How To End The Vicious Cycle Of Violence?
27 January 2004
The News International
Dr Moonis Ahmar
Islamabad: 'We had come here to thank the Prime Minister for the initiative he has taken in search of peace, in search of a solution to the Kashmir problem.' Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, a senior leader of All Parties Hurriyat Conference. The momentum created as a result of the 12th Saarc Summit held in Islamabad and the meeting taking place between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on January 5 this year, took a new turn when after a two hour meeting, the APHC and the Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani urged to end the cycle of violence in the volatile region of Jammu and Kashmir. The joint statement issued after that meeting stressed that the only way forward is to ensure that all forms of violence at all levels should come to an end. Following their meeting with Mr. Advani on January 22, the leaders of APHC met the Indian Prime Minister in New Delhi on January 23. Such back-to-back interaction between APHC and the Indian leadership took place at a time when New Delhi and Islamabad have decided to launch 'composite dialogue' in February, thus brightening the possibility of unleashing a new era of normalization and peace in South Asia. Will something concrete emerge as a result of recent talks between APHC and the Indian Government, and how the Kashmir dispute will be discussed by New Delhi and Islamabad in their forthcoming talks scheduled to be held in February? How far the assertion made by Syed Ali Shah Gilani, who heads another faction of APHC that 'we are fed up with talks of confidence-building' is supported by a part of the Pakistani establishment? The APHC leaders, who participated in talks with Mr. Advani, were composed of its Chairman, Maulana Abbas Ansari, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Bhat, Fazal Haque Qureshi and Bilal Lone and they differed with the hard line elements of APHC led by Mr. Gilani. APHC and the Indian Government decided to have another round of talks in March whereas it was indicated by a senior Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, that New Delhi might consider stopping military operations in its controlled parts of Jammu and Kashmir coinciding with Eid in early February. In another interesting development the visiting Indian External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, while giving a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC outlined a 10-point road map for peace in South Asia, which called for cooperation in combating terrorism, preventing activities of forces that sought to undermine security and stability and resolving all disputes through peaceful means in order to achieve visions of peace and prosperity in South Asia. Reaching one of the defining moments of history, he offered that his country was ready to 'walk as many extra miles as may be required to make this vision a reality'. With so many conciliatory and positive voices being raised in India and in Pakistan for normalization and peace, particularly for ending the vicious cycle of violence, the question is how credible and strong are these voices? If the moderate section of APHC and the Indian Government are able to strike a deal for securing a 'just and honourable' settlement of the Kashmir dispute, will the militant groups, who are fighting for freeing Kashmir from the Indian control, accept such a situation? Already, some militant groups have rejected talks between APHC and the Indian Government, calling such an effort nothing but a conspiracy on the part of New Delhi to maintain the status quo and crushing the resistance by force. There appears to be a relative consensus between the parties to the Kashmir dispute that the vicious cycle of violence must end through a process of dialogue because enough damage has been done and the only way to provide relief to the people of Jammu and Kashmir is by creating plausible conditions for holding purposeful dialogue. For that purpose, both New Delhi and Islamabad have decided to keep the media out of the dialogue process, so that undue expectations from talks between India and Pakistan are not created. But, it is easier said than done. If the Indian Prime Minister and Pakistan President have agreed to resume the dialogue process, and the moderate faction of APHC has held a meeting with the Indian Deputy Prime Minister, it doesn't mean that the extremist and hard line elements, whose bread and butter since the partition of sub-continent in August 1947, has been confrontation, will give up so easily. For such people, violence and conflict appear to be the only road to their survival. In the name of religion, honour and national security such elements have done every thing to undermine peace and stability in Indo-Pak relations. For them, violence, whether targeting combatants or non- combatants, is the only way to secure their interests. They don't buy the argument that violence and force can only cause more misery and pain to the ordinary people of Jammu and Kashmir. The proposed holding of composite dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, talks between the moderate faction of APHC and the Indian Government, and the 10-point road map for peace in South Asia, outlined by the Indian Prime Minister Sinha may be futile, if the hard liners are allowed to carry on with their negative acts. So far more than 70,000 people have been killed in the Indian controlled parts of Jammu and Kashmir since the outbreak of insurgency against New Delhi in 1989. Couple of thousand regular and irregular troops from the two sides were also killed during the Kargil war of 1999, and hundreds of Indian and Pakistani forces have been killed in another area of conflict, i.e. Siachen since 1984. The physical loss of the two sides, caused as a result of violence, resulted into the deepening sense of insecurity in South Asia and the slow pace of regional cooperation, particularly in the areas of trade and commerce. With the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue process, on the one side, and between moderate factions of APHC and the Indian Government on the other side, one can see some light at the end of tunnel. It is the third time in last five years that the two neighbours are back on the negotiating table, and according to the Indian Prime Minister, for him this is the final opportunity. If his initiative fails in securing peace with Pakistan, the consequences may be disastrous for the two countries. A lot of effort has been made in the last fourteen years to diffuse Indo-Pak tension and bring normalcy in the turbulent areas of Jammu and Kashmir. Since the nuclear crisis of 1990, nuclear tests of 1998, Kargil crisis of 1999 and attack on Indian parliament in 2001, serious efforts were made to prevent the outbreak of hostilities in South Asia and create conditions for the resumption of dialogue process between the two erstwhile neighbours. Earlier attempts failed on account of lack of proper homework and deep-rooted mistrust. This time, it seems both sides are well prepared to take steps, which could at least restore trust and confidence on the one hand and resume the process of dialogue on the other. For that purpose, India dropped its condition that Pakistan should hand over suspects involved in terrorist activities and Islamabad adopted a flexible stance on the Kashmir issue. Earlier, India had refused to enter into negotiations with Pakistan, unless its eastern neighbour completely stopped what it calls, 'cross border terrorism' and Pakistan had refused to talk to India, unless centrality of the Kashmir issue in such talks was ensured. Both sides have deviated from their intransigent position, thus paving the way for the holding of composite dialogue on all the issues involved in Indo-Pak relations, including the question of Jammu and Kashmir. Such a qualitative change in the policies of New Delhi and Islamabad will certainly contribute to the betterment of Indo-Pak relations on the one side and regional cooperation in South Asia on the other. Two important steps, if taken by New Delhi and Islamabad, will certainly help reduce, if not completely end, the cycle of violence in Kashmir. First, significant withdrawal of Indian regular and border security forces from Kashmir, and second, complete termination of Pakistan's support to militant Kashmiri organizations. The ceasefire on the line of control announced by Pakistan from November 26 last year, and accepted by India is a major development. Now, what is needed is the holding of tripartite talks involving India, Pakistan and Kashmiri leaders soon so that some solution of the Kashmir dispute based on the mutual win-win situation could be reached. At the same time, Pakistan must not support the extremist elements of APHC because failure to do so will negatively affect the peace efforts, which the moderate faction of APHC and India are making. It will also compel New Delhi to suspend its talks with Pakistan. Other steps to better the environment of trust and goodwill created after the holding of Saarc Summit in Islamabad may also be taken by India and Pakistan. The Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus service, softening of the line of control for travel and trade purposes and gradual demilitarisation of Jammu of Kashmir, can provide relief to the people of that area and at the same time also help in the settlement of the Siachen dispute. Such small and big steps will certainly help end the vicious cycle of violence and restore normalcy in the beleaguered areas of Jammu and Kashmir.