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The Washington Quarterly 24.2 (2001) 175-179

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A Ray of Hope

Michael Krepon

After 11 dark years, rays of light have entered the long tunnel of violence that has enveloped Kashmir, one of the world's most intractable and dangerous problems. Indian prime minister A. B. Vajpayee has promised "bold and innovative steps" if the Pakistani government is prepared to stop supporting militant organizations committed to jihad. Within the last year, the Indian government has announced two month-long cease-fires in Kashmir and has allowed dissident political leaders to travel to Pakistan for talks with government officials and jihadi groups. Pakistan's chief executive, General Pervez Musharraf, has responded by announcing a cease-fire along the line of control dividing Kashmir and by announcing an unspecified retreat of forward-deployed forces.

Peacemaking is a dangerous enterprise in Kashmir because many individuals have vested interests in continued bloodshed. Positive developments can easily be countered by new waves of infiltration and violence once the winter snows melt. In addition, no Kashmiri, Indian, or Pakistani leader has great maneuverability to exit the current morass, and very few have begun to lay the groundwork for a retreat from maximalist positions. Each positive step therefore generates political exposure, and exposure requires backtracking. Nonetheless, something is clearly different in Kashmir today: Kashmiris have begun to imagine an alternative to tragedy. The Bush administration has an opportunity to engage in quiet diplomacy to reinforce a nascent peace process.

Dissident groups in Kashmir have reacted warily but positively to India's diplomatic moves, while militant groups based in Pakistan, largely composed of Punjabis and Afghan Arabs, have vowed to continue the fight. The winter [End Page 175] season, however, is not conducive to infiltration. Instead of making this point, Indian leaders, including the hawkish home minister, L. K. Advani, have publicly noted a marked decrease in violence. Vajpayee hinted that a dialogue with Pakistan--suspended after the high-altitude war in the summer of 1999 and the subsequent Pakistani military takeover by the general who presided over the war--might well be resumed.

Most of the daily violence usually takes place along the line of control, an enduring wound from Great Britain's 1947 partition of the subcontinent. Across this jagged divide, ranging from glacial heights to humid plains, travel well-armed mujahedeen, freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on which side of the divide one resides. Perhaps half of those crossing speak Kashmiri; the remainder are "guest" militants. Six Indian Army divisions are deployed along the line to try to stem infiltration. The militants receive training, communications, and logistical support from Pakistan's army and intelligence services to help them get across. They also have training camps in Afghanistan.

According to Indian Lt. General J. R. Mukherjee, commander of the Fifteenth Corps based in Srinagar, perhaps 3,500 hard-core militants operate in Kashmir. Arrayed against them are approximately 320,000 Indian security forces. Although these numbers strongly favor New Delhi, the rugged terrain and deep public disaffection in Kashmir have so far allowed the militants to retain their foothold. Indian officials believe they are winning the battle against militancy, but local observers find that the recruitment of young Kashmiris is again on the rise. The reserve of foreign jihad fighters in the Pakistan and Afghan pipelines also appears to be bottomless.

Kashmiris have been caught between the desire to remove India's heavy hand and the high costs of doing so. Militancy has produced approximately 34,000 fatalities to date, mostly innocent Kashmiris. Nonetheless, locals rarely voice criticism of foreign militants, whether out of fear or sympathy.

The largest, most important, and most indigenous militant group in Kashmir is the Hizbul Mujahedeen. Last July, the Hizbul's top commander in Kashmir, Abdul Majid Dar, announced a short-lived, unconditional cease-fire that stunned Kashmiris accustomed to unflinching militancy. No opposition political group in Kashmir or Pakistan could have initiated a cease-fire; to do so would have been considered a betrayal of the cause. The Hizbul and Dar, however, have impeccable credentials; they have operated in the line of fire...


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