February 2008 News

Calm In Indian Kashmir, But Pakistan Still Eyed With Suspicion

22 February 2008

Srinagar: There was a time when Indian soldiers guarding the Line of Control that cuts through mountainous Kashmir could barely catch a wink of sleep. At the height of the Muslim insurgency against Indian rule over a part of the picturesque Himalayan region, scores of militants would sneak in from Pakistan, bringing daily gun battles, bombings and suicide strikes. Eighteen years after the revolt broke out, Indian Kashmir is counting its dead - over 43,000, more than a third of them civilians - but also wondering why the flood of fighters has turned into a trickle, and whether or not a period of relative calm will last. In 2007, 1,092 violent incidents by militants were reported, compared with 3,830 in 2001, according to official figures. For Indian analysts, the cynical view is that any peace in Kashmir is merely a result of Islamabad being otherwise occupied. 'The Pakistan army and Inter-Services Intelligence have apparently ordered a tactical freeze,' said Gurmeet Kanwal, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies. Pakistan, he argued, is currently 'unable to fight simultaneously on three fronts - a proxy war against India, the Al-Qaeda-Taliban combine in its North West Frontier Province and vicious internal instability.' Writing for the hawkish South Asia Intelligence Review, analyst Kanchan Lakshman also said the 'Pakistan-backed Islamist groups' have merely adopted 'a wider subversive agenda.' 'A decrease in terrorist violence in Kashmir in 2007 has been paralleled by a shift in the Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorists' focus to the Indian heartland,' he wrote, signalling India was still deeply suspicious of its fellow nuclear-armed neighbour. India has long accused Pakistan of arming and funding Kashmiri Muslim rebels, a charge Islamabad publicly denies. - Time for serious talks? - Some commentators, however, insist that Pakistan should be given some credit for acting in good faith since a peace process with India began in 2004. 'Pakistan has apparently made it clear to the militants that violence will not be tolerated during the peace process,' said Tahir Mohiudin, editor of the leading Kashmiri weekly newspaper Chattan. 'There has been a clear shift in Pakistan's policy.' This, he said, provides an opportunity for serious dialogue on Kashmir, split in two but claimed in full by both sides. The region has been the cause of two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since partition in 1947. Analyst Kanwal said India should use the lull in violence to push for a settlement and try to motivate Kashmiri separatists to 'join the political mainstream and participate in state elections' later in 2008. 'There is a hope on the horizon in Kashmir, and losing this opportunity may prove to be an insurmountable setback,' he said. The desire for progress is echoed on the streets of Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's summer capital and the urban hub of the revolt. 'Everyone is loving this peace. We pray it stays like this forever,' said shopkeeper Tanveer Masudi, 45. 'People are tired of violence. They want a political resolution.' Despite the improved situation, prominent Kashmiri separatist Shabir Shah cautioned that any calm should not be taken by India as a sign the revolt was fizzling out. 'People are tired, but their desire for freedom remains deep-rooted,' he said, calling on New Delhi to at least acknowledge Kashmir is 'disputed' and start a 'serious dialogue' on the roots of the conflict. 'There has to be a political solution,' said Shah. Ajai Sahni, the head of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, also said that the problem had not gone away - with militants becoming more active on the political front. 'It's also a cheaper operation - and one that can create far more psychological and moral pressure on India,' he said. - India sees no reason to go soft - Indian officials and members of the massive security contingent in Kashmir, however, argue that now is not the time to soften their view that Muslim-majority Kashmir is, and always will be, an integral part of India. 'Despite a sharp decline in violence, the situation does not leave any scope for complacency,' Kashmir's Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said recently, signalling no reduction in India's huge troop presence that is resented by local people. In the Indian security establishment, Kashmir is also still discussed within the parameters of victory or defeat, and the main question is how long before troubled neighbour Pakistan gets back up to its old alleged tricks again. Indian 'supercop' Kanwar Pal Singh Gill - famed for crushing a Sikh revolt that rocked Punjab in the 1980s and early 1990s - has called for the Indian army to try to finish off the militants once and for all. 'Our opinion is that the fall in the terrorist violence is largely due to the serious winter in Kashmir,' said Gill, an influential figure who runs a security think tank.

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