April 2005 News

The Key: Ceasefire In J&K

19 April 2005
The Indian Express
C. Raja Mohan

New Delhi: Translating the positive and forward-looking approach to the question of Jammu and Kashmir, which marked the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on Sunday, depends upon a single important new step - a ceasefire within the state. Although the two leaders appear to have drawn closer in terms of a vision of soft borders and a new focus on improving the lot of the people of J&K, differences clearly persist on how to address the basic dispute. That the two sides had difficulties drafting a joint statement at the end of the Manmohan- Musharraf talks reminds us once again about the depth of these differences and fragility of the peace process. The engagement with Pakistan can be made robust only by changing the political realities on the ground in J&K. India and Pakistan already have a ceasefire in place along all the segments of the dividing line in J&K-the International Border, the Line of Control and the Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen. After rejecting each other's proposals for a ceasefire many times, India and Pakistan finally agreed to put it in place at the end of 2003. This ceasefire has held since then and has been one of the most important confidence building measures between India and Pakistan in recent years. It created a helpful environment for the meeting between then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Musharraf in Islamabad on January 6, 2004 and their agreement to renew the peace process. The ceasefire led to a rare tranquility along the dividing line in Jammu and Kashmir and has allowed the people living along the frontier to breathe easy for the first time in decades. The ceasefire along the Indo-Pak divide should have been matched by an end to confrontation with the militants inside the state. But the security establishment has put up a variety of arguments against such an internal ceasefire. One is that the Indian security forces are doing well against the militants - in terms of kill rates, etc - and it is unwise to stop now. The other is that a ceasefire might allow the militants to regroup and fight even better another day. These are typical arguments from any security bureaucracy dealing with a difficult situation. The refrain always is, 'Let us do the same thing for a little longer and we will be on top of the situation.' But no insurgency has been defeated in the past through exclusively military means. Without a pause in military operations and a dialogue on the underlying political issues, no peace process is going to succeed. These ceasefires often tend to break down and the negotiations will indeed occasionally stall. But there is no alternative to persist with efforts to engage the insurgents. The time is now for Manmohan Singh to take a fresh look at the idea of a ceasefire within J&K. By initiating such a ceasefire, he will be able to build on the current improvement in Indo-Pak relations, and create the political space for engaging the various militant groups J&K. A ceasefire within J&K is also essential if Manmohan Singh wants to build on his vision for a softer dividing line in the state and create the basis for a 'shared responsibility' between India, Pakistan and the two governments in Jammu and Kashmir to deal with the scourge of terrorism. In the Ramzan peace initiative at the end of 2000, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had decided that Indian forces would not launch military operations against the militants except in self- defence. This was withdrawn in May 2001, in favour of a direct engagement with Musharraf at Agra in July 2001. The rest is history. The level of mutual trust at that time was not adequate to the make Vajpayee's initiative a success. Since then India and Pakistan have come some distance and a ceasefire appears to have a better chance of producing results. A ceasefire would involve an Indian decision to stop operations against the militants in Kashmir and a commitment by major militant organisations to stop their attacks. Musharraf has often said he will encourage the militants to give up violence if the dialogue with India on Kashmir moves ahead. It is interesting that the Pakistan-based commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Syed Salahuddin, has told an Indian TV channel on the eve of Musharraf's visit, that he will be prepared to put the gun down if 'military operations are stopped, rebels are released from jails and an atmosphere of goodwill is created.' It might be recalled that Hizb had declared a ceasefire and opened talks with New Delhi in mid- 2000. But both sides quickly botched the talks. With two ceasefires in place - one along the dividing line, another with militants - the political space will expand considerably and create stable conditions for peace in the J&K. On its part, India will have less of a reason to maintain high levels of security forces in J&K. A reduction of Indian forces could be expected to feed positively into the Indo-Pak peace process. New Delhi would also be in a better position then to press Islamabad to rein in the militants and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil. A ceasefire will also ensure that the shared vision with Pakistan for a softer dividing line in Kashmir - marked by bus services across the LoC and greater people to people contact - would not become a victim of terrorism. A peaceful environment in Kashmir will also facilitate quick resolution of such Kashmir related issues like the confrontation in the icy heights of the Siachen glacier and the dispute over the Indian construction of the Baglihar dam. It will also enable the involvement of the people of Kashmir in a more effective manner in the peace process. Common sense tells us that peace in J&K is a political pre-requisite for the success of the Indo-Pak dialogue as well as New Delhi's own efforts at reconciliation with the people of J&K. If he wants to consolidate Delhi's initiative following the launch of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service and the agreement with Musharraf on softening the dividing line, Manmohan Singh must boldly announce a ceasefire within the state of Jammu and Kashmir.


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