As expectations run high with what the ‘Ramzan Ceasefire’ can help achieve in the Valley, it must not be confused by Pakistan increasing the tempo of its firing and attacks along the LoC and the IB south of the LoC near Jammu. There was no ‘ceasefire’ intended for conventional firing and retaliation by troops on this frontline. The ceasfire was announced for the Valley. Moreover, the ‘ceasefire’ in Kashmir, is essentially a decision for ‘non-initiation of combat operation’ (NICO). The term ceasefire is being used to avoid the usage of military jargon, just like the word plebiscite, which is not there in the UN resolution on Kashmir, but has come to stay in discussions over the Kashmir issue. However, this latest initiative in the Kashmir valley during the month of Ramzan, is perhaps another attempt by the political leadership(s) in Delhi and Srinagar to get back into the saddle in the Valley. However, there are many reasons why this latest initiative is flawed.
The initial reluctance in Delhi to go along with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s announcement, shows that there were not many takers to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her party’s goodwill gesture to give respite to the locals during the month of Ramzan and announced their desire for a ‘ceasefire. The Raksha Mantri first said an emphatic ‘NO’ to the idea on 13th May, and then came out a few days later in support of this suggestion. Clearly, Delhi had eventually decided to go along with the announcement of its coalition partner (the PDP) in keeping with its repeated attempts to keep alive their political alliance, though somewhat reluctantly so. But whether it will last the full stretch of Ramzan, is anybody’s guess.
Pakistan is going to do what it can to disrupt this initiative, as the Pakistan-based United Jehad Council, headed by Syed Salahuddin, now a US proscribed terrorist, has called the ‘ceasefire’ a cruel joke, without a dialogue and the release of the many hundred Kashmiris from jails, even though the Centre’s interlocutor – Dineshwar Sharma – has begun holding talks, discreetly, with the Hurriyat leadership. But as Pakistan will want to drive the initiative, it will through its proxies do what it can to provoke shootouts in the Valley to mock this initiative, the likes of which hasn’t worked in the past. In 2000, PM Vajpayee’s government twice, once in July 2000 when Hizbul Mujahideen withdrew from the ceasefire as it failed to engage Delhi in talks, and then in November 2000 when militant groups didn’t buy the idea and the security forces suffered many casualties, since their arms were tied to their backs.
With the security forces well on top of the situation before this announcement – since the life span of militants had now been reduced to a few months, against a few years earlier – many of their gains will be lost over the next few weeks. It is apparent that the Delhi-Srinagar political combine has run out of ideas on what can be done to win the political high ground in Kashmir. This is a politico-military problem essentially, and over the past 25 years, there has repeatedly been an absence of ideas or a long term blueprint for peace in the Valley. The military’s role is to contain the situation, and provide grounds for implementing political initiatives and good governance. But the politicians have repeatedly failed to do so. And neither is there any attempt to challenge the strong religious narrative of jehad in Kashmir.
Moreover, with the Valley now under the increasingly strong influence of Wahabbi Islam, the month of Ramzan – the holiest in Islam – is more likely to see attempts by the so called jehadis, inspired as they are by hardline jehad narrative, to die in, than less! The Ramzan ceasefire means little to them. And once they attack the security forces there would be a suitable response, since the ceasefire is simply ‘non-initiation of combat operation’ (NICO). There would of course be a lot of pressure on troops on the ground to ‘go easy’, and this would only strengthen the image of the militant cadres, who will use this truce to recruit and regroup.
This leads us to the central question about the fight against militancy in Jammu & Kashmir: “Has India reached the end of its imagination on what it should do to win the fight over Kashmir?” or “Is there a constituency to keep the Kashmir issue alive, not just in Pakistan but also in India?” And what will be the story after Ramzan? Apparently, the biggest gainers will be the militants, as the leadership in Kashmir will waffle along, pleading for peace, having failed to deliver on all other counts, while the militants eliminate those who support stronger bonds of Kashmiris with mainland India, since the non-initiation of operations (NICO) will restrict the security forces from coming out in support of their supporters, unless they are attacked!