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Evolving Pakistan-India thaw or another mirage?

Ceasefire violations across the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary(WB) became a new norm during Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s government. India reneged on a 2003 cease fire agreement, resulting in loss of property and innocent lives of Kashmiris. During last year alone, India committed 1,881 ceasefire violations, the highest number since the ceasefire arrangement broke down. During five months of current year 1,050 such violations have been committed by India. Notwithstanding, Pakistani leadership kept striving for bilateral talks. Hostility between the two is a significant impediment to the socioeconomic development in both countries. Now one wonder whether India’s offer to revert back to 2003 ceasefire agreement is an evolving Pakistan-India thaw or another mirage?

Half a decade stands wasted as there has been no qualitative change in Pakistan’s relations with India despite foolish acts of appeasement by Pakistan, like the one at Ufa. Nonetheless, an applause is due for restoration of the ceasefire along the LoC and the WB which could bring some comfort to the agony of Kashmiris. It was unprecedented for both sides to issue almost identical statements, which unlike before did not accuse the other side of wrongdoing. However, it could have easily been made a joint statement.

The Directors General of Military Operations (DGMO) level interactions have resulted into regularisation of a cease fire arrangement evolved through back channel diplomacy over the last six months. A communique by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said both DGMOs reviewed the prevailing situation, and mutually agreed to undertake sincere measures to improve the existing situation. “Both DGMOs agreed to fully implement the ceasefire understanding of 2003 in letter and spirit forthwith and to ensure that henceforth the ceasefire will not be violated by both sides,” the statement said. Military commanders also agreed that in case of any issue, restraint will be exercised and the matter will be resolved through utilisation of existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border flag meetings at local commanders’ level.

Yet, this operational level agreement needs requisite political will to morph the Line and Boundary segments from trigger happy to fire cautious environment. As India had brought the situation to current pass by giving-up an earlier arrangement, onus of initiation and sustenance of fire prevention measure rests on India; Pakistan is expected to follow the suite. At field level, de-facto implementation could begin immediately without waiting for formal signing ceremony.

This ceasefire represents a significant shift in the position held by the Indian government, which since the Modi’s rise to power had promoted a belligerent posture; while the outgoing government in Pakistan had been consistent during its tenure in terms of peaceful overtures to India. However, going by India’s previous track record of walking a step forward and two backwards, one can’t be sure about its sustainability. However, if it is able to hold ground, then more robust Confidence Building Measures (CBM) could be rolled out from both sides.

Given Pakistan’s caretaker setup’s preoccupation with elections for the next three months, there is little chance of any dramatic shift in ties between the two neighbours. However, the two countries could reduce hostilities and work on CBMs.

Prime Minister Modi was under pressure, both internally and externally, to review his hard-line approach towards Pakistan as it had failed to pay any dividends. His policy of high handedness towards Muslims of Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK) had also attracted a lot of criticism from within India. Indian troops had been upping the ante by sniping with heavy calibre weapons and targeting women and children. Indian forces, for this purpose, have employed artillery, heavy mortars, missiles, rockets and heavy automatics, besides using deadly air bursts.

India and Pakistan and are on a trajectory of mutually assured destruction if they continue to coexist in an environment of strategic hostility. The two countries need to go beyond their acrimonious past and proceed with consistent peace-making process. Both need to shed off the status of perpetual standoff, radiating an impression of perpetual peace-war stalemate.

During the current year things began to take a turn for the better. Pakistan invited Indian Defence attaché to attend Pakistan day celebrations; and he attended. Pakistan also hosted India with other Shanghai Cooperation Organisation(SCO) members to discuss regional terrorism. In September, Pakistan and India will also participate in SCO joint counterterrorism exercises in Russia. In the meanwhile, Pakistan also hosted a Track II dialogue with India. Last month India’s home ministry had ordered its occupation forces in the IoK to stop operations during the fasting month of Ramazan. And a round of bilateral talks pertaining to maritime matters has just concluded.

For its part, Pakistan has consistently advocated resumption of structured dialogue with India. And while it was preoccupied with fighting terrorism, it made strategic sense for Pakistan to seek at least a calm eastern frontier. A convergence in India’s strategic thinking towards Pakistan’s point of view could open the door to addressing, if not fully resolving, the major issues.

India had also embarked upon a strategy to destabilise Pakistan domestically, and isolate internationally. Both did not work. On the contrary, a significant convergence has emerged between Pakistan and major regional powers, like Russia, China and Iran, on regional matters while India and the US are seen as spoilers. Despite Donald Trump’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric, an open-ended US confrontation with Pakistan and its designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, widely anticipated by India, have not happened.  The US continues to rely on Pakistan’s cooperation with regard to Afghanistan end game. India triggered Doklam stand-off with China has also forced India to be realistic in its regional ambitions.

India has once again acknowledged the significance of 2003 ceasefire arrangement and as there is no better alternative in place, India should steadfastly implement it.




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