The declaration of a unilateral ceasefire during the month of Ramzan (November 29- December 28) by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has given a new lease of life to the failing peace process in Kashmir. This unilateral move has been hailed by many in India and abroad as the first positive step in the direction of peace after the collapse of the August 2000 peace initiative of the Hizbul Mujahideen, which had also declared a unilateral ceasefire. Initially, Pakistan had dismissed Vajpayee’s declaration as a ‘ploy’, and the Hizbul Mujahideen and other jehadist groups who operate from sanctuaries inside Pakistan not only rejected the Indian offer, but stepped up their military operations in the Valley. Almost a week after the Indian declaration, however, on 2 December, in a sudden change of stance Islamabad declared that it had ordered its armed forces on the line of control to exercise “maximum restraint” to “strengthen and stabilise” the ceasefire in “occupied Kashmir”.
Dawn of Karachi linked Islamabad´s shift to the US Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth´s reported statement in New Delhi urging “Pakistan and Mujahideen organisations to positively reciprocate Indian prime minister´s ceasefire offer”. Earlier, India´s Defence Minister, George Fernandes had indicated that New Delhi´s unilateral ceasefire was a response to ´suggestions´ from certain ´quarters´. Obviously, it was US pressure on India and Pakistan that led to a breakthrough in the India-Pakistan deadlock. But how does one now move from this stage of unilateral statements and counter-statements to dialogue? It is obvious that the two parties have to face each other across a table, and the sooner that happens the better for the survival of the current peace initiative. While the combined pressure of the US government and the IMF has succeeded in bringing the two warring governments this far, this will not be enough to take them to the next necessary stage.
A ´Camp David´ style peace pro-cess cannot work here in South Asia as it has not in West Asia. An antiseptic exercise in ´conflict resolution´ that does not challenge or question the status quo is bound to be stillborn. The hallmark of the Clinton Administration´s policy of ´waging peace´ in West Asia has been not to disturb the status quo (for example, to ignore the fundamental issues of Palestinian displacement and Jewish settlements). The fact is that the status quo always privileges the strong, and as we watch the Camp David agreement disintegrate we must examine the fundamentals of the new push for peace initiative in South Asia, one in which the Americans seem at least to have an indirect role.
To recapitulate recent history: Official talks between India and Pakistan, which were stalled once again in November of that year. In February 1999, Vajpayee took a bus ride to Lahore to kick-start dialogue, and this resulted in the Lahore Declaration and an accompanying buildup of hyperbole in the Indian media about how it was the harbinger of a new era of peace, friendship and cooperation. The fact that Musharraf and the other armed forces chiefs boycotted the Lahore event was noted, but not given due consideration. Within three months, in May 1999, came the letdown, the “stab in the back”. Pakistani forces crossed the line of control in Kargil and started bombarding the Srinagar-Leh highway from the ridgeline. In hindsight, it is clear that the Lahore Declaration, significant in itself, was mainly a statement of intent not translated into policy. This was why bureaucrats on both sides continued to drag their feet on pressing bilateral matters even after its signing. It is also true that Sharif was caught completely unawares by Vajpayee´s acceptance of the invitation to visit Lahore by the inaugural bus from Delhi, which was the result of an off-hand remark during an interview Sharif had given to an Indian journalist. This unorthodox, almost Simon Perez-like initiative on the part of Vajpayee washailed as a bold and statesman-like step, particularly after the November 1998 round of secretary-level dialogue had failed (see box).
The Indian government was baffled by the attack on Kargil, and its military was unprepared. The fear of a nuclear confrontation increased as the fighting escalated, and international pressure mounted on the two capitals to end the hostilities. But how could the Vajpayee government talk to a Pakistan it was accusing of betrayal? So South Block decided to make a distinction between the civilian government of Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistani military. Pervez Musharraf was identified as the real villain and Sharif a weak but reluctant friend. The latter was temporarily absolved of the crime of ´back stabbing´. What seemed a good stratagem back then unfortunately boomeranged when Sharif´s government was overthrown and the “rogue general” became Chief Executive of Pakistan.
The State Department has been advising New Delhi to retract from its position of not talking with Islamabad´s military government. But the problem is not so much the military government as its Chief Executive. During and after the Kargil war, Vajpayee´s government projected the General as the villain who wrecked the ´Lahore Agreement´. Through the ill-advised release of the Kargil Tapes as “living proof” of the General´s direct involvement in the operation, the New Delhi authorities not only compromised India´s ´intelligence assets´, but the unfortunate personalisation of Indo-Pakistan relationship led to a cul de sac in India-Pakistan relations.
