WHY IS PEACE NOT BEING GIVEN A CHANCE IN KASHMIR?
“Let us never negotiate out of fear but let us never fear to negotiate”
– John F. Kennedy
Ever since militancy erupted in the State, the people of Jammu and Kashmir who have been silently enduring untold hardships and suffering for over two decades are yearning for peace. But, the tragedy is that there is no relief in sight – every time a ray of hope appears in the horizon, we find some ‘unusual’ things suddenly occurring which reverses the situation. So, while like all others, I too wholeheartedly welcome newspaper reports that the Hurriyat leadership is engaged in discussions with Ram Jethmalani and may be in the process of reviewing its outlook; I remain skeptical. And for once I pray that this time I am proved wrong and that my fears were unfounded!
When the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) launched its armed insurrection, the public mood in Kashmir was upbeat as everybody thought that ‘azadi’ was ‘just round the corner’. But this gave New Delhi the long awaited chance to dispatch its security forces to J&K and soon the locals found themselves at the receiving end- the security forces hounded them for allegedly supporting and harbouring militants, while the militants went about ‘punishing’ them on the suspicion that they were ‘mukhbirs’ (informers). As time passed, individual sufferings lost their relevance and the tragedy of Kashmir has now been reduced to merely statistical data.
Things turned from bad to worse and when all seemed but lost, the JKLF which stood for complete independence or ‘azadi’, renounced violence and this gave rise to the hope that peace would now prevail. But it was not to be so- a group calling itself the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) which firmly advocated ‘merger’ of Kashmir with Pakistan took on the mantle of combating the security forces and instead of improving, things deteriorated as numerous militant groups mushroomed (According to a report based on a detailed survey and published by ‘Chattan’ (an Urdu weekly from Srinagar) in January 1999, as many as 150 militant groups were operating in J&K during the nineties!).
The second time a ray of hope that peace would prevail in Kashmir came in 2000, when on July 24, Abdul Majid Dar, chief commander of Hizbul Mujahideen announced a ‘unilateral cease- fire’ that would initially run for a period of three months and called on the Indian security forces to respond in kind, stating that, “we want to show the world that we are not hard-liners and we are flexible in the search for a solution.” The response of New Delhi was unprecedented- in a major policy shift, the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee stated that the basis for peace talks should not be the Indian constitution (which precludes discussion of Kashmir’s secession) but “insaniyat” (humanity) and said, “Leave the constitution. Talks should be held within the limits of ‘insaniyat’ so that violence is stopped and no more blood is shed.” But even though these positive developments held the promise of peace, it was not to be so.
Barely 15 days after its announcement, the HM suddenly withdrew its cease- fire offer citing India’s ‘uncertain attitude and changing policy’ on talks within the constitution. However, there is more than what meets the eye. It seems that this move to usher peace did not suit certain groups. For the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) it was probably viewed as a direct challenge because, while New Delhi had only offered talks with this separatist conglomerate within the Indian constitution, for the Hizbul Mujahideen, no conditions had been laid. That this move had upset the separatists is evident from the statement of the then Hurriyat Chairman Prof. Abdul Ghani Butt that, “Keeping in view the historic insincerity of India, Hizb should never have announced a unilateral cease- fire.”
Similarly, the statement by the Muttahida Jehad Council (a conglomerate of J&K militant groups headed by Syed Sallaudin) terming the cease- fire announcement by the Hizbul Mujahideen as an ‘unauthorized move and a tactic to sabotage the freedom struggle’, indicates that this militant amalgam too feared marginalisation due to this development. So, with such powerful identities opposing the cease- fire initiative pioneered by Abdul Majid Dar, peace once again eluded Kashmir. Three years later, Abdul Majid Dar was shot dead when two gun wielding youth barged into his ancestral house at Noor Bagh in the heart of Sopore and fired indiscriminately. The identity of his killers was never established. The Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) blamed the Indian intelligence agencies for this assassination, but the fact that within hours of this assassination, clashes broke out at a number of Hizbul Mujahideen camps in PaK between the slain leader`s followers and members of the faction led by Syed Sallaudin does raise some uncomfortable questions.
The last time that the people of Kashmir experienced a glimmer of hope that peace would return was in 2007, when Hurriyat Conference (M) Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq headed a three-member Hurriyat delegation to Pakistan. During this visit he was quoted by ‘The Dawn’ newspaper as having admitted that the “military” struggle had failed to deliver anything and the only way out was through dialogue”. The Mirwaiz further amplified that, “We have already seen the results of our fight on the political, diplomatic and military fronts which have not achieved anything other than creating more graveyards and we are not prepared to sacrifice any more of our loved ones”. This statement gave great hopes of peace for two reasons- firstly, since this announcement was made on Pakistani soil, it indicated that Islamabad, Pakistan army and the ISI were on board. Secondly, the Mirwaiz, in his capacity as the head of Hurriyat delegation had also mentioned that, “We are trying to bring them (militant leadership) on board and are hopeful that we will succeed in our efforts.” Since there appeared to be unison between Islamabad and the Hurriyat, we all assumed that the militant groups would be easily ‘persuaded’ to follow suit. However, despite the emotional rhetoric and confidence displayed by the Mirwaiz, peace did not come our way.
Now, if we really want peace to return to Kashmir, then we need to ensure that no impediments are not allowed to sabotage or hijack the process of negotiation by vested interests. And it is here that the public which has been most badly affected by the ongoing violence needs to shed its passive mindset and fatalistic attitude by raising its voice against the cult of violence. Recently, the residents of Neelum valley in Pakistan administered Kashmir observed a complete shutdown to protest against the activities of militant groups in their area since they have finally realised that “Some people seem to be averse to the peace along the Line of Control.” As per newspaper reports emanating from Muzaffarabad, the residents said that they had already suffered great physical and material losses when militant presence in Neelum valley resulted in escalation along the LoC.
Not wanting any recurrence, locals have now demanded that the law enforcement agencies should immediately expel all those elements from the Neelum Valley “which were bent upon ruining its peace and tranquility for vested interests.” No doubt the establishment will have little choice but to succumb to public pressure. This is an act worth emulating by our people as we too cannot let those with vested interests jeopardise peace and tranquility in Kashmir. More than two decades of experience has made it more than evident that violence has done more harm than good to the ‘freedom struggle’ and it is high time that we honestly gave peace a chance!