Ceasefire In Retrospect

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As the political parties in the state are readying to approach the centre for a ceasefire to prevent mass recruitment of youth in militancy, save the situation, tourist season and the life, Masood Hussain offers a narrative about the evolution of the initiative in Kashmir since militancy broke out in 1988

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti briefing the media after the all party meeting was over. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

It was a bit embarrassing, a political activist who was part of the All Party Meeting (APM) said, that when Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was asked about her suggestions in controlling the slide on the ground. Not her alone, almost everybody was blank. Finally, two suggestions came: Engineer Rasheed said ceasefire should take place from the government side; Communist leader Yousuf Tarigami said an All Party Delegation (APD) must visit the Prime Minister and put the suggestion before him.

These two points were the main takeaway from the APM that continued for almost five hours at SKICC, last week. Though the National Conference (NC) is yet to formally support the ideas – it said it needs to talk within the party first, the Chief Minister threw her weight behind the idea. She said she will lead the delegation to the Prime Minister before his May 19, visit the state. BJP was part of the APM but maintained a sort of silence.

A day later, the idea got two reactions. BJP’s state spokesman Anil Sethi said his party was in “complete disagreement”. An indirect response came from General Bipin Rawat, the army chief, who reiterated that the army will “fight them” (militants and stone pelters) “with full force”. He drew comparisons between Syria, and Pakistan with Kashmir to insist that “security forces haven’t been so brutal”. He sounded “ready to suspend” military operations to avoid civilian casualties, but sought guarantees: that soldiers are not fired upon, policemen, political workers, and our men returning home on leave aren’t attacked, killed.

There has not been a formal reaction from the central government. The only indication that has been there for some time is that Delhi wants the killings should go down because the subsequent funerals are actually resulting in fresh recruitments. Nobody is willing to hazard a response in Delhi to the ceasefire idea because this is something that normally only Prime Minister can decide.

People who usually know how systems work said the security apparatus will oppose the idea and Prime Minister usually cannot go against the security set-up. The only option is that if there is a united demand that will put a long of pressure on Delhi, there is some possibility of the idea getting a serious consideration.

But this is not the first time that cessation of hostilities on Kashmir front is being demanded. There have been three such occasions.

The first was in 1994, when Mohammad Yasin Malik, the JKLF leader, addressed a news conference and announced Modus Vivendi, the unilateral ceasefire. This announcement put the lid on JKLF’s militant activism and it continues to be just a political party, till date.

“On the persuasion of US, UK and European envoys, I took the most unpopular decision of unilateral ceasefire endangering my and the lives of my colleagues,” Malik, who announced the ceasefire from a room in the SMHS hospital wrote in an open letter to the USA in July 2017. “This was a decision that threatened to jeopardize my political career, my integrity and could have negated my struggle and sacrifices but despite all odds and provocations by Indian forces to go back on the path of violence I stood firm to my decision.”

The second came almost a year after the Kargil ‘war’. Abdul Majid Dar, the No 2 in powerful Hizb-ul-Mujahideen made a dramatic appearance in Srinagar and announced a three-month-long ceasefire on July 24, 2000, along with an unconditional dialogue with Delhi. The quick response suggested that there had been some ground-work taking place behind the scene. The security grid responded with “minimized as well as limited” operations.

In the subsequent days, friends Fazl Haq Qureshi and Musadiq Aadil were appointed as point men. On August 3, Home Secretary Kamal Pandey and special secretaries, M B Kaushal and Tilak Raj Kakkar, flew to Srinagar and met four Hizb commanders. Within days, the Hizb leadership in Muzaffarabad backed out. Delhi avoided a serious engagement and a follow-up. Subsequently, almost all the ‘commanders’ were killed. Apart from Dar, those killed included Abdul Hamid Tantray alias Commander Masood, Farooq Ahmad Mirchal, whose body is yet to be recovered, and Riyaz Rasool.  Zafar Akbar Bhat is perhaps the only survivor who is with Hurriyat (m).

There were two major factors responsible for the initiative. Firstly, the Hurriyat leaders, though being in the loop, were not supportive. Secondly and more importantly, the National Conference government was not supportive of any idea of a truce. It was accused of exposing the secret talks in order to weaken the initiative from day one.

The BJP government in the centre was very serious in managing some kind of change in Kashmir. That was the key factor that Delhi announced sort of a ceasefire, the non-initiation of combat operations (NICO) on November 28, 2000.

The Government of India had declared unilaterally a policy of Non-Initiation of Combat Operations in J&K with a view to lowering the levels of violence and creating an atmosphere conducive to the commencement of a peace process in the troubled State,” a formal statement issued by the central government said. “Despite the continuing violence on the part of some predominantly non-Kashmiri terrorist groups the Government is gratified to note that there is an unmistakable groundswell for peace among the people of J&K. In order to promote a vigorous movement towards the establishment of peace and tranquillity, the Government has decided to embark upon a political dialogue with all sections of the peace-loving people of the state including those who are currently outside it.”

The union home secretary Kamal Panday (Left) with the Hizbul Mujahideen commanders (From right) Mr Saifullah Khalid. Commander Masood Mr Riyaz Rasool and Mr Farooq Mirchal after a meeting in Srinagar.

