The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hizb offers festival truce

Jammu/Islamabad, Sept. 20: The Hizb-ul Mujahideen has offered a conditional ceasefire in Kashmir during the upcoming Ramazan month, hard on the heels of an ice-breaking meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf.

“We are ready for the ceasefire if the Indian government agrees to bring down troop presence, stop human rights violations, release all political prisoners and recognise Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory,” Hizb spokesperson Ehsan Elahi told The Telegraph in Islamabad.

The familiar conditions have been rejected by Delhi earlier but such stiff terms are usually laid in the run-up to negotiations and are not viewed as the final word.

The Indian foreign ministry said it would react when a formal offer is conveyed.

But sources in Jammu said hectic activity was going on behind the scenes to explore the possibility of a ceasefire during the Ramazan month that will commence next week.

A key factor that has raised hopes of a ceasefire is a perception that Singh and Musharraf might have discussed such a gesture in Havana. Soon after the Havana talks, the United Jihad Council, the umbrella organisation of militant groups that includes Hizb, had met for two days in Pakistan-held Kashmir.

Another positive is a rare political consensus in Kashmir. All main players — the ruling Congress as well as its ally People’s Democratic Party and the Opposition National Conference — are in favour of a truce.

The sources said state officials have been told to draw up ground rules that could be activated if the truce is called.

In case there is a breakthrough, the government wants to avoid a repeat of 2001 when a Ramazan truce fell through largely because of lack of preparation.

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