Nothing provides a more revealing clue to the Kashmir tangle than the unique unanimity with which Kashmiris hailed the call by the leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Syed Salahuddin, for a ceasefire on August 17. That includes two former chief ministers, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Farooq Abdullah; presidents of two unionist parties, the PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and the NC’s Omar Abdullah; and leaders of both the factions of the Hurriyat, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Equally instructive is the fact that two days later, four militant groups, namely, Al-Nasireen, Farzandan-e-Millat, Save Kashmir Movement and Al-Arifeen, criticised the HM.
The LeT and the Jaish are not members of the 13-member United Jehad Council (UJC) that Salahuddin heads. Last April, the HM censured in the weekly Chattan the Jamiatul Mujahideen’s use of hand grenades as a breach of the UJC’s code of conduct. It opposed the LeT and the Jaish’s ban on TV channels and any disruption of the Amarnath yatra.
The August 17 offer must be read in the context of the HM’s failed ceasefire in 2000, opposition by other militants and the diplomatic setting. It conveys two messages: the HM is ready to perform in the political field and it will not be bypassed.
The offers began to be made recently, even as talks on Kashmir between India and Pakistan were resumed in earnest. On December 10, 2004, Salahuddin said that he was ready to provide “any and every kind of help which would lead to a desired solution of the Kashmir issue”. But “until and unless India does not display its sincerity and seriousness in addressing the basic and core issue of Kashmir, there seems no logic or merit in kicking off the second truce”.
His commander, Abdul Majeed Dar, had declared a unilateral ceasefire on July 24, 2000, but it was called off on August 8. The record shows why that was done. On July 25, the very next day, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee said that the talks would be held “within the framework of the Constitution”. No such precondition was put to Naga leaders. To Dar, the ceasefire was a prelude to talks that “aim at the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute”. The UN resolutions were there, “but after that a new stand based on trilateral dialogue, involving the representatives of Kashmir, emerged”.
Salahuddin said the same on July 25. Two days later, he rejected Vajpayee’s stipulation and threatened to end the ceasefire. “The ceasefire has been announced for a permanent settlement of the Kashmir dispute… India must, therefore, start a meaningful dialogue with the Government of Pakistan and the Kashmiri leadership.” When New Delhi persisted with its stipulation, Salahuddin threatened on July 29 to end the ceasefire.
On July 31, he accused India of lack of earnest and asked it to “agree to tripartite dialogue which should comprise Kashmiris, Pakistan and India… It now depends on India. We have not given up the armed struggle”. He nominated a Hurriyat member, Fazlul Haq Qureshi, as his pointsman.
Vajpayee did not call off the scheduled talks despite the massacre of nearly a hundred persons at Pahalgam on August 2. But he ruled out, at Srinagar the next day, any tripartite talks on Kashmir involving Pakistan even in the near future. President Clinton called him that day to urge talks with Pakistan. But the PMO declared on August 3 that “there was no basis for a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan”.
At the Nehru Guest House in Srinagar on August 3, Home Secretary Kamal Pande presented to the HM’s representatives terms for surrender, assurances of personal safety and demand for its cooperation “so that elements opposed to this process could be identified and isolated”, Pande revealed publicly. The HM was asked to become a body of renegade militants like the government-floated Ikhwans. Qureshi was provoked to ask: “They (other militants) are also our brothers in the struggle. How can we betray them?”
The tactics employed by officials were unprecedented in such talks anywhere in the world. They were designed to expose to the public the HM’s men so that they would have no option but to surrender. Arrangements were in place to photograph and film them. “Don’t shoot us. Our lives are in danger,” one of them pleaded. That was the purpose of the staged show. The film was instantly splashed on TV screens. Most of the HM members were killed later, including the leader Commander Masood.
Masood had said on August 3 that “Pakistan would be included at a later stage… without Pakistan no talks could be held”. The HM’s Supreme Council met that day. It declared that “the ceasefire would be called off on August 8 if India did not agree to include Pakistan in the talks”. On August 5, when the talks were to be resumed, Salahuddin said he was prepared to drop “the UN resolutions” for tripartite talks. But on August 6, Vajpayee once again ruled out any talks with Pakistan. He said on August 7 that “what is important is that underground terrorist groups should be brought overground”. An official had declared earlier that “the government will insist that the HM’s cadres disarm themselves”.
Not surprisingly, the HM ended the ceasefire on August 8. The myth of “sabotage of the peace process by Pakistan” implies that the HM was prepared to surrender despite its insistence on political talks, with Pakistan’s eventual participation.
Salahuddin left the door ajar even after the ceasefire ended. He said on September 17, “Let India and Pakistan start. They can involve Kashmiris later. Alternatively, Kashmiris and Delhi can start the dialogue”, provided the three “meet during the decisive phase of the dialogue”. He renewed his offer recently against this background. “If India invites us, we will definitely come to the table,” he said on April 16, 2005. His conditions were: the talks must focus on Kashmir; release of prisoners from jails; withdrawal of troops, etc.
The August 17 offer has the usual stipulations with a clear hint that the HM is prepared to negotiate. Salahuddin’s hint on August 7, 2005, is very significant. If President Pervez Musharraf were to assure him that India would, indeed, fulfil his conditions and negotiate, he would declare a ceasefire.
In 2000, there was no Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir. Now there is. The HM has declared its readiness to contest the polls if their fairness is guaranteed. Add to it assurances of respect for human lives and civil liberties and give the HM a firm basis for a ceasefire.