Ceasefire not end of J&K peace steps
8 February 2001
New Delhi: The Vajpayee government, under pressure from the Opposition to spell out its beyond-ceasefire perspective in Jammu and Kashmir and the escalated militant attacks in the Valley, is considering more “peace steps” that include sanctioning the Hurriyat team’s visit to Pakistan. Pakistan’s efforts to regain the lost “diplomatic advantage” in the post-ceasefire scene has also reportedly added to the urgency to “move ahead.” The onus of breaking new ground is mainly on the Prime Minister’s Office; the ceasefire move was conceived and executed at its initiative – with the ministries of external affairs, home and defence playing only supporting roles. An influential section in the home and external affairs ministries had been – and are still – less than enthused by the PMO’s moves. National Conference has been opposing the move vis-a-vis Hurriyat for political reasons. Highly-placed sources say the PMO’s argument is that sanctioning the Hurriyat visit, despite the stated official reservations about some leaders, will send a strong signal to the people of the Valley and, more importantly, to the international community, about India’s seriousness on the peace initiative. On the other hand, keeping the Hurriyat waiting has also paid dividends. First, the long wait has probably punctured the Hurriyat leaders’ “over-estimated notion of self importance”. Second, by overemphasising reservations about leaders like the pro-Pakistan Geelani, the government hoped to have conveyed the “limited borders” within which the Hurriyat can initiate a dialogue with Islamabad. On a tactical front, a failure (as widely expected) of the Hurriyat initiative will discredit the outfit and put the blame for “failing to positively respond to the Indian initiative” on Pakistan. Also, the recent statements of General Musharraf (after the traditional India-bashing on “Kashmir Solidarity Day”), sympathising with earthquake victims and, more importantly, his desire to “cooperate” with “a helpless Mr Vajpayee, surrounded by hardliners,” are seen only as calculated moves by Islamabad to regain its image of being “a peace-seeker or a victim of India’s non-cooperation,” an image India wrested through the ceasefire. Sources say, it is, thus, important to take more “peace steps” to sustain India’s diplomatic edge. Even as the Opposition – mainly the Congress and the Left – accuses the Centre of lacking the “long-term” perspective in its peace initiative, government officials say the ceasefire move was more diplomatic posturing, and it is too early to expect a dramatic result. They also say that the extension of the ceasefire despite an upsurge in attacks – ranging from the Red Fort attack to the one on Dr Farooq Abdullah – coincided with the change of guard in Washington, a crucial “behind-the-scenes” player on the Kashmir front; it was the Vajpayee government’s keenness to assure the Bush administration of its intention on Kashmir front. The government is also making conscious efforts, with an eye on the Islamabad-Beijing axis, to “normalise” Sino-Indian ties. Efforts are also being made, like inviting the Algerian President as chief guest on Republic Day and the external affairs minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, visiting Saudi Arabia, to earn Islamic nations’ goodwill. The attacks by outfits such as Lashkar-e-Toiba on sensitive targets like Sikhs, hasn’t come as a surprise to the government as it was expected to do everything possible to foil the ceasefire.