- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2001

NEW DELHI Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee faces a showdown with hard-liners in his own party when his Cabinet decides today whether to extend a 3-month-old cease-fire in Kashmir.

Opposition to an extension is expected to be led by Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani.

The decision comes amid simmering anger in Kashmir after Indian security forces last week fired into a demonstration, killing five persons.

"We have had 28 custodial killings in the last two months, so what do we need a cease-fire for?" asked Abdul Ghani Butt, a member of the main Kashmiri Muslim political umbrella group, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, (APHC).

"All sanctity for such a [cease-fire] is lost if you can't exercise control over your own forces," he said.

The APHC had suggested in November that some of its leaders be allowed to visit Pakistan, which also claims Kashmir, to start a three-way dialogue. But the Home Ministry failed to produce the passports required for the trip.

"The peace initiative was a laudable idea, but the next step was never taken," Mr. Butt said. "A unilateral cease-fire cannot work on its own; the leadership in Pakistan must be taken into account."

Those opposed to renewing the cease-fire point out that more civilians and security personnel have been killed since it began than in the two months preceding it.

"The cease-fire only lets the militants breathe more easily," said Ashok Krishna of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi, a retired major general who opposed the cease-fire from the beginning.

"Even if the cease-fire is extended for another month, cross-border terrorism from Pakistan will renew with the onset of summer, and then the cease-fire will have to end," he said.

Caught between the two poles, Mr. Vajpayee has blamed Pakistan for not doing more to halt attacks by Muslim militants on Indian security forces in Kashmir.

India also accused Pakistan of sending two military reconnaissance planes into Indian airspace on Monday in what it called an attempt to sabotage the peace process. Pakistan denied there was any intrusion.

In 1999, the Indian army and Pakistan-backed militants fought a 10-week engagement in the Indian-controlled Kargil region of Kashmir, sparking fears of a wider war between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Some analysts say Mr. Vajpayee has only himself blame for his problems.

"He should have started a dialogue with the Kashmiris," said Muchkund Dubey, a former senior Indian diplomat and expert on Kashmir affairs.

"Unfortunately this has not happened and when you have not thought about how to deal with the crux of the problem, what is the point of having a cease-fire just for the sake of it?"

Others accuse him of sacrificing civilian lives to burnish his image as a dove, especially with the new Bush administration.

"Damn the international dimension," said Mr. Krishna. "The fact is that we can only talk about cease-fires in the state when we have brought an end to cross-border terrorism."

In an unusual step, the governing coalition has called a meeting of all the political parties in India before the Cabinet meeting. There are signs that for the first time since the start of the cease-fire, the support will be less than total.

"If [the government] is not going to implement the cease-fire on the ground, then there is no point extending it," said Ghulam Nabi Azad, a senior member of the main opposition Congress party.

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