United Jihad Council backs down on ceasefire offer
30 November 2006
New Delhi: Just three days after Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief Mohammad Yusuf Shah raised hopes of a winter truce in Jammu and Kashmir, pressure from sister Islamist groups has forced him to withdraw from what was being hailed as a historic breakthrough. United Jihad Council (UJC) spokesperson Syed Sadaqat Hussain told the Srinagar-based Kashmir News Service on Wednesday that the Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief 'had not offered ceasefire.' Mr. Hussain claimed that Mr. Shah, 'while responding to a question said that the UJC doesn't believe in [initiating a] ceasefire for the sake of [a] ceasefire.' Conditions According to Mr. Hussain, Mr. Shah said an Indian ceasefire offer would be acceptable only if it was preceded by a declaration that Jammu and Kashmir was a disputed territory, and if New Delhi accepted that there were three parties to the dispute. The Pakistan-based UJC is a 13-member coalition, in which the Hizb ul-Mujahideen is the largest partner. Enormous optimism was raised by Mr. Shah's November 27 statement to the Srinagar-based Current News Service (CNS), in which he seemed to drop these long-standing UJC preconditions. According to the CNS interview, Mr. Shah asked that India release all prisoners unconditionally, scale back its armed forces to pre-1989 levels, and end human rights violations. Both National Conference president Omar Abdullah and his People's Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart Mehbooba Mufti called on New Delhi to immediately move forward on the Hizb ul-Mujahideen offer. Ms. Mufti said a decline in terror strikes would help the PDP push for a reduction in troop levels. All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) chairperson Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also welcomed the ceasefire plan. One reason for the UJC volte-face appears to be pressure from hardliners. Islamist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani was dismissive of the ceasefire proposal, hailing the sacrifices of those he described as 'martyrs' to 'a just and sacred cause.' He also flatly rejected Mr. Shah's call for joining hands with Mirwaiz Farooq, saying, 'unity can only be forged with those people who support our demand for right to self- determination.' Similar opposition from Islamists forced Mr. Shah to back down on an earlier offer made in August. On that occasion, he had offered to join a dialogue with New Delhi on solutions other than the implementation of United Nations resolutions calling for Jammu and Kashmir's final status to be determined by a plebiscite. He even suggested that the Hizb ul-Mujahideen would contest an internationally supervised election. However, a joint statement issued by front organisations of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, al-Umar and the Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front attacked the Hizb ul-Mujahideen for making 'pointless calls for a ceasefire.' Mr. Geelani, too, made no secret of his unhappiness with Mr. Shah's proposals. As a result of the pressure from these organisations, Mr. Shah pulled back, and back- channel efforts to bring about a ceasefire collapsed. Cycles of optimism Similar cycles of optimism and despair followed each past effort to bring about a ceasefire. In June 2005, when Mirwaiz Farooq used a visit to Pakistan to hold covert meetings with members of terrorist groups, including the Hizb ul-Mujahideen, al-Umar, the Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, the Hizb-e-Islami and the Muslim Janbaaz Force, there seemed almost no hope of forward movement. In private, sources said, the APHC leadership received assurances that the Hizb ul-Mujahideen would support dialogue with New Delhi. However, soon after APHC leader Abdul Gani Bhat asked terrorist groups to renounce violence 'in the larger interest of the people,' Mr. Shah asserted that a 'ceasefire in the occupied territory is out of the question unless India accepts the conditions we have accepted long ago.' 'I ask if Kashmir has been accepted by India as a disputed territory, if its army is going back to barracks, if the Kashmiri prisoners have been released and if India has agreed to holding tripartite talks. If the answer is 'no', then how can we go for laying down our weapons,' Mr. Shah said. The Hizb ul-Mujahideen chief also lashed out at Mirwaiz Farooq, claiming the cleric was 'addicted to holding purposeless and futile talks.'