Most security analysts commenting on the Prime Minister's unilateral declaration of ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan have completely missed the primary motivation for the initiative - it reflects the overwhelming desire of the Kashmiri people for peace. Disgusted at Pakistan's shenanigans on Kashmir and its clumsy attempts to derail the peace process through massacres perpetrated by foreign mercenaries, in the post-Kargil period, the Kashmiri people have been increasingly coming forward with "Actionable" intelligence about the movements, hideouts and arms caches of Pakistan-sponsored militants.
Most security analysts commenting on the Prime Minister’s unilateral declaration of ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir during the holy month of Ramzan have completely missed the primary motivation for the initiative — it reflects the overwhelming desire of the Kashmiri people for peace. The Kashmiri people had spontaneously welcomed the government’s quick acceptance of the Hizbul Mujahideen’s ceasefire offer in August. For the first time since 1989-90, a government move had generated an electrifying wave of excitement and a glimmer of hope for the future. Disappointment had soon followed at the abrupt abrogation of the ceasefire at Pakistan’s behest. The present initiative will again dispel the pall o gloom that has weighed heavily on the people’s psyche for over a decade. Time was when the Dal lake was constantly dotted with gaily decorated shikaras full of cheerful honeymooners and tourists, Indian and foreign. Houseboats were booked In advance and all the hotels and guesthouses had in-season occupancy rates of over one hundred per cent in Srinagar as well as in Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonmarg. In fact, the entire 300-km stretch of the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway 1A resembled one long picnic spot during the Summer months. Young Kashmiri couples mingled freely with tourists at the exquisitely laid Shalimar and Nishat Mughal gardens and the beautiful Chashm-e-Shahi retreat. The golf course nestling between the Dal lake and the pine-covered majestic mountains overlooking it was always so full that one had to wait patiently for hours to tee off. The walkways along the lake were crowded with ponies carrying children.
The Kashmiri people revelled in this annual influx because
the tourists were their primary source of livelihood. The hardy men rowed the shikaras, walked alongside their ponies, plied their taxis and minibuses and acted as guides. The pretty Kashmiri women sold flowers and vegetables from boats on the Dal lake or stayed at home to embroider namdas and weave fine pashmina shawls. There was a thriving trade in Kashmiri silk carpets and intricately carved walnut furniture. Lal Chowk was crammed with shoppers and hawkers. It was not the barricaded fortress that it has been for over ten years. Apple and saffron blossoms lent their own enchantment to the verdant picturesque Valley — “heaven on earth” in the words of the poet Firdaus. Kashmiri cuisine was extremely popular and visitors looked forward to the wazwan, a traditional feast.
The faithful regularly answered the muezzin’s calls for prayers and both Hindus and Muslims joined hands to celebrate Id and Diwali and other Indian festivals. The Sufi culture of Kashmir was tolerant and completely secular. Kashmiriyat was characterised by a remarkable gentility and respectful accommodation of different shades of opinion. Though there were many political hiccups and much to be agitated about, the Kashmiris studiously avoided a confrontationist approach for over 40 years. Then the Kalashnikov culture and Islamist fundamentalism came in from the west through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and the militants’ guns shattered the peace and tranquillity of the fair Vale of Kashmir. The Talibanisation of Kashmir gradually eroded the Sufi culture in which the Kashmiris took so much pride. The people’s lives were being increasingly governed by fatwas and diktats issued by militant organisations. After 10 years of mayhem, the Kashmiris now want to piece together their broken lives again and Prime Minister Vajpayee has given them just that opportunity.
Pakistan’s ignominious defeat at the hands of the Indian army in the Kargil conflict was a denouement in more senses than one — a turning point in its “proxy war” with India. Realisation dawned on the people of J&K that they had been backing the wrong horse under false assumptions. If Pakistan’s regular soldiers could be dislodged so quickly from easily defensible positions on high-altitude mountain tops, what chance did the Pakistan army have of annexing Kashmir militarily? The carefully fostered myth of -Mujahideen invulnerability was also shattered. The Kashmiris were forced to ask themselves how a failing state under a military dictatorship that brutalises its own people could help them realise their hopes and aspirations. The recent poll that found almost 70 per cent Pakistanis wishing to leave their country because they see no future in it for themselves, served to reinforce the emerging belief of the Kashmiris that casting their lot with Pakistan and looking to it for help was a blunder.
The Kashmiri people had been appalled at the brutal massacres engineered at the ISI’s behest at Chattisinghpura during President Clinton’s visit to portray Kashmir as a nuclear flashpoint. The senseless killings of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims at Pahalgam by Lashkar-e-Toiba mercenaries to scuttle India’s acceptance of the Hizbul Mujahideen ceasefire often further alienated them. They also did not fail to notice how Syed Salahuddin had been pressurised to renege on his cease-fire offer on the pretext of Pakistan not being accepted as a party to the negotiations. The message in Pakistan’s stalling tactics was loud and clear — they were motivated only by their own vested interests that clashed with the Kashmiris’ desire for peace. The people realised that they had been naive in banking on Pakistan to find a final solution to their problems. Even Amanullah Khan has reportedly said that the Kashmiris had chosen the wrong vakil (advocate) to espouse their cause.
Disgusted at Pakistan’s shenanigans on Kashmir and its clumsy attempts to derail the peace process through massacres perpetrated by foreign mercenaries, in the post-Kargil period, the Kashmiri people have been increasingly coming forward with “actionable” intelligence about the movements, hideouts and arms caches of Pakistan-sponsored militants. The results of army operations against the militants have been outstanding during the post Kargil period. There has also been a marked increase in the number of weapons captured from the militants. The credit for this achievement goes as much to the Kashmiri people as to the Army.
By clearly endorsing the Prime Minister’s cease-fire offer, the average Kashmiri has given his verdict for peace. Whether in peace marches in the Valley or at a symposium in Gurgaon, the Kashmiri people and their leaders, including most of those in the All Party Hurriyat Conference, have expressed themselves in favour of peace and have implored militant organisations not to fritter away the opportunity provided by the Ramzan respite. By timing its ceasefire offer to coincide with the holy month of Ramzan, the government has signalled its sensitivity to the sensibilities of the Muslim community and has given an indication of its desire to be reasonable in future negotiations. It has also put the Musharraf regime on notice that while India is willing to move forward to find an amicable political solution to the Kashmir issue within the framework of insaniyat, Pakistan too has the responsibility of restraining its dogs of war.
Pakistan must now prove to the world that it is sincere about the first three R’s-respect for the LoC, restraint and rejection of violence — before it demands the fourth, that is, resumption of dialogue with India, “any time, any where”, as its Chief Executive has been saying.
The Kashmiri people’s struggle for political autonomy has now reached a strategic crossroads. They can grab the opportunity provided by the Ramzan truce with both hands and, by adopting a proactive stance as they appear to be doing, force at least the indigenous Kashmiri militant organisations (like the Hizbul Mujahideen) to smoke the peace pipe with India. Alternatively, they can treat the present ceasefire as a tactical pause and allow the militants and the terrorists to continue to call the shots and rule their lives with fundamentalist Islamist fervour.
In all likelihood, driven by the futility and the disastrous consequences of 10 years of militancy, the Kashmiri people have made the choice already. They clearly wish to get on with their lives by opting to throw in their lot with a rapidly growing, pluralistic and secular India that is likely to be willing to give them the political autonomy they seek, rather, than befriend a self-serving, Talibanised Pakistan that is on the verge of becoming a failed state.