Hizbul Offer: Sharp bilateral divide visible
28 July 2000
B. Muralidhar Reddy
Islamabad: There are sharp differences in the perceptions of Pakistan and India on the ceasefire announcement made by the Hizbul Mujahideen in Jammu and Kashmir on July 24. Their interpretations vastly differ but there is a commonality of view on two angles related to it. Given the reality that the Hizbul is the most powerful militant group operating in the Valley, the two sides concede that the ceasefire is a major development in the strife-torn politics of Kashmir. It is also admitted that the Hizbul move puts the ball into India''s court. The common refrain of political observers in Pakistan is that India would have to match the hizbul gesture with some concrete steps towards a ''resolution'' of the Kashmir dispute. Some of the ideas discussed in the media include a reduction of the Indian troops in Kashmir, invitation to the All-Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) for talks and resumption of the interrupted dialogue with Pakistan. The Indian side agrees that the ceasefire announcement puts the onus on it but does not share the view that it would have to act immediately. ''We have to wait and watch. India''s position is clearly defined. The Government is prepared to talk to anyone within the framework of the Constitution,'' a senior Indian diplomat said. Asked about the Hizbul threat that it would call off the ceasefire if New Delhi was not willing to review its position of talks within the framework of the Constitution, the diplomat said, ''they are fully aware of the Indian position and the fact that the Government cannot review the position.'' One major difference between the two countries on the Hizbul offer pertains to the circumstances under which it has come. The Indian side is trying to project it as a result of the disgust of the people of Kashmir with the cult of violence and bloodshed in the last 11 years and the various initiatives by the Government in the last few weeks to ''win back their confidence'' beginning with the release of the APHC leaders. India is also trying to make a distinction between the position of the Hizbul, a predominantly Kashmir-based militant outfit, and the Pakistan-based organisations. ''The Hizbul announcement is a reflection of the desire of the Kashmiri people for peace. In contrast, the Pakistan-based militant organisations are opposed to peace efforts, evident in the Hizbul''s condemnation by the United Jehadi Council,'' the Indian diplomat said. However, there are no signs to suggest that the Pakistani establishment is unhappy with the announcement. There are enough hints from the military regime that the ceasefire was announced with the knowledge if not consent of the establishment. A stray comment of the Chief Executive, General Pervez Musharraf, in an interview to The Times, London, on Kashmir that has caught the attention of observers. ''I would like to give credit to the Americans to the extent that they played a role in the resolution of Kashmir'', he quoted as saying in the interview. The Information Minister, Mr. Javed Jabbar, and the military spokesman, Lt. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, are on record as saying that India should take advantage of the Hizbul offer and hold negotiations with Pakistan and Kashmiris. The comments of these two leading lights of the Government are to be seen in the light of the official position that the Kashmiris should decide what they want and that Pakistan would be guided by the APHC''s assessment of the Hizbul offer. And the APHC has not certainly condemned the offer merely saying it was a decision in haste. Gen. Musharraf''s observation seems to strengthen the impression that the ceasefire is the culmination of ''back channel diplomacy'' with the help of the American establishment. India is inclined to believe that Pakistan is trying to make the best of a bad situation. In India''s perception, Pakistan does not want to give an impression of a rift within the ''jehadi'' organisations particularly when it involved the all- important and powerful Hizbul. Comments from the Pakistani establishment on the latest developments is one aspect. The other is that the Pakistan press appears convinced the ceasefire offer is a ''calculated move'' with the approval of the military regime. Significantly, there is a marked toning down in the attack on the Hizbul by Pakistan- based militant organisations. The initial reaction was to dub the announcement a ''sell-out to India'' by ''individuals who have been manipulated''. But the Jehadi Council lost no time in making amends. the resolution adopted on the second day not only did not attribute any motives to the Hizbul but actually appealed to it to reconsider the decision. The Jamaat-e-Islami factor vis-a-vis the Hizbul is also interesting. The Hizbul is considered close to the Jamaat. The ceasefire announcement coming at a time when the Jamaat chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, was on tour of the U.S., has triggered speculation of an American hand. The Jamaat chief has strongly denied any link but, strangely, the press refuses to buy it.