Since September 2003, India and Pakistan had been observing a ceasefire along the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region. And since the start of 2011, the two countries have resumed the peace process stalled after 2008 Mumbai attacks. Their normal relations are crucial for the end of Afghan conflict on the eve of NATO’s military exit from Afghanistan.
However, since the preference of the two countries—as that of the outside world—has, thus far, been on ‘crisis management’ rather than ‘conflict resolution’ of the traditionally conflicting Indo-Pak ties, the ceasefire agreement and peace process have had inherently precarious foundations. Unsurprisingly, therefore, like many times in the past decade, this factor again flared up tensions between India and Pakistan along the LoC in early January.
Reportedly, on January 6, Indian forces intruded into Pakistani-administered Kashmir, killing one Pakistani solider and wounding another. On January 8, Pakistani forces retaliated by crossing the LoC and subsequently killing two Indian soldiers. Indian officials claimed that Pakistani intruders beheaded one of the soldiers, carrying away the head, and mutilated the bodies of both. In retaliation, the Indian forces killed another Pakistani soldier on January 10. Cross-LoC exchange of fire continued during these days and for almost a week after.
The cause of the latest Indo-Pak skirmishes was reportedly Indian attempt in October to construct new observation posts along the LoC, which violated the August 2005 agreement between the two countries not to “develop any new posts and defense works along the LoC.” Under the agreement, concerns of either side on the matter were to be addressed through holding flag meetings between their commanders.
This time, Pakistani request for such meeting was ignored. The Indians also did not respond to Pakistani warnings to stop the illegal construction. Twice the directors general of Military Operations of the two countries spoke to each other on the hotline, but they failed to defuse the crisis largely due to the hype created by inflammatory remarks of Indian political and military leaders.
On January 15, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that “after this dastardly act, there cannot be business as usual with Pakistan”; and Indian army chief Bikram Singh alleged that the beheading of the Indian soldier had been “premeditated” by the Pakistani military. He threatened Pakistan by saying, “we reserve the right to retaliate at a time and place of our choosing.”
India’s Hindu nationalist parties added to the jingoistic environment—with Sushma Swaraj, the BJP’s leader in parliament, calling for India to “get at least 10 heads from the other side”. Shiv Sena, the ultra-Hindu nationalist party, prompted organisers of the inaugural Hockey India League to send home nine Pakistani players. So much so that the Indian police in the disputed Kashmir issued a nuclear attack advisory to its inhabitants, asking them to construct bomb-proof basements and collect two weeks’ worth of foodstuffs and water.
However, just as before, Pakistani political and military leadership conducted itself responsibly to prevent the Kashmir conflict from conflagrating. On January 17, the country’s director general of Military Operations informed his Indian counterpart about Pakistan Army’s instructions to its troops to “observe ceasefire strictly and exercise restraint.” Since then, the precarious peace has prevailed along the LoC.
During the crisis, Pakistan also proposed to hold an independent inquiry of ceasefire violations by the United Nations Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), which was rejected by India. On January 22, Indian and Pakistani diplomats got into a verbal exchange at the Security Council on the relevance of UNMOGIP, during an open debate on UN peacekeeping that was organized by Pakistan under its current presidency of the Council.
Pakistan's foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani argued that UNMOGIP had played an important role in monitoring peace along the LoC for over half a century. India's ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri contended that UNMOGIP's role had been overtaken by the Simla Agreement of 1972 between India and Pakistan, under which the two countries had resolved to settle difference "by peaceful means" through bilateral talks.
The fragility of peace in Kashmir, despite visible progress in trade and travel that India and Pakistan have achieved during the peace process, means that UNMOGIP’s mandate should be credibly enhanced. For if India is not ready to abide by bilateral agreements with Pakistan to pacify security along the de facto Kashmir frontier, then it would be better to let a neutral world force tackle this great challenge.
Recently, a liberal visa regime between India and Pakistan became operational, and Pakistani cricket team played in India after years. In, sports, art and entertainment, the mutual public contacts were also reinforced. All of these promising developments are once again in danger of becoming a casualty of India’s aggressive towards Pakistan.
On the contrary, in the last decade or so, whenever the Indians have upped the ante, Pakistanis have taken the lead in managing the ensuing crisis. During the Musharraf era and even in its aftermath, the urge for peace and the willingness to adopt tangible measures for the purpose have been greater on Pakistan’s part.
One familiar tactic that India’s leadership has used all along is to blame Pakistan on count of terrorism—an approach whose flawed basis is now being exposed by Indian officials themselves. On January 20, for instance, Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde accused BJP of colluding with RSS in setting up terrorist camps and conducting terrorist acts, including on Samjhota Express, which Indian authorities had blamed Pakistan for.
The present Indian government may deserve the credit for de-linking the country’s peace process from terrorism, which explains its resumption without any major break since early 2011. However, since recent skirmishes along the LoC and other immediate sources of tensions between the two countries are directly an outcome of the unresolved disputes, particularly Kashmir, the Indian leadership has to behave as responsibly as its Pakistani counterpart does to amicably settle these disputes.
South Asia has long been hostage to Indo-Pak conflict. The global fight to defeat extremism and combat terrorism in the region also gets frequently disrupted due to this conflict. Especially as the drawdown process of Western forces from Afghanistan proceeds towards the end-2014 deadline, neither Pakistan nor any other regional and international actor engaged in Afghan stabilisation effort can afford another round of Indo-Pak hostility over Kashmir or other unresolved issues.
It is in India’s pragmatic interest to partner with Pakistan for peace in Kashmir and Afghanistan. For the cost of continuing conflict will be unaffordable for it, as much as for other South Asian countries. Averting this cost requires formalising bilateral security arrangements between the two countries, including the one pertaining to the construction of new observation posts along the LoC. Other tangible steps for the purpose include letting UNMOGIP play a more proactive role in monitoring peace on both sides of the disputed Kashmir region and urgently resolving Kashmir and other conflicts between India and Pakistan, bilaterally as well as multilaterally through international mediation or under UN auspices.
This commentary can be accessed at weeklypulse.org