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Cease-Fire in Kashmir: Will it lead to sustainable peace?


by Tapan K. Bose

Hizbul Mujahideen, one of the "top" militant groups of Jammu and Kashmir declared cease fire unilaterally on July 24, 2000. Government of India responded to the offer of Hizbul in a positive manner. The cease-fire offer and the response of the government of India has generated guarded optimism in the valley, while other militant organizations and the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) have criticized Hizbul Mujahideen for the offer of "cease-fire". Following the offer of "cease-fire" by Hizbul, about a hundred persons, mostly Hindus, were killed in Jammu and Kashmir by suspected militants who were opposed to the Cease-fire. However, no militant organisation has so far come forward to own the killings.

There is speculation that the cease-fire might not last if the Indian government fails to accept the demand of Hizbul that Pakistan must be invited to the dialogue on Kashmir. However, it seems that both sides, the Hizbul and the government of India are rather keen to continue with the cease-fire as they have shown sufficient flexibility to accommodate each other's positions. India, for the first time has indicated that it would not insist on the talks being held within the framework of the Indian constitution. On its part, Hizbul Muzahideen, who were known for their pro-Pakistani position, have so far not brought up the "plebiscite resolution".

Hizbul Mujahideen emerged as the main militant force in Jammu and Kashmir in the mid-nineties after the marginalisation of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). JKLF was originally formed in England with the support of Kashmiri emigrants from the Mirpur region of Pakisan controlled Azad Kashmir. It began as a movement for an independent Kashmir and espoused secular nationalist and at times socialist ideology. Though Pakistan initiall supported the JKLF, it soon switched its support to the Hizbul Mujahideen which was known to be close to the hard-core sections of Jammu and Kashmir's Jamat-I-Islami. While JKLF had decided to give up the path of militancy in 1993/4, Hizbul had continued. It continued to receive training and material support from Pakistan's military agencies as well as Pakistan based pro- jehad parties. It is known that Hizbul had developed conflictual relationship with other Jammu and Kashmir based militant organization, particularly the JKLF because of the later's refusal to adhear to the official line of Pakistan. After the formation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), the inter group clashes were reduced as the APHC began to play the role of a mediator. The APHC and all the militant groups claim that Azadi is their main objective. The question is what is the meaning of Azadi. Does it mean "independence" or does it mean "merger with Pakistan". By all indications, the Kashmiris, even the most hard-core anti-Indian Kashmiris are not united on this issue.

In the last ten years Kashmiri society has been torn apart by violence. In the eighties, an accumulated sense of wrong, prompted a section of Kashmiri youth to rise in revolt. Large sections of Kashmiri middle classes and the intelligentia, particularly the Muslims supported what, initially, was a struggle for social justice and restoration of democratic rights. It was suppressed ruthlessly. In its wake a movement emerged as a militant struggle for azadi (freedom). But the politics and the violence soon went out of control. The Islamic identity of the Kashmiris, the latent anti-Muslim bias of the Indian political establishment and Pakistan's machinations, gave a religious and a communal orientation to the movement. The struggle, which had begun as a secular movement for self-determination, became tainted. The minority Hindu population of the valley felt threatened and most of them fled their home and hearth.

During the last decade, the militant movement in Kashmir has gone through several phases. The anti-Muslim attitude of the Indian forces and the massive violation of human rights of the ordinary Kashmir by the Indian armed forces and in particular, the Hindu nationalist political parties, reinforced the Islamic ideology of the Kashmir militants. The Kashmiris who followed a non-orthodox "Sufi" Islam, which had evolved in the valley over the centuries absorbing many syncretic traditions were transformed into an orthodox crusading Islam.

The competitive dependence of the militant groups on Pakistan's support undermined the politics of the struggle of the Kashmiris for self assertion and entrapped them into playing out the ideological struggle of the state of Pakistan (and the state of India). It intensified internecine clashes and killings. The gun overshadowed the political struggle. Kashmiris became the unwitting pawns in an ideological war of hegemony being waged by India and Pakistan. The issues of social justice and democracy got pushed into the background. Politics of extremism subverted the movement marginalising the ordinary people of Kashmir.

In the last decade Jammu and Kashmir has been transformed into a garrisoned state. With nearly half a million armed soldiers deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi has been able to hold militancy at bay. About 70,000 have been killed, over 30,000 in illegal detention and about 5,000 missing. The rising number of the war widows, the orphans, the victims of torture and rape has led to the break down of Kashmiri society's traditional support structures. The inability to provide support and sustenance to the needy has sapped the inner vitality of Kashmiri society pushing vast numbers to the verge of immobilizing depression.

In Kashmir, New Delhi followed its familiar policy of ignoring the basic grievances of the people while imposing a formal "democratic process" as the panacea of all ills. This was done through manipulated elections under the supervision of the armed forces. Those who did not participate in the "democratic process" were identified as "enemies of the nation". However, after installing a "democratic government" led by the National Conference Party of Dr. Farooq Abdullah in Jammu and Kashmir, New Delhi did little to empower it to address the real issues facing the people of Kashmir. Dr. Abdullah was also under constant pressures to prove his loyalty to New Delhi. As a result, his government failed miserably on all fronts. The gross abuse of human rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir continued while the state was pushed deeper into an economic and social crisis. Paucity of resources and lack of powers to discipline erring members of New Delhi's armed forces reduced the Farooq Abdullah government's credibility. Its ability to govern was further crippled by Dr. Abdullah's ardent desire to remain in "power" at any cost. His unconventional style of functioning and the utter disregard for democratic norms mired his administration in corruption and inefficiency. He held on to power by satisfying his political allies inside and outside the government through grant of "favours" to selected sections of the people and frequently repeating his commitment to India.

