India’s Ceasefire in Kashmir Raises Prospect of Talks

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 11

Members of India's Border Security Force (Source:

On May 16, the Indian government announced a unilateral ceasefire in the restive northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, the security forces will not launch operations in Kashmir during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, although they reserve “the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people” (Indian Express, May 16).

Kashmir’s political mainstream parties welcomed the ceasefire (Times of India, May 16). Moderate separatists, however, dismissed it as merely a “cosmetic measure,” and predictably none of the militant groups operating in Kashmir have come on board (Greater Kashmir, May 17). Syed Salahuddin, who heads the United Jihad Council (MJC) as well as its main constituent the Hizbul Mujahideen, described the ceasefire as a “half-hearted measure” and warned that the Indian security forces would “unleash terror” as soon as the month of Ramadan is over (Greater Kashmir, May 18). The Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba likewise dismissed the ceasefire as “nothing but drama” (Kashmir Observer, May 17).

The ceasefire comes amidst a sharp deterioration in the situation in Kashmir, but with moderate and militant separatists alike rejecting the move, it is unclear what India hopes to gain from such a one-sided offer.

Goodwill Gesture

Anti-India militancy has surged in the Kashmir Valley since July 2016 when Burhan Wani, a popular Hizbul Mujahideen commander in south Kashmir, was killed by security forces. Kashmiri youth have joined the militancy in growing numbers (The Wire, April 7). The number of young people who took up arms has risen markedly, according to Kashmir government figures, from 66 in 2015 to 88 in 2016, and 126 in 2017 (Greater Kashmir, February 6). A further 45 young people joined the militant ranks between January and mid-April this year (Rising Kashmir, May 4).

More worrying than the rise in militant numbers is growing public support for the militants. Armed encounters between militants and the security forces routinely draw scores of angry Kashmiri civilians to the sites of the violence, enabling militants to escape police cordons, while funerals of militants have attracted large numbers of slogan-shouting civilians and stone-throwing protestors frequently clash with police.

The ceasefire comes after four years of force in Kashmir. Since 2014 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, New Delhi has adopted a muscular approach to Kashmir. It has relied on hard power to deal with Kashmiri protests, using “unbridled force,” including tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds (Greater Kashmir, June 1, 2017). Indeed, BJP lawmakers have favored the use of terrorism charges against protestors, further fueling public anger (Zee News, March 30).

Possibly the ceasefire marks a shift in government policy, an acknowledgment that excessive reliance on hard power has failed to yield positive results in Kashmir (The Quint, May 21). However, both the Indian army and the intelligence services were opposed to the government decision, according to media reports (The Quint, May 21). Officials who spoke to Jamestown also disagreed with the move. An interior ministry official described the ceasefire as simply “a goodwill gesture” that “bridges the gap” between civilians and the government. He refused to rule out the use of force in the future, saying the elimination of militants had made the groups more amenable to talks. “It has opened up space for the next phase, the initiation of dialogue,” he said. [1]

An Indian army officer involved in counter-insurgency operations in Shopian agreed the past use of force had served to weaken the militancy and that “robust counter-insurgency operations” over the past four years had enabled the “security forces to gain the upper hand.” Indeed, several Hizbul Mujahideen commanders have been eliminated and the group has been weakened. By announcing a ceasefire, the government has “blundered,” he said, as the lull will provide the militants with “breathing time to recover lost ground.” [2]

Pessimistic Mood 

Similar lulls in operations in Kashmir have occurred in the past. In 2000, New Delhi announced a similar ceasefire in Kashmir during the Ramadan period. It was extended three times and spanned a period of five months from December 2000 to April 2001. Ahead of the truce, New Delhi had done considerable preparatory work, with backchannel negotiations taking place between India and Pakistan, the Hizbul Mujahideen and India’s intelligence agencies, and sections of civil society in Delhi and Srinagar (The Hindu, May 15). India even managed to get the Hizbul Mujahideen to join the ceasefire and convinced Abdul Majeed Dar, the Hizbul Mujahideen’s commander in the Valley, to return from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to explore further dialogue. Even Salahuddin appeared keen to return home (DailyO, May 10). The conflict-weary Kashmiri people were desperate for normalcy, having borne the brunt of violence through the 1990s.

This time, however, things are different. The Kashmiris are angry, and New Delhi’s olive branch appears unlikely to win them over. Kashmiri alienation from India is as high as it was in the early 1990s at the height of the anti-India militancy. There is little public pressure on the militants to give up arms, and New Delhi did little preparatory work this time before announcing the truce. Instead, the offer seemed impulsive.

Without the participation of the armed groups, the ceasefire is largely meaningless, and militant groups have given few signs that they will join it in the coming weeks. The militants active in Kashmir today appear more radicalized than the ones operating in the 1990s. According to the security forces, in instances when they have appealed to trapped militants to surrender, they have refused to do so (Indian Express, May 28, 2016).

Importantly, Pakistan continues to call the shots in the militant groups. The Hizbul Mujahideen leadership “remains captive in Muzaffarabad,” the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and has “no capacity to define its own agenda,” Ajai Sahni, executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management said. He noted that although Hizbul Mujahideen has not joined the ceasefire, the group is likely to avoid “openly challenging” it. Having suffered “major losses” in recent years, it would use the “month of relative peace” to consolidate itself. Sahni believes that if the ceasefire is successful, it could be extended beyond Ramadan and that the government might “intensify efforts for talks.” [3]

Long-Term Prospects

Nonetheless, violence can be expected to continue in the coming months. [4] The 2000 ceasefire saw a great deal of fighting—during the five-month period, 158 members of the security forces were killed, along with 278 civilians and 183 militants (The Quint, May 21).

According to official data, the first week of the ceasefire was bloodier than the week before it. There were four incidents of militant violence in the run-up to the ceasefire, and a civilian was injured. The number of militant attacks rose to 13 in the May 16-23 period, with one civilian killed and 13 others injured (NDTV, May 24). However, incidents of stone throwing dipped from 38 in the week preceding the announcement, to just 16 in the first week of the ceasefire (Rising Kashmir, May 25).

A meaningful ceasefire would bring a measure of normalcy to the lives of Kashmiri civilians, but, it could also pave the way for a sustained peace process. This would require action on two fronts. New Delhi would need to reach out to all sections of Kashmiri society, including the separatists, and engage in unconditional talks. Simultaneously, it must use the space provided by the ceasefire to train its police in the use of non-lethal methods of riot control.

On the external front, New Delhi must revive the suspended talks with Pakistan. Militancy in Kashmir cannot be controlled without Pakistan’s help, and engaging Pakistan rather than isolating it should be the government’s focus. Importantly, the India-Pakistan ceasefire, currently in tatters with the two sides engaging in daily shelling, needs to be restored. It is well-known that it is under the cover of shelling that Pakistan infiltrates militants into Kashmir. It is in India’s interests to get the bilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control back on track.

With all its flaws, the ceasefire in Kashmir should be seen as an opportunity for New Delhi to rebuild trust with the Kashmiri people. The ceasefire by itself will not bring peace, however. New Delhi must bring the political and militant separatists on board. Engaging in talks with Pakistan is the only way India can take things forward.



[1] Author interview with an official from the Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi, May 23.

[2] Author interview with as Indian Army officer serving in Shopian in Jammu and Kashmir, May 25.

[3] Author Interview with Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi, May 25.

[4] n.2.