Kashmir: Lost Opportunity of Ramzan Cease Fire

The holy month of Ramzan fell quite early this year commencing on 13 September. September ' October are considered as the peak for militant activities in Jammu and Kashmir in terms of infiltration and disruptive actions given the on set of winters in November with closure of passes. Traditionally when militancy in the Valley is at a low key, there has been a call for cease fire during the Ramzan. This Year as well it was no different.

Syed Salahuddin, Chairman of the United Jehad Council in an interview with a Kashmiri news agency, had indicated that while there were no feelers from the government, 'if an honest and sincere offer about it (ceasefire) comes from responsible quarters in India, the leadership will contemplate about the truce in Ramzan.' The Hurriyat Conference (Moderates) said on 8 September that the Government should respond to the conditional ceasefire offer of the United Jihad Council (UJC) Chairman Syed Sallah-u-din. National Conference president and Member Parliament Omar Abdullah sought a cease-fire between troops and militants in the state as a start to the peace process, 'The process of cease-fire as a mark of respect to holy month of Ramadhan would be an important step towards making the talks process a successful exercise and this demand of ours has also been endorsed in principle by the United Jihad Council (UJC).' These appeals were quite loud and clear. A majority of political opinion in the Valley was for a cease fire and Jammu would have also gone along.  

However Centre and State governments rejected the call. The Defence minister said on 19 September, , 'We cannot decide unilaterally. It depends on them (militant groups) as well.' The Army had already rejected the call as GOC-in-chief of Northern Command, Lt Gen HS Panag stated, 'It may create hurdles in anti-insurgency operations and become a security threat in the months to follow.' General Panag was obviously referring to the break in counter militancy operations during the peak campaigning season and possible scope for recoupment provided to the militant groups.

It is apparent that cease fire was possibly rejected as it may have been felt that this would have provided militants an opportunity to recoup and possibly attain political legitimacy. While the Kashmir based political parties called for a cease fire to win over sympathy of the masses, Syed Salahuddin had failed to indicate if such an initiative would had the approval of his masters, the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan. The recent call by the Lashkar e Taiyyaba's mother organization, the Jamaat ud Dawa to up the ante of proxy war against India was also not in consonance with the UJC's call for a cease fire as the establishment in Pakistan would not have supported the same.

This failed idea also highlighted the problems of politicizing the militancy in Kashmir. There is an apparent disconnect between the state and centre with overlapping functions. In this system the ultimate authority for taking a call on cease fire would be the Prime Minister. With preoccupation with the weighty issue of Indo US Nuclear Deal, it is not clear if he would have found time to attend to this important and time critical issue. On the other hand the state government which is also considerably influenced by the Army's view did not feel that this was appropriate particularly so when it came as a suggestion from its competing partner the PDP and opposing National Conference. An opportunity to bring some relief to the people in Kashmir was lost. For they would not have to live by the daily sound of gunfire, during the Holy month.

The politics in Kashmir is now heating up with elections expected next year. Thus each party is attempting to make its agenda clear to the public. The National Conference seems to be rooting for development, cessation of hostilities, participation of the separatists in the elections process and human rights all emotive issues for the Valley public. Similar issues are being taken up by the PDP with its roots in Kashmir. The Congress on the other hand is banking on its support base in the Jammu region. Given the considerable improvement in the security situation in the area, the Congress hopes that it would be able to do an encore of 2002 when it won overwhelming support in Jammu. Thus Ramzan Cease Fire was not a priority for the Chief Minister.

Unless the policies of the government seek people oriented solutions by taking bold decisions, the so called battle of the hearts and minds is not likely to be won by the state forces. The Ramzan cease fire provided just such an opportunity missed by the state.  


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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