Pakistan And The Hizb
21 May 2003
New Delhi: The Pakistan government's announcement that it has banned the activities of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen should, on the face of it, be hardly surprising since it follows the American decision to declare the outfit a terrorist organisation. But the fortnight's time lag between the decisions from the two capitals raised doubts, in particular because Pakistan had specifically asked the U.S for justification on why it was declaring the Hizb a terrorist outfit. Washington had ignored the demand and now Pakistan has confirmed that it has banned the activities of the decade-old organisation that can perhaps justifiably claim indigenous roots unlike most of the other disparate jehadi groups operating from Pakistani territory and sustaining themselves on assistance from Pakistan. While experience and wisdom demand that India wait to see how the decision translates on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir, there can be no doubt that Pakistan has taken a major step forward in addressing New Delhi's concerns on terrorism and its infrastructure in Pakistan. Confirmation of the ban came on a day that saw a gruesome, shocking act of revenge killing by militants in Jammu, in a way underscoring the importance and even enormity of the task of the Pakistan Government in reining in the terrorist groups. In an obvious attempt to address its domestic audience, Pakistan's Interior Minister has clarified that the ban covers the Hizb's activities but not the movement of its leaders and activists within the country. The first major blow against the outfit was struck when the U.S. branded it a terrorist organisation, ending years of Washington's double standards that chose to ignore acts of violence perpetrated by the so-called indigenous groups. The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington forced a reassessment that resulted in the April 30 decision on the Hizb and two other groups. The Hizb, set up in 1989, has in recent years been riven by factional feuding, with pro- Pakistani elements wanting to seize control. There are groups within it which are seen as more prone to appreciating the ground realities in the State. This, in fact, resulted in a unilateral ceasefire in 2000 declared by Abdul Majid Dar, which was bitterly opposed by the Islamabad-based chief Syed Salahuddin. The split ultimately resulted in the assassination of Dar by hardline elements that had apparently gained control over the organisation. Salahuddin has hurled defiance at the Pakistani authorities who must now match their words with deeds. Concerted action by the U.S. and Pakistan has the potential to induce the majority of the elements in the Hizb to throw in their lot with groups which are considered to be ready to join the democratic political process in Kashmir. The announcement of the ban on the Hizb can in many ways act as a fillip to the halting efforts of India and Pakistan to place bilateral relations on a friendlier phase. The controversy over the so-called 'Chenab solution', the avoidable confusion over the choice of High Commissioner in New Delhi and the unending list of demands and counter-demands being raised by government spokesmen can no longer be allowed to overshadow the positive signals coming from both sides of the border. As air, land and rail communications are restored in the coming weeks, sporting contacts are also set to resume, beginning with the game in which the subcontinent once ruled the world. But the most poignant indicator of the thawing relations came earlier this week on the famous Wagah border. The tearful scenes of reunion witnessed on that border post when Pakistan returned 20 Indian civilians taken prisoner two years ago were a candid reminder of the enormous harm that mindless hostility and hatred can cause as well as the happiness even a marginal easing of tensions between the two neighbours can bring to the common people.