the hope that the gesture ''will be fully appreciated'' and that all violence and infiltration across the Line of Control will cease. ''We have continued our efforts to normalise the situation in the state and to hold talks with all those who are prepared for a dialogue,'' the Prime Minister said. He recalled his visit to Srinagar on August 3 and his stress on resolving all issues ''in the spirit of insaniyat,'' which had evoked warm sentiments all round. It was an oblique reference to the government readying for talks with the Hizbul Mujaheedin last summer when Hizb leader Abdul Majid Dar unilaterally announced truce and offered direct talks with New Delhi. The effort was shortlived as Hizb''s Islamabad-based leader Syed Salahuddin insisted Pakistan had to be involved in any talks on Kashmir. The Prime Minister''s offer of truce and talks now is significant. First, it directly addresses various Kashmiri militant and separatist groups and puts the onus of responding on them, to the exclusion of Pakistan. Second, it is timed with the wedding ceremony of Pakistan-based JKLF faction leader Amanullah Khan''s daughter with Kashmir-based All-Party Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Ghani Lone''s son in Rawalpindi. Fortuitously, the wedding for the first time openly brings leaders of various militant organisations and groups based on either side of the divide together for direct consultations and review of their ''struggle for Kashmir'' without Pakistan having any role to play. That makes it difficult for the militant groups to ignore the Prime Minister''s offer. That this indeed is the Indian gambit was hinted at by an aide to the Prime Minister when he said: ''Let''s see how the militants respond. We have made a major gesture, and now it is for them to respond.'' He said the government decided to make the offer after various groups and organisations sought New Delhi''s initiative in this. He declined to identify these groups. The decision in principle was taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security at its last meeting, chaired by the Prime Minister, and confirmed by it at its Sunday morning meeting, sources said. Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah was also consulted Sunday morning and he concurred, sources said. Convener of the ruling NDA and defence minister George Fernandes told newsmen later in the evening that New Delhi now expects a reciprocal response from ''the other side''. Asked if this was ''some kind of preparation'' for talks with the militants, Fernandes said: ''Dialogue is a two-way process. We don''t know if the other side wants dialogue.'' The last time the dialogue was scuttled by the other side, he noted. The clamp on the security forces initiating combat operations against the militants ''shows the government wants to make life easier for the people in the state,'' Fernandes said and pointed out that this was the first time that the government has announced Ramazan truce.