August 2001 News

TRAPPED

The Week
19 August 2001
R. Prasannan

New Delhi: Like Jack and Jill they went up the summit hill. And came tumbling down, with crown cracked, into the valley of shooting death. They had not learnt their lessons in the first attempt at summiteering. If the aftermath of the Lahore hype was the bloody battle of Kargil which killed 500 of India's valiant soldiers, the Agra Summit has resulted in daily massacres of the innocent. The Vajpayee government, which thought it had fresher ideas than the Nehrus, the Shastris and the Indira Gandhis, is left with no road-map, let alone a policy, on Kashmir. Having come to power with untested and untrusted ideas, it has drawn a blank on all the three fronts it fought in Kashmir: on the diplomatic, the military and the interior. So much so that External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh admitted in the Lok Sabha that media hype had raised expectations too high at Agra. The ceasefire months witnessed more than 2,500 violent incidents (a family in Kargil takes refuge in a bunker) The government was getting as "unifocal" on Kashmir in governance as Gen. Pervez Musharraf was during the summit. The re-election of the Vajpayee government itself was in the aftermath of the Kargil victory. In the last few months, save the UTI scam, the government's entire energy seemed to be directed at Kashmir. Now the government's existence itself is tilting precariously on the summit precipice of Kashmir. With opposition allegations of a tug-of-war in the government between doves who mismanaged Kashmir and hawks who scuttled the Agra Summit, it appears there is nothing to talk of the Vajpayee era save two summits from which it fell. Bewitched by its own camera-savvy diplomacy which relied on colour, pomp and poetry at Lahore, the government thought that euphorias could quieten the shrill cry of terror sneaking from across the Line of Control (LoC). But the roar of the Kargil guns proved louder than both. The diplomatic duplicity that followed-exonerating a double-talking Nawaz Sharif and putting the blame on a commando general who stood by his troops-blew up on India's face when the general also shot down democracy in Pakistan. In the months that followed, the general got India into a trap of its own making. As a confidence-building measure, he offered to demilitarise the international border. Demilitarise the LoC, India replied. Months later, when the general pulled back a division to fool the world, India realised that it was close to giving de facto recognition to the LoC as international border and legally ceding the territory it always claimed was its. Only the general's domestic compulsions, which made him talk only about Kashmir, saved India from a political suicide. After the coup in Islamabad, the Indian foreign office got Pakistan suspended from the Commonwealth. Later at the Non-Aligned Meeting ministerial conference in Cartagena in April 2000, India got inserted a paragraph in the final document which called for restoration of 'constitutional legality in states whose governments had come to power through unconstitutional means' and declared in Parliament that the paragraph "has the effect of exercising moral pressure on the current regime in Pakistan to restore democracy..." Whenever the issue of talks came up, the government insisted on "an appropriate environment" which can be created only by Pakistan abandoning its "sponsorship of cross-border terrorism" as "an obvious requirement for meaningful dialogue". The flip-flop, as Arjun Singh of the Congress termed the government's handling of the Kashmir affairs, took place when the government forgot its own grandstand and invited the dictator to an agenda-less summit in a state where elections are due in a few months. Ironically, India became the first country to greet Musharraf after he swore himself in as president. It seemed India was being coerced to revise its stand and invite the general. Though the foreign office has time and again denied any pressure from the US or any outside power, the fact remains that US President George Bush had in a letter in March "requested" the Prime Minister to "demonstrate his willingness to move forward toward a dialogue" and promised that he (Bush) would "urge Pakistan to respond with the objective of creating an atmosphere in which dialogue could be resumed without the shadow of extremist violence." Bush had his way with Vajpayee but could not persuade Musharraf to remove the shadow of extremist violence for longer than a week around the summit. As the summit failed, it was clear that both sides had gone up the snowy mountain without oxygen. As the general walked away with public relations points, India lamely cited the norms of diplomacy and cried foul. Only then did the foreign office come up with the explanation that it was Musharraf who insisted on a dialogue without agenda. "Failure