- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Yesterday Kashmiris were savoring the first real hope in years for peace in the disputed Himalayan region following the declaration of a cease-fire between the Indian army and the area's largest militant group.
But after hard-line elements in both Pakistan and India issued uncompromising statements it became clear how hard it will be to end a dispute that has already sparked two wars between the nuclear-armed Asian neighbors.
One such statement came over the weekend from Pakistani Islamist leader Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who cut short a visit to the United States to return home and denounce the cease-fire as a "Jewish-Indian" plot.
Indian army officials announced Saturday they would not initiate any attacks against Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest of 14 guerrilla organizations who have been fighting since 1989 against Indian occupation of the breathtakingly beautiful Kashmir Valley.
Maj. Gen. Basant Singh said his troops had not carried out any action against Islamic militants since Tuesday, when news spread that Hizbul had declared a unilateral cease-fire and asked for unconditional talks with the Indian government.
"There will be no deliberate attempt against the militants on our part," Gen. Singh said, according to the Associated Press. "We have issued instructions to all our field commanders to stop these offensive operations."
Even before the Indian army announcement, retired Brig. Gen. Shaukat Qadir, vice president of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute in Pakistan, said in an interview that the peace moves were extremely important.
"What's happening now the [Hizbul] cease-fire is a major shift," said the general, who stepped down two years ago. "There is genuinely a chance in Kashmir today.
Only a military government like that now in power in Pakistan "can take a softer tone in Kashmir," the general added.
He also took encouragement from a proposal floated this month by the state government in Indian-held Kashmir for autonomy for the region. It was at first shot down by the federal government in New Delhi, fearing autonomy would encourage separatist groups elsewhere in India. But the government is giving it a second look now that peace feelers are in the air.
The drift toward peace after a decade of fighting that has claimed 30,000 lives began when Hizbul Mujahideen commanders held a secret news conference last week to declare a unilateral three-month cease-fire.
Commander Abdul Majid Dar said the group hoped to counter the international view that they are terrorists and opposed to peace an impression that has hurt their cause.
The guerrilla groups in Kashmir many of whom recruit and raise funds in Pakistan also realize that India has emerged as Washington's favorite in the region either as a future ally against China or due to Pakistan's loss of value since the Cold War ended.
Finally, Pakistani military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, while insisting he still supports jihad, or holy war, in Kashmir, is increasingly focused on his country's distressed economy and other domestic problems.
Hizbul Mujahideen's announcement was met with scorn by the other militant groups, who quickly announced they would continue the armed struggle and were expelling Hizbul from their umbrella organization, United Jihad.
Nevertheless, India on Friday invited Hizbul to surface and hold talks without insisting as they previously had that talks be held in the context of the Indian constitution, which defines Kashmir as a part of India.
The peace feeler quickly came under attack from both sides of the border, beginning with the return from Washington of Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the head of the largest Islamic party in Pakistan and the political wing of Hizbul.
"Hizbul Mujahideen has actually sabotaged my efforts as the cease-fire came as I was busy telling people in the U.S. that India was involved in terrorist activities in Pakistan and Kashmir," he said in an interview published Saturday in Pakistan.
"There is a growing realization of the fact that a Jewish-India collaboration exists. Arabs are getting more conscious of this," he said.
On the Indian side, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra suggested on Saturday that any talks would have to be held within the context of the Indian constitution after all.
Hizbul responded yesterday that such a precondition was unacceptable, saying in a formal statement that it "once again rejects talks with India within the constitution."

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