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EDITORIAL: 1-15 March 2001

Ceasefire not an end in itself

Extension of the ceasefire in the Valley yet again by the central government should be welcomed. It is the third time in as many months that the Vajpayee government has extended 'ceasefire.' The extension of the truce for another, and longer period than before, should be a ray of hope for the harassed people of the Valley as well as all those people in the Subcontinent who dream of an end to the silly hostility between the quarelling twins.

Notwithstanding the extension, the government of India has been giving strong indications that it is no longer interested in extending truce in the strife-torn Valley. A number of senior leaders of the government, including the prime minister, were talking tough on the eve of the extension of the truce. But it seems that the government was under immense pressure from abroad as well as from all major political parties to extend the truce for another term. It was a unanimous decision and the credit for this extension goes to all political parties, be it in government or in the opposition.

It was said by the government time and again that Pakistan was not doing enough to restrain Jehadi organizations functioning from 'Azad Kashmir,' controlled by Pakistan. It has also objected on numerous occasions to the fact that the Pakistani Jehadi organizations are functioning openly and collecting contributions in every nook and corner of Pakistan. Despite the belligerent postures, firing on the Line of Actual Control has drastically come down and now less than ten percent of the usual firing is taking place.

There is another fact that should be taken into account . This is perhaps more bitter as we usually fail to see and correct our own mistake. Over the last three months since the truce was first announced there has not been any perceptible change, other than the fanfare following the truce offer, in the handling of the civilians by the Army and other paramilitary personnel. Killings have continued unabated and the government has not been able to move the process forward in political terms. It seems New Delhi has no clear perception of the political settlement and is waiting for other players to come forward with a plan. The latest killings of peaceful protesters in Haigam and Maisuama are proof that there is no perceptible change in the security forces' handling of strife. It is reported that not a single official or J&K minister has visited the relatives of the fifteen-year-old boy killed by a security officer while protesting against the killing of protesters in Haigam. The case of an innocent imam in a remote north Kashmir village who was tortured mercilessly, his feet set on fire and the skin peeled off without any evidence does not match our commitment to restraint.

The ceasefire, in this perspective, seems a ploy to satisfy foreign critics, especially the US and the short-period extensions mean that the government is not serious about a lasting settlement. Extensions every few weeks are designed to send a message that India is serious about a settlement while nothing concrete is being offered on the ground or on table of talks.

We will have to take some practical steps to prove our sincerity. It seems that we have been taking ceasefire as an end in itself. We seem to have forgotten that it is only a small step towards maintaining peace in the valley and in the Subcontinent. Ceasefire is not an end in itself. Despite high hopes Hurriyet leaders are yet to be allowed to visit Pakistan which of late has been giving strong indications that it is, at last, prepared not to insist on tripartite talks and will be content to join in at a later stage. Pakistan has also started taking harsh and unpopular steps against the Jihadi outfits and curbing their activities on its soil. Musharraf regime is taking steps unheard in the 53-years-long history of Pakistan. No regime so far was able to collect enough courage to take any step limiting the freedom of such organizations. Yet we are still parroting the old line that Pakistan must prepare the grounds for talks as if Delhi has no positive role to play.

It is most opportune time in the fifty-three-years long history of animosity between the two countries. Peace of the brave is at hand but only the brave, the far-sighted, can open a new chapter of mutual trust and friendship. Despite having more than hundred reasons to come closer, our shortsightedness and politically weak leadership in both the countries has not allowed us to take steps that could strengthen mutual trust and friendship. It is time that we awaken from slumber and take some concrete steps in the cause of peace and strengthen the historical bonds that bind the two countries together. 
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