This was New Delhi's commitment to the "democratic government" in Jammu and Kashmir. The "democratic government" of Jammu and Kashmir was starved of funds. Even the so-called "development funds" which were promised was released in bits and pieces. The authority of the state government was further undermined in the eyes of Kashmiris as New Delhi kept on throwing feelers to the militants and their over-ground allies for "talks". The armed forces and the chief of police of Jammu and Kashmir got their orders directly from New Delhi. Sections of "surrendered" militants were inducted into the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Some of them were even nominated as members of the upper house of the state's legislature.

In a move to win back some of the lost grounds, Farooq Abdullah finally tabled the "autonomy resolution" asking for restoration of pre-1953 status of the state in the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. The "Autonomy Resolution" was passed by a majority of members who were elected to the "Legislative Assembly" through an election which New Delhi had hailed as a success of democracy. New Delhi rejected the "Autonomy Resolution" even without a discussion. For whatever its worth, the "Autonomy Resolution" is the only set of concrete political demand that is before New Delhi. The militants and the APHC are yet to put forward their proposal.

This sidelining of the democratic process is at the core of New Delhi's policy of not engaging in any dialogue on issues of democratic reforms and social justice. New Delhi is aware that the denial of social justice and the absence of substantive democracy lie at the core of these struggles. But then, can New Delhi address these issues? It would require a basic change in the life style of the ruling elite of India and a fundamental change in the form of government. In this New Delhi is not alone. All the rulers of South Asia are in the same boat. The elite have to remain in power to be able to afford its life style. The elite ignore the just demands of the people and suppress the democratic struggles till the struggles turn to militancy. Militancy justifies bringing in the military. The militants are identified as the "enemies of the nation" who are threatening the sovereignty, and integrity of the state. Of course, these "enemies" have to be dealt with militarily, particularly as the shared kinship of South Asian states provide enough grounds for suspected cross border linkages among these "enemies within". This policy empowers militancy on one hand and on the other, sharpens the inner struggle within the disparate militant groups for supremacy. The resultant "political deadlock" shifts the grounds of the "dialogue" from political arena to the military arena. It elevates "cease-fire" to the top of the agenda for talks while all other issues get swept into the wastepaper basket.

These are not dialogues between "equals". By the time the militants came to negotiate a cease-fire agreement they are already alienated from the masses and the popular movement from which they were born. They stand isolated, their status already weakened. They know that their only bargaining chip is the offer of cease-fire and in exchange they must extract the maximum "advantages" for themselves which is no longer the same as the interest of the masses that they claimed to represent at one point of time. An examination of the so-called "accords" that the Indian state has signed with the former militants in Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Grohkaland and Punjab will prove the point.

This is not to say that "cease-fire" is not a desirable objective. It is. Without a halt to hostile activities the peace process can not even start. But what is equally important is transparency of the peace process. The cease-fire announced by the Hizbul Mujahideen is a very welcome development. The Government of India and the Hizbul must talk. But the talks should not remain confined to modalities of cease-fire. It these talks are the beginning. Cease-fire between Hizbul Mujahideen and the forces of New Delhi is the first step. We should step by step move towards a complete cease-fire agreement between all parties in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has to brought into this cease-fire agreement as Pakistan is a party to this war.

But the dialogue should not remain limited between the militants and the governments. The ambit and the scope of the dialogue must be expanded to encompass representatives of the peoples of Jammu and Kashmir from all regions. The agenda of the talks must soon be enlarged to address the issues of human rights violations and political future of Jammu and Kashmir. Easier said than done. "Cease-fire" is a military objective and the talks for cease-fire are locked in the logic of military maneuvers. It privileges secrecy as the parties engaged in these talks are primarily interested in wresting maximum advantage for each side. It has been seen that it not just the governments, even the militants also resist the inclusion of non-militants into the dialogue. It is not easy for militants to break away from the logic of militancy and return to democratic politics. However, the militants need to realise that expanding the scope of the dialogue will not weaken their position, rather it will strengthen them. This is the only way they will be able to return to democratic politics.

The Vajpayee government has said that it is willing to talk to all peoples in J&K. That is not only desirable but essential for democratising a sustainable peace process. The values of justice, human rights, transparency and accountability need to be privileged in any settlement if it is to be sustainable. For long the Kashmiris have been victimized. The voices of the victims must be heard and their grievances must be addressed. Peace can not be sustained without reconciliation. Reconciliation requires both sides to face the truth together, no matter however ugly it might be. The victim need to feel that they have been heard, that they have learnt the truth about what was done to them and who did it. The perpetrators must confess and seek forgiveness. It is only then that together they can hope to build a better future. Failure to do so will achieve a limited solution only to be challenged by another group of militants in a not so distant future, as the experiences of the "accords" in other parts of India show.

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