September 2003 News

Fighting In Kashmir Revives Rancor In Pakistan And India

27 September 2003
The New York Times

New Delhi: Speaking this week to the United Nations General Assembly, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan said that India was fueling an arms race that would 'destabilize South Asia.' The next day, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India accused Pakistan of trying to use 'terrorism' to 'blackmail' India into making concessions. Five months after the start of a new peace initiative, surging violence in the disputed territory of Kashmir has killed more than 300 people in the last month and knotted the peace effort between India and Pakistan. India, which is predominantly Hindu, and Pakistan, which is mainly Muslim, have fought three wars since 1947. Two were over Kashmir. Last year, the two countries, now armed with nuclear weapons, nearly went to war again over the territory. India accuses Pakistan of covertly backing an insurgency against the Indian-held part of Kashmir, killing 35,000 to 70,000 people in 14 years. Pakistan says it does not aid the groups; it calls the insurgency an indigenous 'freedom struggle.' Rare interviews with two Kashmiri separatist leaders suggest that tensions will continue to grow. Speaking in Pakistan last month, the two said their fighters were still crossing into the Indian-held portion of Kashmir from Pakistan. One said Pakistan was no longer aiding separatists but the other said it was. 'I don't think any militant organization could go on for a week without the financial assistance of Pakistan,' one leader said. Pakistani officials deny helping the groups and say they have closed all Kashmiri training camps. In an interview with The New York Times conducted in New York last Sunday, President Musharraf said Pakistan was doing all it could to seal the border. 'We have delivered on whatever we said,' he said. But Indian officials say that infiltration by guerrillas continues. Peace talks will not be held, they vow, until the infiltration stops. The rancor appears to be taking a toll on the peace effort. Talks to reopen air links failed last month and neither side has acted on proposals to reopen rail links and trade. The countries have exchanged ambassadors but are not allowing full staffing at their embassies. Earlier this month, India refused to allow a visit by Pakistan's foreign minister. One of the separatist officials, a senior commander with Hizbul Mujahedeen, the largest Kashmiri militant group, said Pakistan had dismantled 75 percent of the camps built inside Pakistan in the 1990's. He also said Pakistan had stopped overt aid for the groups and was waiting to see if India was serious about peace. 'If India is sincere in finding a solution,' he said, the Pakistani leaders 'will stop us completely from crossing. If India is not sincere, they will help us again.' The claims of the officials, who both spoke on the condition of anonymity, could not be verified. Hizbul Mujahedeen's spokesman did not return a call requesting comment. Beyond Kashmir, there are signs that the peace effort could bear fruit. A small number of 'people to people' links established this summer are viewed as a success. Renewed bus service and the exchange of political, business and student delegations have proved popular. A poll in August by India Today magazine found that 60 percent of Indians supported the April peace overture by Mr. Vajpayee. Pakistani views are more mixed. A poll by Gallup Pakistan found that 63 percent of Pakistanis support trade with India. But 47 percent dismissed Mr. Vajpayee's peace offering as 'a gimmick.' American officials, fearing instability in a region crucial to American efforts to halt terrorism, fervently back the peace effort. A senior Western diplomat in New Delhi who spoke on the condition of anonymity called for the re-establishment of rail, air and trade links. 'I think that despite the momentary lapses, the various track two efforts have created clear momentum,' he said, referring to restored bus service and other visits. 'The two sides have got to think up ways to continue it.' But Kashmir could derail peace efforts. A double bombing in Bombay that killed more than 50 people in August also raised tensions. In a now entrenched dynamic, India blamed Pakistan for sponsoring such attacks, while Pakistan said India's oppression of its Muslim minority fueled the violence. While most attacks are aimed at Indian security forces in Kashmir, militants have also assassinated moderate leaders and threatened to kill Kashmiris who vote in elections. Indian forces are accused of brutality of their own, including summary executions, systematic torture and hundreds of disappearances. In the interview on Sunday, President Musharraf called the killing of civilians on both sides of the Kashmir conflict 'terrorism.' But in an interview in Pakistan last month, a senior Pakistani intelligence official said, 'We don't accept this point that what is happening in Kashmir is terrorism.' The senior Hizbul Mujahedeen commander said Pakistan had done 'everything possible' to shut down Kashmiri separatist organizations after aiding them 'for 15 years.' He said his organization now operates in secret, trains in small groups, crosses into Indian-held Kashmir on its own and outwits Pakistan's police and intelligence service. The second separatist, an official with a smaller armed Kashmiri separatist organization, asked that his group not be identified. He said Pakistan had reined in the groups but had not given up on the strategy of supporting the separatists. 'I would say it's a change in tactics,' he said. 'But not in strategy or mindset.' He estimated that the number of militants crossing the border today was 10 to 30 percent of what it was before Sept. 11, 2001. He said Pakistan closed his group's training camp last April, and their public donations had recently fallen by half. But he predicted that Pakistani and Kashmiri hard-liners would try to sabotage peace efforts. For the hard-liners, the insurgency functions 'like a business,' he said. 'Where will they go without Kashmir?'


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