Reports indicate that heavy firing between Pakistani and Indian troops flared up again on Monday morning, this time across the (Line of Control) LoC in Poonch. This is just the latest incident in a series, which often enough sees mostly civilians on both sides suffering. Observers are already speculating whether this latest round, following the ‘ice-breaker’ meeting between PMs Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi in Russia, is meant to derail any progress purported to have been made. Indeed, the exchange of fire has been of such intensity that both India and Pakistan have lodged strong protests with each other and even summoned some officials stationed in their respective capitals to demand explanations. The situation along the LoC and the international border is symptomatic of what can be achieved, and how quickly that can go awry. The ceasefire, which held for long, had actually meant some semblance of normal life for civilians unfortunate enough to live close to the Line. It had also seemingly demonstrated that tangible measures towards normalisation could be undertaken, and sustained. But what is equally, and even overarchingly, true is that unless the core issue of Kashmir is addressed, all talk of normalisation would be like going round in circles.
The basic problem in Kashmir is that a political issue is sought to be managed, controlled and subjugated by a military paradigm. That also translates into massive military presence on the LoC, from both sides, often in close physical proximity to each other in situations where soldiers are perpetually on tenterhooks. This is a sure-fire recipe for confrontations and deadly skirmishes which can be sparked off by minor incidents. In that sense, it is arguable that seeking to establish truce and ceasefires along the LoC even as Kashmir continues to simmer and periodically boil over, with its population basically living under military rule, is like chasing a mirage. Firing and the consequent suffering of civilians along the LoC is the manifestation of a larger disease, not the problem per se. Addressing the disease itself would then seem the logical, rational course of action.
Indians are fond of blaming the Pakistan military for ‘provocations aimed at derailing progress.’ That sounds blasé given the nature of the eyeball-to-eyeball deployment on the LoC and repeated Indian obfuscations on getting around to addressing that core issue of Kashmir. It is perfectly sane to establish ceasefires along the frontiers, but sans movement on Kashmir, truce of any kind will always be temporary.