South Asia: The End Of Jihad
31 January 2004
Islamabad: The bitterness was palpable among the more than one dozen hardened jihadi fighters. Veterans of the 14-year guerrilla struggle against Indian control of Kashmir, they had gathered in a cold, dingy room in the Pakistani-administered zone to discuss their narrowing options. Last month's historic agreement struck between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee posed a near-knockout blow to the militants' hopes of ending India's occupation of the disputed Himalayan territory. In the deal, Musharraf promised to crack down on the militants, ending their cross-border attacks on Indian forces. In turn, Vajpayee agreed to begin unconditional negotiations with Pakistan on the status of Kashmir-a source of tension that has twice led these nuclear-armed rivals to war.Not all of the guerrillas are ready to lay down their arms. 'We will not allow Musharraf to sell out the blood of our martyrs,' says Saifullah, a bearded fighter in his early 20s. 'We will continue the jihad no matter what.' But others seemed resigned to the fact that the fighting may be coming to an end. 'We have been betrayed,' laments Mohammad Ashfaq, a native of the Kashmiri capital of Srinagar. 'We have no choice now but to return to our homes.' Ashraq is probably right, given the larger forces pushing the leaders of India and Pakistan toward peace. 'It's the beginning of the end of the Kashmir jihad,' says Rifaat Hussain, a defense analyst at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University. Musharraf has promised to curb the jihadis before. But in the past he hedged his bets, ordering only a temporary halt to attacks in the hope that India would reciprocate by sitting down for talks. This time, following two serious assassination attempts last December, one led by a suicide bomber belonging to the outlawed jihadi group Jaish-e- Mohammed, he has more reason than ever to clamp down on his homegrown militants. His tone has become increasingly conciliatory of late. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, he hinted that he was willing to drop Pakistan's longtime demand that a plebiscite be held in Kashmir to determine its status, as long as India was equally forthcoming: 'I have been saying we must go beyond stated positions and show flexibility,' he said. 'But it can't be done unilaterally by Pakistan.' Facing down the jihadis will be no small task: since an indigenous insurrection against Indian rule broke out in Kashmir in 1989, some 10,000 fighters belonging to at least six Pakistan- based guerrilla groups have crossed the border to aid their Kashmiri brothers-in-arms. But already Islamabad has transformed the battleground. The constant Pakistani artillery barrages that once provided cover for the guerrillas' infiltration have ended. The ceasefire along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir has held since December. Pakistani Army units have been given orders not to offer any aid to the militants, and security forces are combing Pakistani cities in search of extremists. Pakistan's generals have even taken the jihadis out of their military playbook: in the event of war, the militants will no longer be counted on as a guerrilla force designed to attack Indian Army units behind the lines. 'The Army realizes that the jihad strategy is counterproductive and is determined to reverse course,' says retired Pakistani Army general Talat Masood. The embittered militants know that they can still change the course of events. 'We can bring down the entire peace process with a massive guerrilla operation,' boasts Saifullah. Yet they no longer command much support among Kashmiris, who are sick of the violence that has claimed upward of 60,000 lives. Moghli Begum, 45, lost seven members of her family six years ago. 'The gun has destroyed my life and my family,' she says. 'The leaders now have one task: to take the guns out of here.' While the weapons haven't been removed, there are positive signs. The level of cross-border violence has dropped dramatically. In Srinagar there are more shoppers and fewer Indian soldiers on the streets. Trains have started running across the border and nearly 200 Kashmiri Hindu families who fled the valley because of fighting have recently returned to their homes. Islamabad and New Delhi are now set to start talking again on Feb. 16. India seems more eager to address a string of specific concerns- transport, trade, communication and water rights-rather than begin by tackling the tough security issues. While welcoming Musharraf's new hard line against the militants, India is still skeptical about the Pakistani military's commitment to the peace. Indian intelligence sources say that not all of the jihadi camps inside Pakistan have been put out of business. 'Until all these are shut down, the flow of trained and armed militants into Kashmir will not stop,' says an Indian intelligence source. 'So it would be foolish on our part to stop hunting [the militants].' Nevertheless, if the current calm can be extended, Indian security forces would theoretically be able to reduce the frequency of their operations in Kashmir and begin to scale back their numbers. Political leaders would find it easier to negotiate more autonomy for the Kashmiris, even though New Delhi is unlikely to cede any of the two thirds of Kashmir that it now controls. In the short run, peace and more autonomy would go a long way toward answering most Kashmiris' aspirations. And that's when bitterness might truly be replaced by hope.