Given the complicated channels of power that operate in Kashmir, the gesture of a ceasefire needs to be supported by backchannel dialogue with Pakistan and cultivating a strong domestic constituency for peace. Despite the sabre-rattling on the surface, there may have been signs of a thaw in recent months. This week, for instance, both the Indian and Pakistani DGMOs seemed to speak the same language, and came to a ceasefire agreement with effect from February 24, generating hope for the people of Kashmir for a political dialogue on various issues between the two nations. It also led to speculation that there may have been backroom work. The Ministry of External Affairs’ statement read: “In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the border, the two DGMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity and lead to violence. Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings, and cease firing along the Line of Control with effect from midnight 24/25, February 2021.”
The statement has been widely welcomed by Kashmiris and all over the world, but the important thing that should be associated with this is political dialogue between the two nations. The dialogue process could provide an opening to the peace process. In the past, Pakistan’s military and political leadership have pulled in different ways (unless the generals were indirectly in power), often undermining dialogue with the civilian government. This could be an important moment to engage both, as well as the leadership in Kashmir.
Let’s get one thing right. Nothing in Kashmir will improve till India’s relations with Pakistan improve. That is unlikely to happen as long as we keep pitching a hard, muscular line against them, instead of sitting down and talking out the differences. There is far too much at stake when India is in conflict with its neighbours. Neither side can win because we are joined at the hip. The consequences of hate are there for all to see.
By figures, there were more than 4,052 ceasefire violations in 2020, the highest in two decades. In 2019, there were more than 3,200 reported. In comparison, there were 405 violations in 2015, 583 in 2014, 347 in 2013, 114 in 2012, 62 in 2011, 44 in 2010, and 28 in 2009. This suggests that the relationship deteriorated over the last 15 years and the results of these violations have been quite brutal and bloody, with human lives lost on either side of the LOC. Be it of a soldier or of a civilian, the blood of everyone is red.
The spike in violations in the last two years has been explained as due to the abrogation of Article 370, but these violations are mostly meant to make infiltration possible. Pakistan should ensure that there is no infiltration, as only that will make the LoC peace durable.
As has been said by Narendra Modi many times in his different speeches, the two countries share most of their problems, be it poverty or corruption. The two countries need to fight these together but that seems impossible as most of their resources are being wasted on fighting each other. The initiation of a meaningful dialogue shall bring succour not only to the people of J&K, it will also reduce tension on the borders and help the people who have been displaced return to their homes. It shall be a huge relief to the people of the entire subcontinent.
A country with one-third population living below the poverty line without access to basic amnesties like healthcare and safe drinking water can ill afford to spend ten billion rupees to fight and contain street protests in the UT of J&K, and twenty-four billion rupees to retain control over a few hundred square kilometers of glacier that has no trace of life. The same is the case with our neighbouring country. Meaningful political dialogue will facilitate the use of precious resources for the welfare of the deprived and the downtrodden people of both India and Pakistan.
It is such a delight to read The Spy Chronicles, a book co-authored by two of the most famous spymasters, former RAW chief AS Dulat and former ISI chief Asad Durrani. Their conversation took place in Istanbul, Bangkok and Kathmandu. They are not as sinister as we may think. They talk the most about lost opportunities. The two spymasters are warm and frank with each other, often offering perspective into why our two nations continue to be in conflict with each other. Their chats show that we could have, as easily, chosen to be a place of peace. What was perhaps needed was more imaginative political leadership on both sides.
Talking has always helped to resolve the most complex conflicts. Unlike the Arabs and Israelis, Indians and Pakistanis have a strong cultural bond. We have shared literature, a common love for Manto, Sahir, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. We have a shared cinema, an undying love for Bollywood. A shared obsession with cricket, too, with India-Pakistan matches (rare, very rare nowadays) being among the most widely watched games ever.
The Spy Chronicles tells you what has gone wrong. The warmth of the engagement between the two spymasters makes us realise that there is still hope that future leaders may be able to bring the two nations closer and create an atmosphere where we can meet freely, share ideas and experiences, and celebrate our common heritage without being seen as anti-nationals. After all, parents and grandparents in both countries have cherished memories of an undivided nation. If the two spymasters can break bread together and risk sharing memories, so can our political leadership. If for no other reason, for the sake of the most beautiful place on earth: Kashmir. Let’s take away our silly war from here.
The writer is a student and social activist. [email protected]