Now is the time for some deft diplomacy from India to push for a de-escalation from both sides as maintaining the ceasefire matters more to India than Pakistan. Islamabad would be keen to show that the situation along the Line of Control is unstable so that the world comes calling to prevent any further escalation between the nuclear-armed neighbors
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rom ISIS to Ebola, the world is grappling with too many crises to bother about some localized exchange of fire between the armies of India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir.
This trouble on the borders is a legacy of the British partition of the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan refuses to accept the erstwhile princely state’s accession to India in 1948, and has gone to three wars with India over Kashmir since.
Despite the three wars, the borders between the two neighbors in the disputed region are shaped by the first skirmish that erupted in 1948. As the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir dithered in taking a decision to join India, Pakistan send tribal irregulars — soon followed by regular soldiers — into the Muslim-majority Kashmir.
The Maharaja acceded to India and Indian army landed in Kashmir. A war followed between the armies of newly independent India and Pakistan, eventually culminating in a ceasefire after India took the issue to the United Nations.
Consequent to the ceasefire, the borders between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir are divided into three distinct parts [See the map). The international boundary goes up to a place called Sangam near Akhnoor in Jammu,which is the starting point of the Line of Control (LoC).
The LoC runs North and ends at a point in Ladakh called Point 9840. The area beyond that was left undemarcated, but the line dividing the two countries is called the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL), as the two countries fought in the 1980s for the control of world’s highest battlefield at Siachen.
The LoC and AGPL are manned by regular armies of both countries while the international boundary is manned by paramilitary forces. The international boundary was fenced a few decades ago, following the Khalistan insurgency while the LoC was fenced in 2004.
Pakistan refused to recognize either the international boundary, calling it the ‘working boundary’ which implies rejection of Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India, or the AGPL. But it is the LoC which neither side can dispute. This caused much grief to Pakistan in 1999, when it ingressed across the LoC under military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s directions.
The LoC came into being in 1972, following the Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan, whereby it replaced the erstwhile ceasefire line, agreed under UN arrangements in 1948. The change in nomenclature was not merely semantic as the two countries agreed to solve all their issues, including Kashmir, bilaterally under the Simla Agreement.
Since then, India has refused to acknowledge a role for United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) and recently asked it to vacate government-allotted subsidized accommodation in New Delhi. Unlike other later UN missions, UNMOGIP – along with the UN mission in Palestine – are catered for under the UN budget and not supported by th United nations Security Council. This permanent nature of its establishment, and Pakistan’s continued support to it, makes it difficult to wind up the UNMOGIP.
Even though there has been an official ceasefire between the two countries on borders in Jammu and Kashmir since 2003, there have been sporadic violations of the ceasefire in the recent years. The two countries blame it on one another, almost reflexively, without the world ever knowing who started it — and why. The situation usually settles down in a few days either after a telephone call between their respective director general, military operations, or after a flag meeting between the local commanders.
The situation this time has been different. There have been numerous violations of the ceasefire across a stretch of about 230 km from Rajouri to Poonch, south of the Pir Panjal range on the LoC, and at the adjoining international border this month. This has affected the civilians living in those regions, with nearly 30,000 of them being pushed out of their regular livelihood by the shelling.
The exchange of fire is not limited to small arms. Mortars have also been employed to shell the Indian side.
Considering the fact that India’s new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s response has been to give a free hand to the defense forces to retaliate, there is a good chance that these skirmishes can escalate into a protracted conflict. Alternatively, this can also lead to a breakdown of the ceasefire across the LoC and the AGPL.
To whom is the ceasefire more important, India or Pakistan? Indubitably, maintaining the ceasefire matters more to India For two reasons.
The first reason is geo-strategic. It suits Islamabad to show that the situation is unstable so that the world comes calling to prevent any further escalation between two nuclear-armed neighbors. Torn by Islamist militancy and political protests, Pakistan attracts no global investment and instability on its borders with India can’t worsen the situation.
In contrast, India is looking for greater global investment under the new government and would thus want to be seen as stable and peaceful. The world has fortunately refused to play into Pakistani hands but a further escalation, and a few more reckless statements from both sides, could see global attention shifting to the region.
The second reason is more tactical. India defeated Pakistan-backed militancy in Kashmir by choking the supply of Pakistani jihadis into Kashmir. The ceasefire on the LoC, and the construction of the fencing, helped India reduce infiltration of jihadis from Pakistan-held Kashmir to a trickle, as the security forces continued to eliminate those present in Kashmir. All this has dramatically reduced violence in the region since 2010, to pre-1990 levels.
A lifting of the ceasefire would mean going back to the pre-2003 years when the Pakistan army undertook shelling and firing on the LoC to facilitate infiltration into Indian territory.
If it is in India’s interests to keep the ceasefire going, should India refuse to respond to Pakistani provocations? With Prime Minister Narendra Modi having campaigned on the premise of being a strong premier who will give a fitting reply to Pakistan, it is unlikely that India wouldn’t respond militarily.
While the campaigning for state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana was on, the image of a government seen to be backing off from confrontation with Pakistan would not have played well for the BJP. But the votes have been cast and the results declared in favor of the BJP.
Now is the time and some deft diplomacy from India to push for a de-escalation from both sides. That is what one must hope for. Rhetoric apart, anything else will not be in India’s interests.
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