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Subcontinental Drift: Hair-Trigger
Why the cease-fire in Kashmir cannot last

August 3, 2000
Web posted at 2:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 2:00 a.m. EDT

By the time you read this, the cease-fire in Kashmir may have ended--I'd be surprised if it lasts the week. Already, the Hizbul Mujahideen, one of Kashmir's innumerable separatist groups, is under intense pressure from other groups (and their backers in Pakistan) to return to arms. And the massacre of more than 90 Indian villagers and pilgrims by suspected Islamic groups on Tuesday and Wednesday, coming on the heels of the killings of six Indian soldiers in Kashmir on Monday, will doubtless have the Indian Army itching to return fire. I'd love to be wrong on this one, but the omens don't look good.

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The cease-fire was called last week by the Hizbul--perhaps the largest armed group in the disputed territory--which unilaterally offered to hold fire for three months, to "give peace a chance." This is a highly unusual gesture, and it sparked off all manner of second-guessing on its reasons and reliability. In response, the Indian government offered to open talks with the Hizbul leadership, and the Indian Army said it was stopping all operations against the group.

The Subcontinental Drift message board -- sound-off about the news in South Asia to TIME

But other separatists promptly attacked the Hizbul, accusing it of cowardice and corruption. The Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's main Islamic political party, joined in the condemnation. Perhaps in response, the group has since been tracking back furiously: On Sunday, it expressed anger that New Delhi was insisting on holding talks under the framework of the Indian constitution, and threatened to end the cease-fire.

The anger is pure theater. The Indian government has consistently maintained that it will only negotiate under the constitution, and this can hardly have been news to the Hizbul. Clearly, the taunts of other separatists are telling on the group.

Meanwhile, other armed groups have stepped up their activities on the Indian side of the Line of Control--hence the dead soldiers. But it is the attack on the pilgrims that will do most damage to the fragile detente. If recent history is any judge, Delhi will come under severe public and political pressure to hunt down those responsible for the massacre of innocents, and the army will want to avenge its dead. In this tense atmosphere, a single stray bullet can end the cease-fire, and deny peace a chance.

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