August 2005 News

Kashmir Insurgency Keeps Rhythm With Peace Talks

30 August 2005

Islamabad: An orange flash and thunderous boom send a group of Kashmiris diving for cover while Indian soldiers leap to firing positions. It is a normal day in Srinagar, the main city in the Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley where an insurgency against Indian rule has raged for 16 years. This time, no-one was hurt in the blast. It made a change - - in the first seven months of this year more than 1,000 people, including 335 civilians, have been killed in the insurgency. 'Peace is temporary, insecurity is a grenade blast away. The only thing permanent in Kashmir is fear,' Kashmiri journalist Muzamil Jalil said as police and troops ordered people out of vehicles to be frisked and have identity papers checked. A peace process begun by India and Pakistan at the start of 2004 has still to address directly how to find a lasting settlement to their core dispute over Kashmir. South Asia's old enemies have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since winning independence from Britain in 1947. Three years ago there was almost a new war with a crucial difference - both sides had nuclear arms. For Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, who is expected to ask Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to speed up the peace process when they meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month, a deal on Kashmir is a priority. Analysts say Musharraf, who came to power in a bloodless military coup six years ago, needs such a deal to boost his standing at home and abroad. Many Pakistani-based militants, however, believe talks will go nowhere, and that the armed struggle must go on until Indian troops leave Kashmiri soil. That is unlikely to happen. India regards its portion of Kashmir as an integral part of its territory and is not interested in redrawing its borders. The issue is also fuelled by religion. Kashmir is majority Hindu India's only Islamic state and Islamic Pakistan believes Kashmir is part of its territory. 'We are pretty sure Pakistan, inshallah (God willing), is going to revive the mujahideen option very soon because India is doing nothing to resolve the Kashmir issue,' a member of one of Pakistan's best-organised militant groups told Reuters in Rawalpindi, the garrison city next door to the Pakistan capital. People like him scoff at the significance of an agreement to start a bus service across the ceasefire line last April, and at the subsequent visit by Kashmiri separatist leaders to Pakistan that India also approved. VIOLENCE DOWN, INFILTRATION UP India accuses Pakistan of fuelling the separatist struggle, using militants as proxies in a war of attrition that has so far cost over 45,000 lives, while Pakistan counters by accusing the Indian army of human rights violations in Kashmir. Statistics show that despite almost daily incidents, the level of violence has dropped since Islamabad and New Delhi began confidence-building measures. Indian authorities say there were 1,217 violent incidents in the first seven months of 2005, down 25 percent on a year ago. At the same time, India says militant infiltration has risen despite erecting a wire fence along most of the so-called Line of Control dividing the Himalayan territory. 'If we kill four militants, Pakistan sends four more,' said a senior Indian intelligence officer, who asked not to be named. Figures from the provincial government of Jammu and Kashmir for the year so far show that 145 guerrillas managed to sneak across the border, and another 127 were killed in the attempt. A Kashmiri militant supporter from the Neelam Valley, on the Pakistan side of the ceasefire line, told Reuters that ten guerrillas from his own village were killed this year. Since returning from the United States last month with an accord on defence and nuclear cooperation, India's Singh has derided Pakistan's efforts to stop infiltration. But while there are signs of a chill, analysts don't believe the peace process is in jeopardy just yet. A Pakistani magazine 'The Herald' raised eyebrows with a July edition cover story titled 'Back to Camp', describing how militants had reopened training camps in Pakistan held Kashmir. Despite sporadic crackdowns, like the one announced last month, militant groups continue to operate and there is a widespread perception that some of them enjoy a level of protection due to past links with the military. Musharraf denies playing a double-game while seeking peace, but Indian intelligence say the insurgency is being calibrated. 'There is no doubt that some elements of the Pakistani army are still training and sending them to this side to keep the pot boiling,' the Indian intelligence official said. K. Srinivasan, a senior Indian Border Security Force official, said signals intercepts and other intelligence suggested up to 20 militant camps were operating on Pakistan's side of the border. Militants agreed infiltration levels were up, and said Pakistani forces are more lax than a year ago when it came to stopping guerrillas going over to the other side. But the numbers were nowhere near the levels seen two years ago - before Islamabad and New Delhi started talking. 'If before 100 mujahideen used to cross the LoC in a day, then it was more like two a day last year, and ten this year,' said the sympathiser from the Neelam valley, referring to the ceasefire line. Another militant suspected the mujahideen making the crossing were driven by religious fervour rather than the Pakistan army. 'There are fidayeen (Muslim suicide fighters)... who cannot be controlled or stopped by anybody, even by Musharraf. They are bent on laying down their lives.'


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