The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hizb chief brings peace hope

New Delhi, March 28: India hopes that Ahmad Yasin, the commander taking over from slain Hizb-ul Mujahideen leader Majid Dar, will be able to unite Kashmiri separatists on both sides of the border and stop the cycle of violence carried out by “non-Kashmiris and foreigners” in the state.

“This mood among Kashmiri militants for a negotiated settlement has been growing in the last two years. Now is the opportunity for this to snowball into a decisive movement or fritter out and fade away. We are not sure which direction it will take,” a senior official in North Block said. “But we are pretty sure of one thing — that the Pakistan-supported section of Hizb, which believes in violence, will try its best to stop any change in strategy,” the official added.

Yasin is highly respected in militant circles and is expected to carry out the legacy of Dar, who in the last two years had begun to pin hopes on a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir problem. He, in fact, made the first overture to India by declaring a unilateral ceasefire in July 2000. However, the Hizb’s Pakistan-based section led by Syed Salahhudin had opposed the move and it finally frittered out.

Dar may be dead, but the prevalent mood among Hizb fighters is to continue the line adopted by their leader. Whether Yasin will be able to capitalise on this is not yet clear.

However, New Delhi is happy to know that a significant number of Hizb members based in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan favour a tactical shift in strategy. There is a feeling among home-grown militant groups that Kashmiris, especially youths, were being killed needlessly.

Dar and those who sided with him felt a different strategy could be adopted in a post-September 11 world to achieve peace with honour for the people of the state. They knew that violence, even for a just cause, would not be tolerated by the international community.

Echoing separatist sentiments, chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had said at his first victory rally after the elections: “You (militants) have done enough. Too many of our young lives have been sacrificed, it is now time for us the political leaders to carry out your vision of peace with honour for Kashmiris.” Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party had publicly asked the “boys” to lay down their arms and rest while the political leadership would take up their grievances with the Centre. India believes that the churning within the Hizb would result in stepped-up bloodletting in Kashmir as those opposed to a moderate line would try to assert their hold on the movement.

“A number of major attacks could well change the current mindset. A few successful strikes by the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Harkat-ul Mujahideen could give the impression that violence was the only way to force New Delhi to give Kashmiris what they want,” the official said.

Militant groups supported by Pakistan are also well aware of the difference that Mufti has so far made in the state. Pakistan’s strategy, according to sources, is to undermine the chief minister’s position and ruin his credibility.

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