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Cautious Delhi factors in stray strikes

New Delhi, May 4: Senior bureaucrats dealing with Jammu and Kashmir believe there could be a lull in violence as the momentum for peace builds up, despite bloodletting increasing after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to the state.

“If everything goes according to plan, we expect a temporary lull. Not that the violence will stop completely, but perhaps there will not be any spectacular attacks with the potential to derail the current engagement. Let’s see what finally happens,” said a senior official who did not wish to be identified.

India believes Pakistan cannot afford to immediately call a halt to violence, which did not abate despite peace overtures. “It will only prove what we had been saying all along — that the ISI is responsible for the bleed-India policy. So stray attacks will not stop. Nor will India go soft on militants. Our action against terror groups will certainly not ease out,” he added.

The Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government in the state is keeping a close watch on the situation. “So far so good,” said an aide to the chief minister. “But it is early days yet and we do not want to make any quick judgements.” The state administration, like officials in Delhi, is also hopeful that the level of violence will come down in the next few weeks.

A day after the Hizb-ul Mujahideen was added to the US list of terrorist organisations, the outfit yesterday welcomed the peace moves between India and Pakistan. Indian officials had welcomed the US action, not so much because it would make a difference in the ground situation in Kashmir, but because of the message it seeks to convey to those relying on terrorist tactics to achieve their ends.

“It is a clear signal that terrorist tactics, however just the cause, will no longer be tolerated. The message should go home to all outfits wanting to use violence as a weapon,” said a home ministry official.

When the ban on the Hizb finally comes into force in the US, it may not make any difference to the organisation in Kashmir, said the home ministry official.

“The Hizb operates mainly from India and Pakistan. It does not have much of a network in the US, though some funding may come from Kashmiris settled there. But the decision to label it a terrorist organisation is an indication of how much the world has changed since September 11,” he explained.

However, Hurriyat leader and its former chairman, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, has exhorted Kashmiris to continue fighting for their rights. Geelani issued a statement yesterday criticising Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri’s statement that trade issues will be discussed before Kashmir. Pakistan today claimed Kasuri was misquoted.

Geelani said Pakistan was under both “visible and invisible pressure” and hinted the country was “softening its stand and could well accept for its national self-interest the LoC as a permanent boundary between India and Pakistan”.

Geelani, however, said: “I am happy with the latest peacemaking efforts between India and Pakistan. It appears that Islamabad might backtrack from its known stand on Kashmir and seek improvement in relations with India by opening new avenues on the trade front.”

The Hurriyat leader pointed out: “Islamabad might eventually declare that security and integrity are supreme for it.... All this shall be justified by chanting the slogan ‘teri jan meri jan, sab say pehlay Pakistan’ and by citing the plight of Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

But Indian officials shrugged off Geelani’s statement. They said he would finally follow Islamabad’s directives and did not reflect the opinion of the majority of Kashmiris who had welcomed the peace initiative.

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