7 December 2000


From Rakesh Sharma

NEW DELHI: With Pakistan Chief Executive Parvez Musharraf having responded favourably to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's peace initiative, the jehadi groups, the main inspiration for violence in the Kashmir Valley and backbone of the hardline sections in Pakistan may be headed for isolation, according to observers here.

However, far from expecting overnight changes in the Indo-Pak relations, which took a positive turn a few days ago with the beginning of serious but behind-the-scenes official-level dialogue, New Delhi will be keenly looking for signs in the coming 10 days or so which will indicate a weakening of the hold of jehadi mindset in the Pakistani establishment.

The first major step in this direction will be taken on Friday when a two-day meeting of the Corp Commanders convened by Musharraf begins in Islamabad. Ostensibly, the meeting will be taking stock of the developments related to the peace initiative. However, its real significance lies elsewhere.

According to the observers, there are about half a dozen corp commanders who are closely identified with the hardliners and in particular the jehadi elements. The rest of the corp commanders as well as Musharraf are expected to persuade them to align with the mainstream in view of the ground realities, not just in Kashmir but also in Pakistan, as well as the international mood growing in favour of imposition of harsher sanctions against the Taliban in the neighbouring Afghanistan, which has close ties with the jehadi elements.

Equally important, the political situation in Pakistan is changing at a fast pace with the Opposition parties joining hands to challenge the ruling military regime. This development too is likely to force a rethink among the pro-jehadi Corp Commanders, who will obviously find their options restricted due to the pressure of the political class to rake up a movement for restoration of democracy.

The situation on the ground in Kashmir too is fast turning unfavourable to the jehadi groups, with the people openly expressing their disgust with continuing violence. More importantly, the local militants, who were actively providing a support base to the jehadi elements are now supporting the peace initiative  because they in turn are losing the goodwill of the people.

Though these developments are expected to nudge the Pakistani establishment to take a favourable view of the peace initiative, a lot will depend on whether Musharraf is able to persuade  the powerful Corp Commanders to fully back him in his bid to exploit the Indian peace initiative to end Pakistan's isolation on the international-level and get the necessary economic support which help him stave off the latest threat posed by the unified political class.

The first major sings of a change are expected around December 14, the 17th day of ramzan which is considered to be very auspicious. The Indian security forces expect the jehadi groups to make desperate strikes around December 14. If the Pakistani establishment has a sobering effect on the jehadi elements, the period around the 14th might pass off relatively peacefully, signalling hopeful signs for furthering of the fragile peace process, the  observers added. END