Kashmir Ceasefire: Remembering Failure
12 October 2007
Srinagar: Early this morning, Zafar Bhat prayed at the unmarked graves of two Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists who had been killed by the Central Reserve Police Force in Srinagar before dawn. On Eid-ul-Fitr tomorrow (depending of course on the sighting of the moon) , Mr. Bhat says, he intends to visit Shamima Badroo, the wife of the top Hizb ul- Mujahideen commander who led the terror group into a short-lived ceasefire in 2000-2001. Dr. Badroo, a well-respected medical practitioner was shot eight times by a Lashkar-e-Taiba hit squad last year, leaving her paralysed from the neck down. Strange? 'There's no point harbouring resentments against the dead,' Bhat says. Six years ago, Bhat was among a core group of Pakistan-based Hizb ul-Mujahideen commanders who led the organisation's efforts to initiate a dialogue with India. In December 2000, on the eve of the month of Ramzan, Hizb ul-Mujahideen commander Mohammad Yusuf Shah declared a ceasefire. Although Shah withdrew the ceasefire eight days later, the Government of India terminated offensive operations for five months. But fatalities mounted as anti-ceasefire terror groups like the Lashkar escalated hostilities to undermine the peace process. Although Dr. Badroo's husband, Hizb deputy chief Abdul Majid Dar, struggled to revive the peace process of which the ceasefire was a part, he was eventually assassinated by hardliners within his own organisation. The bitter experience of the Ramzan ceasefire haunts the peace process in Jammu and Kashmir. Lessons learned 'I think we all made mistakes,' he says. 'India's government,' he argues, 'allowed politics to override the peace process. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee first said the negotiations would be held within the framework of insaniyat, human values, not the Constitution. But soon afterwards, both Deputy Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Defence Minister George Fernandes said Kashmir was an inalienable part of India, which weakened the pro-dialogue forces.' Pakistan and Kashmiri secessionists, Bhat believes, also made mistakes. 'When hardliners criticised the government for going along with the ceasefire,' he says, 'President Pervez Musharraf backed off. And some All-Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders in Kashmir became worried we, rather than them them, would be the eventual beneficiaries of a dialogue. So they set about sabotaging the dialogue process.' 'The end result was that thousands of people have died since, for nothing,' Bhat says. 'What saddens me the most about the failure of the Ramzan ceasefire,' he says, 'is that a lot of hard work and lives went to waste. There were secret meetings at the highest levels for months before the decision. I met all the APHC leaders, and consulted with Syed Ali Shah Geelani no less than three times. We'd all agreed it was the best way forward.' 'I'm very happy,' Bhat says, 'that the United Jihad Council has declared a ceasefire now. It would have been wiser to proceed down this road in 2001, because the Hizb ul- Mujahideen was militarily much stronger, and the political position of the freedom movement in Kashmir was also better. But it's never too late to talk peace. We all have no choice.' From war to peace After the ceasefire collapsed, Bhat stayed on in Jammu and Kashmir and turned to politics. He founded the Kashmir Salvation Movement, a group of one-time terrorists determined to use democratic means to press for the independence of the state. Closely allied to All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, the KSM has been a favoured target of hardline terrorists: fifteen of its cadre have been killed since 2005. The person costs, too, have been enormous. Bhat's brother, social activist Haji Abdul Gani Bhat, was assassinated by terrorists in 2005. Seven people were injured when a ceremony to mourn his death was also bombed. The ironies aren't lost on the KSM leader. 'I have lost seven members of my family in the violence in Jammu and Kashmir,' he says, 'five at the hands of Indian forces.' Bhat joined the Hizb ul-Mujahideen in 1989, abandoning his job at the Soura Institute of Medical Sciences. A long standing supporter of the Jamaat-e-Islami, he participated in Hizb chief Shah's unsuccessful attempt to be elected to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly in 1987. Like thousands of other activists of the Muslim United Front, Bhat was jailed for protesting against electoral fraud, and eventually turned to violence. After a brief stint in the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, which despite its stated secular leanings trained and equipped hundreds of Jamaat-e-Islami cadre, Bhat joined Shah at a Hizb ul-Mujahideen camp in Pakistan. Strangely enough, his mentors there included Abdullah Bangroo - the terrorist who eventually assassinated Mirwaiz Farooq's father, Maulvi Mohammad Farooq on suspicion of preparing for talks with New Delhi. 'Time takes you down some strange roads,' he says, 'but like I said, there's no point harbouring resentments. I think we should look to the future instead.'