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Counterpoint

A Journey Through Violence

Even as measures like the bus link may go a long way in removing some of the chronic mistrust between the two countries, they will do little to alter the fundamentals of the basic conflict in and over Kashmir.

A Journey Through Violence
A Journey Through Violence
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53


In what is being perceived as a win-win situation for both India and Pakistan, both the countries agreed on February 16 to commence a bus link from April 7, 2005, between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, the respective capitals of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

While much of the hype surrounding the decision is on expected lines, given the current 'honeymoon', as the media would have it, between Delhi and Islamabad, it has been made amply clear that this confidence building measure (CBM) does not, in any manner, change the stated positions of either country on the status of J&K. Indian Foreign Secretary, Shyam Saran, noted in Islamabad on February 16 that "It is a humanitarian procedure that we have adopted." The bus would bring together sundered families and communities living across the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB).

The proposal for such a service was first floated in July 2001 during the Agra Summit between the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway, known in the Kashmir Valley as the Uri road, was closed in 1947 after the formation of Pakistan. Prior to Partition, the approximately 170 kilometre highway was the only road that connected Kashmir with the rest of the world. The road commences from Srinagar and reaches Muzaffarabad, via Baramulla and Uri in India, and Kohla and Kotli in Pakistan.

The route has significant historical importance. While the 16th century Mughal emperor, Akbar, is believed to have once marched into Kashmir through this route, the road was also the main trade link between Kashmir and the rest of the world, linking the Valley with Afghanistan and China.

Humanitarian considerations have been paramount in this decision, and the opening of the bus link will allow many Kashmiri families, on both sides, to visit each other frequently. Over time, it may also help boost the economy of the region. For instance, if there is an agreement to send fruits, a mainstay of the Kashmiri economy, to Muzaffarabad through this route, this could plausibly open several new trade avenues.

Politically, J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has expressed the opinion that, once the people of PoK start coming to India, they would see that people in the Indian side of Kashmir were much better off. Tahir Mohiuddin, editor of the Srinagar-based Urdu weekly, Chattan, notes, "There is a lot of propaganda in PoK that Kashmiris in India are not allowed to pray and are very poor. Once they come here and see, it will be an eye opener for them." The free movement of people, it is believed, would allay misconceptions about each other on the two sides of the Line of Control (LoC). It is useful to note, in this context, that many Pakistan-based Jehadi groups are headquartered in Muzaffarabad or have 'camp offices' in the area.

While this "mother of all CBMs" as one Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official expressed it, has been hailed as the boldest peace move between the two countries, terrorist groups, unsurprisingly, have been vocal in their opposition. The Al-Mansooran - a front organization of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) - claimed that the bus service deal was due to political compulsions. "The agreement reached between the two countries on the bus service will have no bearing on the ongoing struggle in the Valley," said Umer Mukhtar, a spokesman of the outfit. 

At least three terrorist groups, while declaring their opposition, have threatened to disrupt the bus service. "This will weaken the idea of Kashmir uniting with Pakistan. This is a conspiracy by India to weaken jihad… We will see what benefits India wants to get from this bus service. .. we will certainly try to stop it," Mufti Abdur Rauf, a spokesperson for the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), told The Associated Press in Pakistan on February 17. Echoing a similar line, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) chief, Syed Salahuddin, in a statement issued from Muzaffarabad claimed the bus service was unimportant and "is a failed effort to put ointment on the wounds of Kashmiris." Further, a leader of the LeT, Yahya Mujahid, told AFP: "This cosmetic gesture will not curb the demand of freedom by Kashmiris." Clearly, passenger security will be a key issue when the bus rolls out on April 7.

While the world has sought to focus on the 'peace process' in J&K, it is clear that the extremist intent has not been altered on the ground, though there has been some diminution of extremist capacities. Recent weeks have seen a spate of killings of political activists in the aftermath of the enormous participation in civic body elections (electoral turnouts averaged a satisfactory 45.5 per cent), held after a gap of 27 years. 47 civilians have been killed in January 2005, compared to 32, 26 and 26 in the preceding months of October, November and December 2004. At least three of the newly elected Councilors have been killed thus far. 

The newly elected member of the National Conference (NC) and the would-be Mayor of Srinagar, Mohammad Maqbool Khaksar, was shot dead in the capital's Jawahar Nagar area on February 9, 2005. His assassination came a day after the killing of the People's Democratic Party's (PDP) elected member and would-be chairman of the Beerwah Municipal Committee in Budgam district, Ghulam Mohiuddin Mir. After Khaksar's death, his party had threatened that all elected Councilors belonging to the NC would resign en masse if adequate security was not provided to them. 

Due to threats held out by terrorist groups, three newly elected Municipal Councilors resigned on February 17, taking the number of Councilors who have resigned under extremist pressure to six. Strikingly, three of those who resigned have tendered a 'public apology' for taking part in the democratic exercise. In Anantnag town, two Councilors reportedly said during the Friday prayers at a mosque: "We seek your forgiveness in the name of Allah and we dissociate ourselves from the polls. We have quit our seats and resigned from the party. We now have nothing to do with the civic bodies." An unconfirmed report added that ten newly elected members made public announcements of their resignation from the civic bodies on February 11.

These assassinations and resignations underline one of the more disturbing consequences of the ongoing peace process. Increasingly, while the political discourse shapes itself along expected incremental lines, the disturbing fact is that sustained and calibrated levels of terrorist violence appear to be gradually getting deeply intertwined within the larger rubric of the peace process.

The bus agreement sets the tone for the further deepening of people-to-people links, as well as other critical linkages. Indian Foreign Minister, Natwar Singh, in his statement at Islamabad, said both sides have agreed to look at the oil pipeline from Iran through Pakistan, subject to the satisfaction of India's concerns relating to security and assured supplies. "We also agreed to start a bus service between Amritsar and Lahore and to religious places such as Nankana Sahib and instructed our officials to tie up technical details," added Singh. While the procedure of bringing an oil pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan is to be decided tri-laterally, prospects for such a venture, currently, remain grim in view of the continuing attacks on gas pipelines and other vital installations in the insurgency-wracked Balochistan province, on the Pakistan-Iran border.

While there has been a secular decline of violence in J&K since 2001, an end to the bloodshed in the state seems as unlikely as it was at any given point since the dramatic escalation of the militancy in 1989. Even as measures like the bus link may go a long way in removing some of the chronic mistrust between the two countries, they will do little to alter the fundamentals of the basic conflict in and over Kashmir. 


Kanchan Lakshman is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor, Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution. Courtesy, South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

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