India has lost the high ground
"The talks are an admission that the Kashmiri resistance is indigenous" says Ayaz Amir
For a change Pakistan is sitting back and, albiet with some anxiety, watching the show. It is not enjoying it because everything is not in its control.Moreover, killings and massacres, the kind that have taken place in the aftermath of the ceasefire announcement by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in Indian-controlled Kashmir, require a Roman appetite to be enjoyed-something which, sceptics notwithstanding, Pakistan has yet to acquire.
From Pakistans point of view, the risk in the Hizb decision is that it might end up weakening the Kashmiri resistance. Suppose nothing comes of the ceasefire except Indian filibustering and the desire to exploit a tactical opening? The Hizb then will be driven to join battle once again. But will it be able to regain lost momentum? And how will it answer charges that it embarked upon a major initiative with little or no preparation?
But as opposed to the risk which remains to be calculated, the good in the Hizb offer, again from Pakistans point of view, is immediately apparent. In one stroke, the focus has shifted from "cross-border terrorism", the stick with which India was beating Pakistan since Kargil, to the internal situation in Kashmir. Negotiating with the Hizb is a tacit admission of the indigenous character of the Kashmiri resistance. By the same token, it is an acknowledgment that the Hizb is not an ISI surrogate, the brush with which India has tried to tar every Kashmiri resistance outfit post-Kargil. If this were not so, would the Indian government be putting its prestige on the line by negotiating indirectly with the ISI?
No, the Hizb initiative has laid to rest Pakistans worst nightmare since Kargil: "cross-border terrorism". This is a cow India has milked for all it was worth. But to do so again, or with the same enthusiasm and intensity, will be difficult. Tragic as the Amarnath and other killings are, even these, if not seen through the fog of partisan propaganda, point to the domestic nature of Kashmirs troubles. It is easy to blame the ISI just as it is easy to blame RAW for anything that happens in Pakistan. But to say that the ISI is behind the killings, that it can remote-control events from across the Kashmir mountains, is to ascribe to it an omnipotence and skill that even with the resources of the old KGB it would not possess.
Pakistan is beset by other troubles : IMF deadlines, out-of-season lectures on democracy. American cussedness--the last more pronounced since Bill Clinton fell in love with India and India rediscovered the United States. All the talk of Kashmir adventurism, betrayal of the Lahore Declaration, militarism along the LoC was not letting Pakistan breathe.
This pressure has eased now even if the talks are being conducted at a derisively low level. The Hizb, after all, is the Viet Cong of the Kashmiri resistance and who has India sent to negotiate with it--a home office mandarin. It is worth remembering that bureaucrats and guerilla fighters do not make the most ideal of negotiating partners.
But what will come of the talks which have started on this low-key note in Srinagar? There may be some promise in the air but it is hard to believe that the twain can meet unless one side surrenders its entrenched positions. Can the Hizb, stepping into Farooq Abdullahs shoes, forget the past and its sacrifices and negotiate bits and pieces of autonomy with India? Can India accept the notion of tripartite talks, eventually involving Pakistan, which the Hizb and other fighter outfits insist on? Can India put the future of Kashmir on the discussion table? If both these positions are wide apart, if not totally irreconcilable, it will require a tremendous conjuring act to bring them together.
(Ayaz Amir is a columnist for The Dawn, Karachi)
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