Peaceful relations with Pakistan is a prerequisite to India’s domestic stability and its quest for great power status.
It is not good for the political class in either India or Pakistan to abdicate its civilian responsibility with respect to mistakenly according ‘complete autonomy’ to its militaries to fire and retaliate, according to strategic expert Dr. Happymon Jacob.
Delivering a talk at ORF Mumbai on Ceasefire Violations… and the current state of India-Pakistan Relations on 27 February, Dr. Jacob, Associate Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, noted that peaceful relations with Pakistan is a prerequisite to India’s domestic stability and its quest for great power status.
Dr. Jacob, who had been to both sides of the India-Pakistan border, suggested that the NSAs and DGMOs of both countries must meet more often — either in the countries’ respective capitals or at a neutral location to address operational issues.
New Delhi must also seriously pursue the resolution of outstanding issues with Pakistan in order to focus on the “new geopolitical realities” of the region such as the rise of China.
Dr. Jacob began his presentation with enunciating some key statistics. In 2017, India reported 860 ceasefire violations (CFVs) in which 12 civilians and 27 security personnel lost their lives. During the same period, Pakistan reported 1,970 CFVs in which 54 civilians and 13 security personnel were reported to have lost their lives. In view of these statistics, Dr. Jacob observed that 2017 had been the “bloodiest” year since 2003. Furthermore, this year until 22 January 2018, India reported 192 CFVs in which eight civilians and eight security forces were killed. Meanwhile, Pakistan reported 391 CFVs in which 16 civilians were reportedly killed.
Looking forward, Dr. Jacob expressed little confidence at the prospect of this year seeing a reduction in the rate of CFVs. The same, he said, was deemed to be compounded by this year being an election year in Pakistan, and the pre-election year for the Modi government in India that is keen on acquiring a substantial electoral re-endorsement to further build on its impressive 2014 election victory.
Delving into the causes for rampant CFVs, Dr. Jacob argued that the Indian government often attributes CFVs to Pakistani forces’ providing cover fire aimed at supporting the infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir. According to varied Indian government sources, over 515 “cases of infiltration” from across the border into Jammu and Kashmir were reported in 2017. The same were reported to have spurred the killing of 75 militants — a swell of nearly 130 percent over 2015 figures. Dr Jacob noted, traditionally this Indian line of argument is deflected by Pakistan with counter allegations of the Indian establishment engaging in “unprovoked” firing. The Pakistani government often attributes this to the Indian dispensation’s “desperation” to deflect from objectively addressing the insurgency in Kashmir. He, however, acknowledged other ‘non-traditional’ causes for rampant CFVs. Most of these were argued to stem from non-standard military factors at the local level.
For instance, military personnel on either side often engage in “welcome firings” and “farewell firings” at instances of change in battalions on the opposite end. At times, military dispensations are also known to take “matters into their own hands” when responding to the other party’s construction of defence bunkers around the Line of Control (LoC), or military land grab attempts post winter intermissions. At the fundamental level, Dr. Jacob argued that these ‘non-traditional’ causes exist due to inadequate mechanisms to govern the LoC. For instance, India and Pakistan have not agreed upon a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the management of the LoC. Dr. Jacob observed that the Cease Fire Agreement of 2003 is an unwritten “agreement” discussed by either countries’ representatives over a telephonic conversation. Dr. Jacob thus deemed the agreement to be an “ineffective” instrument to base one’s governing of the LoC.
Dr. Jacob also pointed to the role of political factors in the increased frequency of CFVs. They may range from domestic political calculations over election cycles, to the conflict “in” Kashmir affecting the conflict “over” Kashmir. Further, even general souring of Indo-Pak relations over a multitude of issues can hamper progress. For instance, an environment of non-engagement on both sides has diminished the prospect of a DGMO-level meeting — that may be crucial in addressing some of the operational issues highlighted earlier. Further, Dr. Jacob noted a distinct dismissiveness in the Modi government at the prospect of “incremental gains”.
Dr. Jacob argued, resolution to the contentious issue of rising CFVs could begin with addressing “low-hanging fruits” such as the Sir Creek dispute. However, the Modi government seems to be comfortable with the frequent costs — in treasure and blood — of rampant CFVs over the domestic political consequences of a dialogue process with Pakistan that may not necessarily reap any resolutions.
Dr. Jacob also underscored the effect of rampant CFVs on the prospect of having a broad ‘Peace Process’ aimed at addressing a multitude of outstanding issues between India and Pakistan. The toll on civilians on both sides is reaching an alarming level due to the use of high calibre weapons such as heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Furthermore, the toll on the Pakistani side is at times greater due to the presence of civilian settlements close to the zero line. The destruction caused by CFVs on local levels only exacerbates emotional distastes on both sides, alienates the public, and shrinks peace constituencies — minimising the odds of initiating an objective peace process.
Dr. Jacob noted: “I have been on both sides — there is a great deal of sensitivity in the border areas and capitals of both the countries about the damage caused by CFVs, and the general increase in adversarial perceptions. It won’t be easy for either parties to dismiss these perceptions that are increasingly getting entrenched amongst local dispensations.” In addition, just as the Kargil War left an entrenched adversarial disposition in the two sides’ militaries, military casualties owing to increased CFVs can also have a similar effect in consolidating — or even institutionalising — antipathy towards the other.
This report was prepared by Ayjaz Wani, Research Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai.