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Subcontinental Drift: Strategic Redeployment
How Delhi can show it wants peace in Kashmir

April 20, 2000
Web posted at 6 p.m. Hong Kong time, 6 a.m. EDT

In recent weeks, New Delhi has indicated a commendable willingness to negotiate with leaders of the separatist rebellion in Indian-held Kashmir. In a gesture of goodwill, the government has released some jailed rebel leaders. Coming after 10 years of ill-conceived and halfhearted moves toward peace, this gesture is not too late--but it might be too little. Reports from Kashmir suggest most people there are suspicious of Delhi's intentions. After all, jailed rebels have been released before, but peace remains elusive.

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The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

From Our Correspondent
Personal perspectives on the news
If Delhi really wants to talk to the rebels, it must first find a way out of the climate of suspicion and hostility. Here's how: pull the Indian Army and paramilitary forces out of Kashmir's towns and cities.

The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME
A military force has no business in civilian centers anyway, and the army's presence in urban area has long since ceased to be a deterrent to separatist activity. On the contrary, since army posts are the target of most rebel attacks, they actually put civilians at risk.

The political and psychological significance of such a withdrawal can hardly be underestimated. Most Kashmiris, whether or not they support the rebels, loathe the army. The presence of armed soldiers and military bunkers in their towns and cities serves as a constant reminder of the thousands of young men who have died in the decade-old rebellion. Human rights groups say soldiers routinely and needlessly harass innocent civilians. Removing the army from sight would help take the edge off the atmosphere of rage that pervades Kashmiri cities like Srinagar.

In any event, the soldiers are needed elsewhere. If, as the Indian government claims, most of the terrorist attacks are conducted by foreigners--mercenaries and mujahedeen from Afghanistan, Sudan and Pakistan--then the army should improve and increase its policing of the border to keep these people out.

Naturally, the withdrawal cannot take place overnight. Kashmir's police force, long subordinate to soldiers and paramilitaries, must be trained and motivated anew. The army will have some time--several months, perhaps--to set up camp elsewhere. But the announcement of Delhi's intentions and a deadline by which the troops must leave will help convince Kashmiris that it means business this time.

NOTE: For those who haven't checked out the Subcontinental Drift bulletin board, I highly recommend the recent exchanges on Kashmir and Indo-Pakistani relations between Alok Rastogi and Omer Siddiqui (starting with # 71). Their messages are carefully reasoned, admirably articulated and exquisitely well mannered.

Both men seem immune to the propaganda of their respective governments. Rastogi, an Indian, says New Delhi may be morally wrong on Kashmir. Siddiqui, a Pakistani, allows that his country's military did not give peace a chance after Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's bus trip to Lahore early last year. Both have also shown extraordinary restraint by refusing to respond to the tauntings of some of their countrymen on the bulletin board.

Make no mistake: Rastogi and Siddiqui have many strong disagreements, not least over the sincerity of Vajpayee's initiative and the credibility of General Musharraf's readiness to negotiate peacefully. But, unlike their governments, both men seem prepared to talk through their differences of opinion.

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