Peace initiative, a non-starter

SRINAGAR, MAY 20. There is clear indication that the six-month- old unilateral ceasefire will get another extension; but the initiative is yet to enable a breakthrough in the 12-year-old Kashmir imbroglio: a major separatist political alliance is still out of the process; militant violence has increased; and the Army and State are divided over the usefulness of the ceasefire.

When the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, announced the non-initiation of combat operations (NICO) in the last week of November, which later on was referred to as `ceasefire', there was a surge of hope in the heart of the average Kashmiri. There was even talk of this eventually giving way to a permanent settlement of the dispute.

Though the impact of the ceasefire was visible in the first few weeks, it fizzled out soon, particularly with all the militant groups rejecting it outright. There was a spurt in violence, resulting in more civilian casualties and less deaths among militants. Officials started believing that the announcement of NICO was not so well-thought-out after all. Militants started making a comeback and their targets became more clear. The victims included policemen and activists of the ruling National Conference, apart from a number of civilians who became targets of IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

In the first 100 days of the ceasefire, civilian killings registered a 42 per cent increase compared to 100 days prior to the ceasefire announcement. Interestingly, the number of Army personnel and militants killed during the period decreased. Only in a few fidayeen (suicide squad) attacks did the armed forces face losses. This wave of violence not only put a question mark on the peace initiative but also added to the insecurity of the common people.

Eventually, the NICO started losing meaning when the security forces gave up restraint and initiated actions in many parts of the Valley; and this has been continuing. From the massacre in Haigam village to at least six custodial killings in the past four days, the credibility of the ceasefire has eroded. Security officials admit that the gains of ``relentless efforts in the past few years'' have been lost in these six months.

Differences at UH meeting

When the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, and the Defence and External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, attended the extraordinary meeting of Unified Headquarters (UH) in Srinagar on Saturday to assess the situation during the ceasefire period, the outcome was clear.

There was a difference in the opinions of the Army and the State. The Army has all along been a supporter of the ceasefire, which according to analysts, enables ``tired'' soldiers to get some time to ``breathe''. And from the State's point of view, the ceasefire has impeded their law and order machinery.

Highly-placed sources told The Hindu that at the UH meeting both the sides stuck to their stands with the State emphasising the civilian casualties, especially the killing of National Conference activists. Most of the meeting was consumed by a discussion on the figures of infiltration. While the Army maintained that only 243 militants had sneaked into the Valley in the ceasefire period, the State officials insisted that it was 800. This indicated the dangers ahead. On other issues too the differences were clear. The Chief Minister, Dr. Farooq Abdullah, has been maintaining that the borders have been calm but the situation on the ground had deteriorated.

No major political backers

On the political front, too, the response has not been encouraging, with the exception of the Jammu and Kashmir Democratic Freedom Party (JKDFP) chief, Mr. Shabir Ahmad Shah, responding to the letter of the Centre's chief negotiator, Mr. K.C. Pant. Mr. Shah's response, and in turn Mr. Pant's reply to the clarifications, have so far not pushed the process ahead. After Mr. Pant wrote to Mr. Shah, the latter was believed to be in a piquant situation, and was forced to throw the ball into the people's court - seeking a national consensus.

Now, to show that he was not going all the way with New Delhi, he has despatched a letter to Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. In fact, the whole separatist camp has turned against Mr. Shah, with even the militants issuing threats to his life for what they term a ``sellout''.

The All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), a key player, is yet to accept the Pant line saying that it was not clear. For the separatists - among both militants and politicians - only a clear offer by New Delhi, without any conditions and a commitment to involve Pakistan, would help make the process a viable one.

Some political groups have described the offer as a step in right direction. But such certificates from spent forces such as the Awami National Conference, led by the former Chief Minister, Mr. G.M. Shah, will not make any difference. Even as the ceasefire is set to be extended, it is not going to change the situation in Kashmir unless all the disillusioned sections, particularly the militants, say `yes' to the process.