Insights into Editorial: Restore the ceasefire
THE November 2003 ceasefire agreement was a landmark in the strained bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. It came after a long cycle of violence along the 725-kilometre-long Line of Control (LoC) which divides Jammu and Kashmir into two parts. It followed a framework of military confidence-building measures (CBMs) that kept the artillery pieces at least 20 km away from the LoC, thus promising a sustained halt to heavy firing. However, violence across the Kashmir divide is growing.
The ceasefire agreement has now become unrecognizable. This ceasefire agreement, reached between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was respected until 2008. From 2008, there were occasional spikes in firing across the LoC. This situation changed in late 2012 – around the time that India began to build additional bunkers along the LoC. Firing across the LoC has now increased.
What is LoC?
The 435 mile stretch along the Kashmir divide has been termed the LoC since the 1972 Simla Agreement. What India terms the International Border, and what Pakistan terms the Working Boundary, runs southward from the LoC.
Ceasefire agreement 2003:
On November 26, 2003 the ceasefire took effect along the entire stretch of the India-Pakistan frontier i.e. the IB, the LoC and the AGPL. For the first time in several decades, the guns along this frontier went silent, bringing much needed respite to the shelling-scarred lives of people in hamlets along the LoC and to soldiers guarding the border posts.
- It facilitated the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkot routes, paving the way for bus and truck services linking the two Kashmirs for the first time in six decades and encouraging cross-LoC contacts, exchanges, travel, and trade.
- The ceasefire also enabled India to complete the construction of a fence near the LoC to prevent Pakistan’s infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir, a project that it had begun a couple of decades earlier but had to suspend due to Pakistan’s artillery fire.
Causes for recent tension:
The ongoing ceasefire violations have come amidst a significant deterioration in India-Pakistan relations, with the immediate trigger for the latest downturn being the September 18 attack on an Indian army camp at Uri in J&K. The attack, which was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist group with close ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was the deadliest on an Indian military facility in over a decade. It resulted in the death of around 18 Indian soldiers, prompting India to carry out a military assault on terrorist “launch pads” in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) on the night of September 28-29.
Following the Uri attack, India stepped up its diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan at the regional and global level for Islamabad’s support of anti-India terrorist groups. Delhi was successful in getting other South Asian countries to boycott a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit that Islamabad was to host. More recently, India and Pakistan have been locked in a tit-for-tat contest to identify and expel each other’s High Commission staffers for alleged involvement in espionage activities.
Why be concerned about this?
The steady increase in the rate of ceasefire violations along the LoC is concerning. It comes at a time when India and Pakistan have been unable to establish effective diplomatic channels to address outstanding issues. Diplomatic channels are used only sporadically, and in multilateral settings. Efforts to improve trade relations and visa liberalization are proceeding slowly, and there is no forward movement on confidence-building and nuclear risk reduction measures.
Under these circumstances, continued and increasing violence along the LoC not only poses a barrier to improved ties, but also makes crisis management more difficult and the risks of escalation greater.
Why there is a need to reconsider the ceasefire agreement?
A breakdown of the ceasefire is in the interest of neither country. In addition to the human toll and the economic costs, it would have negative long term consequences for the security of India and Pakistan.
In the case of India, for instance, a breakdown of the ceasefire or continued shelling and firing would undo its many achievements in curbing infiltration and terrorism in Kashmir in the past decade. Pakistan is known to provide cover via shelling and firing to infiltrate terrorists into India. Continued shelling would provide Pakistan with space and opportunity to resort more frequently to this tactic. Additionally, Pakistan could use artillery fire to destroy the LoC fence, which India built at enormous cost and which has helped India curb infiltration.
As for Pakistan, the breakdown or unraveling of the ceasefire along its frontier with India would require it to deploy more troops to its eastern front. This would mean shifting troops from the western front to the east, in essence forcing Islamabad to shift attention away from eliminating terrorism from its soil at a crucial stage.
Keeping the ceasefire alive is therefore in the interest of both India and Pakistan.
What needs to be done now?
India and Pakistan accuse each other of violating the ceasefire agreement. While blaming the other for “unprovoked firing” they describe their own actions as mere “retaliation.” Both boast that they are responding “befittingly” to the other’s aggression and inflicting “heavy casualties.” And both allege that it is domestic considerations that are driving the other’s cross-LoC aggression.
There is no comprehensive database of ceasefire violations along the LoC. Indian and Pakistani sources – both government and non-government – report contradictory figures with regard to the number of ceasefire violations each year. The governments of India and Pakistan are also doing little to address international concerns over the violence occurring across the Kashmir divide, violence that could magnify existing tensions.
Now, both sides need to summon the political will to safeguard the ceasefire. So far in the current phase of conflict escalation, neither side has displayed signs of such will. Then, as the most powerful and cohesive power in the region, India needs to chart a road map to restore the ceasefire on the Line of Control.
The increase in violence along the LoC since late 2012 is a clear and concerning marker of the deterioration of India–Pakistan relations on a broader scale. Whether or not ceasefire violations can be attributed to signaling related to high-level meetings, they carry the risk of escalating into a larger crisis or standoff if accompanied by a triggering event. They also make the actual meeting of high-level officials more unlikely, and add another difficult dimension to crisis resolution. The ceasefire put into effect in 2003 has deteriorated badly. One way for India and Pakistan to stabilize relations would be to reestablish a ceasefire. India and Pakistan have not agreed to new confidence-building measures since 2007. Quieting the LoC would be a good place to start.