Violence Flares in Kashmir Despite Peace Move
26 November 2000
The New York Times
New Delhi: India prepared Sunday for a month-long truce in its offensive against separatist guerrillas in Kashmir, undaunted by further bloodshed in the week since it announced the cease-fire was going to start. Across the line dividing the region, Kashmiri politicians were set to meet to discuss their response to the gesture. Frontline groups have been skeptical about the planned suspension of the decade-long offensive during the Muslim holy month Ramadan, which is expected to start Monday or Tuesday depending on the sighting of the moon. But while the Indian army set ground rules at the weekend for its troops, instructing them to stop search and destroy missions and retaliate only in self-defense, top officials met in New Delhi to discuss possibly building on the peace gesture. ''Ground is being prepared for (peace) talks but no formal initiative has been taken so far,'' Girish Saxena, governor of Jammu and Kashmir state, was quoted by Tribune newspaper as saying after a meeting on internal security. He said the killing of 11 people in two incidents during the weekend was not unexpected, but the government wanted peace. At Muzaffarabad in the Pakistan-ruled part of Kashmir, Abdul Ghani Lone, a separatist based in India''s Srinagar, told Reuters he would meet Kashmiri counterparts in the first such meeting since a rebellion erupted 11 years ago. ''We have not arrived at a final conclusion but plan to meet again to discuss the cease-fire and a long-term strategy on Kashmir,'' said Lone, a senior member of the All Parties Hurriyat (freedom) Conference, which bands more than 20 separatist groups. At Gurgaon on the outskirts of the Indian capital, the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a moderate separatist group, joined a U.S.-based mediator for a round of ''track two'' diplomacy on Kashmir. JKLF''s Yasin Malik, describing Vajpayee as charismatic and honest, told reporters the leader had the chance to emulate assassinated Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin''s Middle East peace initiative if he would involve Pakistan in the peace talks. ''We will have to take every party into confidence,'' he said. But India''s Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani Sunday ruled out the possibility of including Islamabad in any talks with militants, even as he appealed to Pakistan to take advantage of the second peace initiative. ''As a proof of response to our goodwill gesture, Pakistan should immediately stop cross-border terrorism,'' Advani said during a visit to the India-Pakistan border in the northern town of Amritsar. India says it cannot talk to Pakistan unless it stops arming and training separatists in fomenting violence in Kashmir, a charge rejected by Pakistan. The pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen announced a two-week unilateral cease-fire in July to consider a peace process but that collapsed after India refused to include Pakistan. A sign of what might have developed then emerged Saturday during an Indian visit by Mansoor Ijaz, member of the Council of Foreign Relations, New York, an influential think-tank considered close to Washington. Ijaz played a key mediating role at that time. The Times of India quoted Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, as saying that India was in August prepared to involve Pakistan in the talks, but met with a hard-line response from the Hizbul after early signals of conciliation. He described Pakistan''s military ruler General Pervez Musharraf as someone facing pressure from hard-line Islamists, India and the international community over his nuclear program. Lone, who met the general, described Musharraf as a ''forthright and straightforward'' person who desired a peaceful solution of the Kashmir problem. ''We discussed the cease-fire and he said that if there is sincerity in the Indian offer then they should agree to tripartite talks.'' ''Even though it is a minor step, yet it is a good gesture,'' he said of the Indian truce. NO LET-UP IN VIOLENCE Despite talk of peace in Delhi, however, there was little let-up in violence in Kashmir. Twenty people, including 10 guerrillas, have been killed in shootouts since Friday evening. Three people were wounded in Pakistani shelling across the military line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan since Saturday, police said. Militants ambushed and killed four Indian soldiers within hours of the Indian army''s truce instructions Saturday. A spokesman of the Pakistan-based militant Al-Badr group called newspaper offices in Srinagar and claimed responsibility for the attack which took place in Kupwara district. The weekend''s violence followed the killing of five Hindus that day in the region''s Kishtwar town and the murder of six Sikh truck drivers and associates at Banihal Tuesday. Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir, Saturday observed a strike against the Kishtwar killings.