The terms of the unilateral ceasefire indicate that Vajpayee is still not willing to talk to Musharraf. If this refusal was based on a principled objection to military regimes, then New Delhi should not be cosying up to the junta in Yangoon either. Vajpayee´s offer of talks is limited to the militants and others from the India-held Jammu and Kashmir. His refusal to talk to those in Pakistan-held Kashmir or with Pakistan is bound to defeat the very purpose of his peace offering.
Jammu and Kashmir is a divided entity. Even the Shimla Agreement recognises that there is a ´dispute´ between India and Pakistan over the region. It is an established fact that almost all Kashmiris, militant and non-militant nationalists belonging to all shades of politics and faith, are agreed on its ´disputed status´. All Kashmiris, whether they belong to Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir or the Pakistan-held portion, as well as the Kashmiri world diaspora, want to see their homeland united. Underthese circumstances, no Kashmiri militant or non-militant can be expected to participate in a peace dialogue with the Government of India as ´Kashmiris of Indian origin´. The August peace initiative of the Hizbul floundered because of the confusion over the terms of dialogue. The Kashmiri groups were unwilling to work within the framework of the Indian Constitution, and Prime Minister Vajpayee´s clever phrase, of meeting within the “framework of humanism (Imaneeyat)” did nothing to resolve the issue. Ultimately, however, the August initiative broke down because of India´s refusal to involve Pakistan in the dialogue.
This time around, and before the month of Ramzan ends, Vajpayee and his advisers must try and transcend their “stabbed in the back” psyche. New Delhi´s response to the Hizbul ceasefire and its own current ceasefire offer are based on the same attitude. Unless India is willing to reconsider its position on dialogue with the Government of Pakistan and the ´non-Indian´ Kashmiris, there can be no progress. In which case Vajpayee will merely be continuing a ´monologue on peace´, hardly a dialogue.
A ceasefire is generally achieved through negotiations: even the Kargil ceasefire was arrived at through behind-the-scene talks while the guns were still booming along the LoC. For the Vajpayee government to insist that Pakistan stop alt cross-border infiltration before the resumption of talks was untenable. But now that Gen. Musharraf has given the Vajpayee government an opening of sorts, by asking Pakistani soldiers on the LoC to exercise “maximum restraint” to “strengthen and stabilise” India´s unilateral ceasefire in the Valley, one hopes that New Delhi will grab the opportunity that presents itself.
The Vajpayee government can turn thisceasefire into an opportunity for peace-building by immediately initiating steps torestore the rule of law in the Valley and ordering its forces to respect the human rights of thepeople of Kashmir. It should simultaneouslylift all restrictions on peaceful public activities in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This will enable the people of the region to discuss their social and political problems and their future in a democratic manner. As Kashmiri civil society recaptures its lost space, the vexing question, ´Whom do we talk to in Kashmir?´ will lose its relevance. A vibrant Kashmiri civil society in will provide the answers.
Why the Siachen fighting continues
Why did the August 1998 Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan fail? Talking to concerned officials, one has to come to the conclusion that the deadlock had its origins in the Indian side´s reversal of its earlier acceptance of the proposal that both sides pull back their forces to pre-1985 positions in the undemarcated area of the Siachen Glacier. Pakistan saw this reversal as a betrayal of the ´principle of parity´ which was apparently accepted by the prime ministers of both countries when they met on 16-17 July 1989 to work out the broad parameters of a possible agreement on the Siachen glacier. The Indian army was unhappy about withdrawing from the Saltoro ridge, which, according to the generals, had given India the only advantageous position in the entire Kargil-Ladhak theatre. As a result, the 18-20 August 1989 meeting of military commanders of India and Pakistan, which followed the July 1989 meeting of the prime ministers, failed to finalise a Siachen Agreement. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in the end, was unable to persuade the Indian generals to accept the wisdom of his political decision to pull back forces to pre-1985 positions in Siachen.
Rajiv Gandhi had, however, left the issue open, in the same manner as his grandfather Pandit Nehru and Pakistan´s Nawabzada Liaquat AJi Khan had nearly three decades earlier, to refrain from a firm decision and to leave resolution of the Kashmir dispute to politicians of a future generation. This was how there still remained an opportunity for the Vajpayee government in 1998 to defuse the Siachen confrontation, which would make it easier to resolve the larger Kashmir problem. But in 1998, the Vajpayee government accepted the Indian Army´s position that India must retain the ´upper hand´ in Siachen. In other words, it rejected the proposal of demilitarising the Siachen glacier. Therefore, a truly senseless war continues at rarefied heights, at unthinkable human and material costs.