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Whither Peace Process?

The obviously bumpy meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf in New York has many analysts worried. Why did Pre...

The obviously bumpy meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf in New York has many analysts worried. Why did President Musharraf bring up Kashmir in the context of UN resolutions instead of discussing the peace process between India and Pakistan? More worryingly still, why did he push for troops’ reduction in Baramulla and Kupwara, both areas of heavy militant presence, not to mention infiltration routes – is he continuing to support the militant groups on one hand, while talking peace with India on the other? Or is there a context to all this that we do not know?

An immediate explanation for President Musharraf’s conduct could be Afghanistan. Pakistan is under pressure to prevent Taliban attacks from the NWFP during the Afghan elections, and a major concession by India would offset domestic anger. This also explains why US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice asked our Prime Minister to agree to the President’s demand for troops’ reduction. (Presumably she did not realize the strategic significance of Baramulla and Kupwara for militancy, though she should have suspected something of the sort, having experienced similar tactics).

Yet if President Musharraf was quick to make counterproductive demands in New York, he dropped his demands equally quickly. The conciliatory statements of the Indian and Pakistani leaders following their disagreements suggest a wider context to the New York meeting, that the two countries have moved to the next stage of the peace process – how to fully and finally end the violence in Jammu and Kashmir – but are still in the preliminary stage of negotiating the steps that each will take, and their sequencing. If this is the context, it is a potentially positive one.

The issue of ending violence was always going to be a thorny one, almost as much so as the issue of a lasting settlement. From the first initiatives to get a peace process started in 2000, Pakistan has been reluctant to give up what successive governments considered their only trump card, the militant groups fighting in Kashmir. In the past two years, however, Pakistan has inched towards reducing support for militants. First there was the cease-fire on the LOC in 2003, then acceptance of India’s fencing in 2004-5, and most recently an active discouragement of cross-border infiltration.

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India’s initiatives to end violence have kept pace with these changes. It took some time for the security forces to accept the need for reform — indeed it is only this year that counterinsurgency operations have been downsized, partly due to better intelligence. But once reform started, it has been pursued. There is, finally, a sustained effort to stop human rights abuses by security forces. Earlier this year, the Indian government made a first reduction in troops, which was supposed to be followed by further reductions once a cease-fire with militant groups was agreed. That is yet to happen.

Why is it so difficult to get a cease-fire – at least with the Hizbul Mujahideen, who previously entered cease-fire talks, most memorably in 2000? A political strategy was carved out, that the Hurriyat would seek a cease-fire from the militant groups, in fact this was one of the purposes of the Hurriyat’s visit to Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. But the Hizbul has proved difficult to win, perhaps because its leader, Syed Salahuddin, wishes a political role of his own, independent of the Hurriyat, or perhaps because Pakistan still fears to give up its “military option” entirely.

On the Indian side, too, we have heard little support for a cease-fire, which really is puzzling given that it is only after violence ends that hearts and minds can be won. What prevents the Indian government from saying that they are willing to offer the militant groups a cease-fire, via the Hurriyat, Pakistan or any interlocutor they choose? They could reassure the Hurriyat that the offer will not undermine them.

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In the meantime, India could interpret President Musharraf’s New York demands more liberally. The Indian government has already begun to redeploy the military out of highly populated areas, and security is now being handed over to the Kashmir police and Central Reserve Police Forces. These are key CBMs which could be made more of, for example by citing them as signs of India’s sincerity in the peace process. To do so will give both the Hurriyat and Pakistan a boost — and it will begin to plug a worrying gap that is emerging. Political and humanitarian talks have finally gotten off the ground, but negotiations for an end to violence are less visible. For the peace process to be irreversible the two need to go in tandem.

The writer is a trustee of the Delhi Policy Group and Professor at Jamia Millia University. Email: radhakumar1900@yahoo.co.in

First published on: 21-09-2005 at 00:04 IST
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