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Muslim Guerrilla Groups Turn Down Indian Government’s Cease-fire Offer

By Pamela Constable
THE WASHINGTON POST -- NEW DELHI

All four major Muslim guerrilla groups Monday rejected the Indian government’s surprising offer of a one-month cease-fire in Kashmir, the Himalayan region where Indian troops have been battling separatists for 11 years.

The sweeping rebuff appeared to doom the government’s first truce offer since the Kashmir conflict began in 1989, although some Kashmiri political groups embraced the proposal and Indian officials said they still hope to persuade rebels to negotiate.

Hizb ul-Mujaheddin -- a Kashmiri guerrilla faction that proposed its own cease-fire in July, but canceled it after two weeks -- joined the chorus of repudiation by other groups broadly seen as more hard-line.

“Cease-fire is a time-consuming process with no clear aim,” said Hizb ul-Mujaheddin leader Syed Salahuddin in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. He said any dialogue with India must include Pakistan, a demand that led to the collapse of the July cease-fire.

“We do not accept or believe India,” said a spokesman for al-Badr, a group headquartered in Islamabad. “Jihad (holy war) is the only solution.” The group vowed to intensify its attacks in Kashmir during the upcoming month of Ramadan, a period of fasting for Muslims.

Lashkar-i-Taiba, another Pakistan-based group that views the Kashmir conflict as a religious crusade against Hindu-led India, called the cease-fire proposal a sham. A spokesman said the group Harkat ul-Ansar will “use all our energy against Indian troops during Ramadan. ... We will not be fooled.”

The leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, a major Muslim organization in Pakistan that backs the rebels, said the Kashmir jihad should continue during Ramadan, which begins Nov. 27. But Jamaat leaders in Indian-ruled Kashmir took a more conciliatory approach, calling the truce offer “a welcome step” that could “definitely help” create an atmosphere for dialogue.

Some Kashmiri opposition political groups said they would welcome India’s offer if it leads to meaningful dialogue on Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan. The dispute has provoked three wars between the two neighbors and nuclear powers.

“This is a positive step. We feel if it is coupled with some sort of initiative for starting a dialogue process, it could really bear fruit,” said A.M. Banday, a spokesman for the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, an alliance of Kashmiri opposition groups. “But if it is only a casual or symbolic gesture, then it cannot yield fruit.”

Banday said that, even though rebel groups expressed initial suspicion of India’s offer, they might eventually accept it if India “shows that it is sincere” and is willing to open talks with Pakistan as well as with Kashmiri groups.