A ceasefire is simply a temporary truce in a war. There is technically a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan, but there actually is a war-like situation. At a time when the world is busy with health concerns due to Covid-19, India and Pakistan are still fighting at the border. People on either side of the LoC hardly see a single day without gunfire and shelling. They are in an extremely miserable condition. Despite such grave risks to their life and property, civilians continue to live close to the LoC out of the desire to stay on their land. For instance, Khawaja Asif, former minister of foreign affairs in Pakistan, confirmed that people in his constituency, Sialkot, along the LoC, refused to leave despite being hit with shelling repeatedly. Anam Zakaria’s investigation shows that many people from the Neelum Valley “ran away to Muzaffarabad” but those who stayed behind had simply no place to go—and no other means of subsistence other than their farms.
India and Pakistan keep blaming each other for violation of ceasefire. The LoC is becoming merely a story of “violations and retaliations”, nothing more. Some scholars argue that the ceasefire violations (CFVs) can be explained by local factors on either side of the border. While those factors undoubtedly play a role, the Pakistani perspective suggests that the CFVs also reflect the quality of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan, as well as the security policies and strategies adopted by the countries’ leaders.
The conditions and consequences of the 2003 ceasefire agreement evince the importance of political factors in CFVs. As Jacob points out, CFVs dropped dramatically from almost 5,800 in 2002 to four in 2004. This agreement was possible because, by 2003, then president General Pervez Musharraf had reduced the risk of CFVs through a determined political move. In response to Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stipulated conditions for peace talks, Musharraf put a stop to cross-border infiltrations—which were clearly responsible for a large number of CFVs in the 1990s. At the time, according to Khurshid Kasuri, Musharraf’s minister of foreign affairs between 2002 and 2007, the Pakistani establishment thought that the Indian government was prepared for peace talks because the post-2001 military standoff between the two countries had gone nowhere. But the Pakistanis were also under massive U.S. (and British) pressure to curb activity on their side of the border.
Indian scholar Happymon Jacob suggested in a remarkable recent study that local factors are the main variable of interest. Jacob wrote that “local military factors in the India-Pakistan border are in fact behind the recurrent breakdown of the 2003 agreement. That is, CFVs are generally not planned, directed, or cleared by higher military commands or political establishments, but are instead driven by the dynamics on the frontlines.
Although the number of CFVs at LoC has sharply increased in recent years, and even more dramatically since 2017, India and Pakistan have not fought each other openly since the 1999 Kargil conflict and have oscillated between military tension and peace talks. But the growing number of violations since 2013 threatens to push the countries back to the dangerous posturing of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Indeed, this level of hostility has been unprecedented following the post-2001 military build-up. Recently a horrible unprovoked ceasefire violation took place at Nowgam (Kupwara) where two Indian soldiers were killed and dozens injured. How long can these horrible and tragic incidents be allowed to go on? The need of the hour is to de-escalate by working on urgent restoration of the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Both countries should develop SOPs on a number of issues such as managing villagers living close to LoC, restoration of composite dialogue process, and so on.
One of the major causes of ceasefire violations is the Kashmir issue which is considered the mother of all disputes. Once the Kashmir issue is resolved, all disputes will be spontaneously resolved.
—The writers are research scholars at Kashmir University. [email protected]