Delhi appointed K C Pant, the Deputy Chairman, PlaKamal Commission, as its point-man. “The Government notes that the APHC has all along taken the position that talks should be unconditional. Now that the Government has agreed to hold talks in the interest of early restoration of peace, it is for the APHC to consider whether it would not be inconsistent for them to set pre-conditions for the dialogue. The doors are open for them to join in the talks…,” the statement added.

Known locally as ‘Ramzan ceasefire’ because it coincided with the Muslim holy month of fasting, the ceasefire was enjoyed by people as it created interesting changes. The famous cricket match between the Hizb ul-Mujahideen and the army took place somewhere in Kupwara and became an international news.

Various things happened during NICO. The families who had their wards and relatives on the other side of the LoC witnessed some relief and attempted a reunion. Noor Begum who had migrated to the other side of the LoC infiltrate from dangerous Tangdar ridges to meet her son Manzoor Khan. Begum had visited her elder son Hafizullah Khan in Muzaffarabad when the heightened tensions between India and Pakistan left her stranded there for 12 years.

The same grief forced a middle-aged woman in Keran to swim across the fast flowing Neelam River during the 185-days of NICO, that ended in June 2001, and was washed away as her relatives on the two sides were watching is disbelief.

Some people who had migrated to the other side were permitted to return. Troops permitted the return of migrants of Lachipora, Gohalta, Nambla, Silikote and Kamalkote hamlets in Uri belt.

The NICO was reviewed after every month and extended but it could move beyond 185 days. It remained in force between November 28, 2000, and May 21, 2001.

Before the NICO was rolled back, the then Home Minister L K Advani and Defiance Minister Jaswant Singh had a three-hour long closed-door meeting with the security grid and the Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah on May 19, 2001, at Srinagar.

“Shorty the cabinet committee on security is to meet to consider how we pursue our efforts towards peace. And at the same time ensure the security of the people and border areas,” Advani told reporters after the meeting. “We discussed the situation for three hours. Security forces gave their own assessment of the situation. The feedback and inputs we received are very valuable. This would enable the government of India to take its decision correctly so as to ensure both our objectives of peace as well as security.”

While NICO was in place, the separatists had decided against talking to Pant. Shabir Shah was perhaps the only one among the separatist who had a couple of fruitless sittings with him.

By then, it was public knowledge that the state government wants the NICO to be withdrawn. The state government had taken the increase in killings as the main factor for NICO withdrawal. “I have directed the forces to shoot them (militants) at sight because there is no room left for them in the jails”, Dr Abdullah had publicly said. He has personally told the Prime Minister that the initiative was meaningless as “every day, my party workers and their relations are being killed”.

Details came slightly later. “NICO – cost more lives than the bitter warfare of the years that preceded it,” Praveen Swami wrote in Frontline. “Classified data obtained by Frontline show that more soldiers were killed by terrorists during the Ramzan ceasefire than during the same months of previous years, and more civilians than in any period after 1996-1997. The only people for whom life became safer than in previous years were the terrorists, for the very good reason that security forces had been instructed not to hunt for them aggressively. While the intention of the ceasefire was to strip the terrorists of political legitimacy, they were, in fact, able to use coercion to assert their authority over civil society.” The state government said militants killed as many as 118 surrender militants and Ikhwan cadres during NICO.

Since then, it was this view that the entire security grid is holding. On June 9, 2005, General Joginder Singh, Chief of army staff ruled-out the possibility of a cease-fire.

“Truce usually takes place between the two warring armies,” General Singh said. “And in J&K we are up against the enemy called militants who are on loose. If they will drop guns, our role automatically ends.”

Abdul Majid Dar

“Ceasefire is essentially a political decision but I do not think the situation is conducive for this give the experience of last time,” General Hari Prasad, Northern Chief said on August 21, 2005. “In that ceasefire, the terrorists rearmed, regroup and returned with a bang. I do not see it as an appropriate time for the ceasefire”.

“A year later (after NICO), we saw the violence peaking because we had given them a chance to regroup”, Lt Gen A S Sekhon, the commander of Srinagar based 15 Corps, who has served Kashmir in all ranks of his career, said on May 4, 2007. “Decisions taken on emotional issues could be counterproductive,” he insisted.

As the ceasefire is back in currency, the government must have started dusting the files and all these statements will become relevant in coming days. There are reports that the centre is considering rolling out “a calibrated policy” aimed at halting fresh recruitments. The thought process is that funerals are the main source of recruitment. But will the government intervene to prevent people from joining funerals, which routinely witness emotional upsurge or it will create a situation that there are lesser funerals? Details are not known. It is in this backdrop that the idea of ceasefire has come up.

The security grid will be unwilling to go for a NICO sort of a situation. Last month, in a top-level meeting with the political executive, the security grid has indicated that it has the capacity of managing most of the militants within a month given the inputs, it has. But the civilian interventions are the real tension.

“The fact is that counter-insurgency grid goes slow during the Ramzan but if it has to be a formal exercise then it would require efforts,” an informed source said from Delhi. “The parties have to join together, meet the Prime Minister and even go to the streets in Delhi if they face a problem. Then only it will have an impact and emerge a possibility of some face saver.”

Then there are two major issues linked to the idea. Firstly, how can a ceasefire help in absence of an engagement with Kashmir’s separatist block? Secondly, can Narendra Modi afford such a landmark initiative at a time when he is facing a general election soon?

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