was in the air right from the moment Musharraf accepted the invitation," pointed out a senior army officer. "He made the world believe that he was taking substantial measures like pulling back divisions from the LoC. Whether he did it or not, his posturing was believed by everyone." As the summit approached, it was clear that the general would talk only of Kashmir. The attempt now was to save the summit at whatever cost rather than call it off and talk tough on cross-border terrorism. Measures like release of detained fishermen, announced by none less than the Prime Minister, looked "ridiculous", as a Coast Guard officer put it. "In February the same government released some 160 fishermen unilaterally without any fanfare or prime ministerial announcement." As Musharraf went for a PR overkill, India was unsure whether to call the summit a success or a failure. The foreign office blanked out Agra from diplomatic memory and said any further talks would be on the basis of Lahore and Shimla. In less than a week, however, the Prime Minister declared: "Though we could not conclude a joint declaration in Agra, we did achieve a degree of understanding. We will build on this to further increase the areas of agreement." A diplomat in Islamabad asked this correspondent, "Who is to be believed? Your foreign office or your Prime Minister?" No different have been the adventures within Kashmir. As soon as the Hizbul Mujahideen, on the run from Indian Army bullets and sidelined by the more fiery groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, offered a ceasefire, Delhi sent its home secretary to talk to them. In no time the ceasefire attempt got scuttled from Islamabad. The Ramzan ceasefire, declared unilaterally from the government side, seemed to be working well initially, but security forces grumbled when they were getting shot. Once when the government wanted to end it, saying the Army was against it, Army Chief Gen. Padmanabhan called a press conference and declared he had no objection if a ceasefire helped the peace process. As an afterthought the ceasefire then was renamed 'non-initiation of combat operations' and the Army was allowed to shoot back if attacked. In the end the ceasefire months witnessed more killings of militants than in the firing months. "The ceasefire months witnessed more than 2,500 violent incidents, compared to 1,600 during the same period last year," said an army officer. The political initiatives too have ended disastrously. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah cried foul when K.C. Pant was assigned to talk to Hurriyat leaders, virtually sidelining him. "It was the legitimacy we accorded to them that emboldened them to ask for permission to go to Pakistan for talks," pointed out a military intelligence analyst. "And then we first made a big issue of their tea with Musharraf, and then called it a non-issue. Now look at the Hurriyat leaders addressing meetings in Chennai where no one had heard of them earlier. They are following up from where Musharraf left." Now, after the Agra failure, and the Hurriyat even getting the Dalai Lama to speak for them in a major diplomatic embarrassment for the government, Farooq is back in the government's good books. Though the BJP demanded his dismissal following the twin massacres of August, Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy believes that the demand is a "deliberate diversionary tactic to cover up the Centre's failure". The failures are catching up on the military front, too. The quietude on the LoC, which began in the first week of December, has been breached with a vengeance. Pakistani troops, put on a maximum restraint since December, could fire only 854 times across the LoC in six months. In the 10 days after the summit, they fired 690 times. To catch up with lost time, the Army and the other security forces are now on a shooting high. In two weeks following the summit failure, four top militants, including the deputy operational commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen, were killed. The day after the Doda massacre, Al Omar group's Tariq Rawloo was felled. And as the Disturbed Areas Act was extended to virtually the entire state, giving the armed forces powers to shoot anyone disturbing public order, attack any place from where a gun had been fired, search any place without a warrant, human rights activists too were getting ready with press releases. Whether the government likes it or not, one thing is clear. Yesterday, Kashmir was just one of the hundreds of issues to be tackled. Today, Kashmir, Hurriyat, Lashkar and Musharraf loom large on the Indian psyche. As Prime Minister Vajpayee admitted in Parliament, "for Pakistan, Kashmir is only a piece of land, but for us it is part of our life." At least for his government it is now the question of existence.

 

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