March 2003 News

Iraq war fallout: Kashmir

29 March 2003
The Hindustan Times
Aditya Sinha

New Delhi: To many, the increase in violence in the Kashmir Valley is clearly a fallout of the US war on Iraq. New Delhi believes that the jehadis aim to exploit the American pre-occupation with the Gulf by upping the ante in J&K. It’s felt that the US won’t do much more than issue the odd statement, as Christina Rocca did on Thursday. The Gulf war came at a good time for the jehadis, for they are apparently hassled with Chief Minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed’s ‘hearts and minds’ policy. They’re also worried that the main separatist platform, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, will get marginalised. As it is, the APHC’s non-participation in last year’s assembly elections upset the international community, to the extent that diplomats nowadays visit Srinagar and avoid the APHC. So if Mufti’s policy works, then Pakistan will be left with no political tool other than the use of jehadis. The recent killings indicate this: the assassination last week of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Abdul Majid Dar was directed at the APHC to warn off any dissenters, and the massacre of 24 Hindus a day later was aimed at undermining Mufti’s policy of wooing back the Pandit migrants. “The Pakistanis will push violence to its limits in the coming months,” says a Home Ministry official. “Especially if the Iraq War becomes protracted.” Pervez’s ploy Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf can also claim that given the anti-US sentiment in his country (there have been massive protests in his cities against the Gulf War), he can’t crack down on the jehadis. India believes that he will use the increased violence as an excuse to ask the US to force New Delhi into a dialogue. So what’s the Government of India doing to politically combat the violence? There’s still a great deal of suspicion of Mufti that is residual from his 1989-90 tenure as Union Home Minister. But Mufti does enjoy a lot of support on the ground, so there’s willingness in officialdom to play along with his ‘hearts and minds’ policy. Deeper, there’s a debate within the government. One side says that the Hurriyat is finished, so the focus should be on eliminating the militants, getting the US on board on India’s side in the dispute with Pakistan, and squeeze the APHC out of its political space. The other side feels that New Delhi should exploit the positive political situation Mufti has obtained on the ground, and engage the APHC. Mufti and the Hurriyat Interestingly, no one is quite sure of Mufti’s stand on the APHC. He hasn’t politically mobilised the Hurriyat the way he could, given the mandate he received in the polls; he hasn’t even encouraged the surrender of those militants still out in the cold.For now, former Home Secretary N.N. Vohra, appointed to hold a dialogue with Kashmiris, has been given a wide brief, and the expectation is that he’ll try to talk to the APHC. It’s believed that Dar was agreeable to talking to Vohra, and that may be one reason he was bumped off when he was. NO SHOCK AND AWE IN SOUTH ASIA — YET • Prime Minister AB Vajpayee will visit J&K in mid-April. His govt has already made clear to the world that its patience with Pakistan is low. • A distracted US Secretary of State Colin Powell said he had repeatedly called for an end to cross- border terrorism. Told New Delhi he would talk to Islamabad. • Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s usual spiel: he has to walk a tightrope between reining in the jehadis and anti-US domestic public opinion. • On the recent killings: “The (terrorists) want the State to remain in trouble forever. But this will not deter me. I am committed to bring peace to J&K.”

 

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