The surprise ceasefire between India and Pakistan has been the focus of media attention, with breathless speculation on the role of the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and the ‘secret’ talks with a ‘third country’ involved.
Interest peaked when Moeed Yusuf — a Washington-based academic turned into special adviser to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on national security — claimed such feelers in October 2019, which was denied by the Ministry of External Affairs, only to then deny it just after the ceasefire was announced.
Yusuf chose to portray this as a success of established channels between the director generals of military operations on both sides. That’s rather strange. Most people would like to take credit for major developments. It seems Yusuf would rather distance himself from it.
The whole saga begins with the 1949 agreement under the United Nations’ auspices, by which a Ceasefire Line was delineated. With some changes this became the Line of Control after the 1971 war. Surprisingly, both agreements held for a long while, with a raft of agreements signed through the 1960s into the 1980s, including the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 and a 1988 Agreement on non-attack against each other’s nuclear facilities, among others.
It was after Pakistan began to sponsor terrorism behind the confidence of its nuclear weapons test of 1998 that the LoC literally caught fire, with terrorists slipping in under covering fire by the Pakistani army. India has since fenced the international border and the LoC with a mix of sensors. But a fence still needs to be guarded, and patrolling along a ‘live border’.
Reasons for violations are as diverse as they are bizarre. Sometimes firings would rise when India’s Prime Minister visited the Kashmir valley, or a foreign head of state was in Delhi; sometimes on religious festivals or Independence Day; or to ‘test’ a new unit. Terrain also matters, and more ceasefire violations occur south of the Pir Panjal where posts are easier to target.
Pakistan also wants to keep the Kashmir issue alive. A peaceful LoC doesn’t deliver that. Sometimes, ceasefire violations have flared to include the international border, when even mortars have been used. That means political complicity, since local commanders have to take clearance.
It’s a complicated situation, but the underlying commonality is that unlike a conventional war — where heroes on both sides are honoured, decades of terrorism (which is the dirtiest of wars) has led a deep hatred and suspicion. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Indian forces tend to view the Pakistan army chief’s “hand of peace” offer with deep suspicion. That in turn will reflect on the hand on the trigger at the LoC.
To achieve lasting peace at the LoC that closed loop has to be broken. Consider the joint statement which says “in the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the border, the two DG’s MO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity and lead to violence”. As seen, there are a lot to address, which can be broadly divided into reasons related to the ground, and the politics of the problem.
Step one, therefore, is to evolve a clear and relatively transparent, clear border management strategy between the two sides. The Karachi Agreement specifies some of these, such as minimum distance between two opposing posts, no new construction or increase of forces etc., while others have evolved over time. There are the ‘hotlines’ at the DGMO level, to the commanders level informally or through flag meetings. Each post has its own standard operating procedures adapted to conditions there. None of these are institutionalised, making it prone to breaking under stress. Putting in place an institutionalised structure should be the first priority. At any rate expect the ‘third country’ — clearly the US — to push both in this direction.
That is the easy part. The difficulty is political will.
Past offers from Pakistan to cast the 2003 ceasefire in stone has been linked to a role for the UN in monitoring it — which is totally unacceptable to India. It also raises a withdrawal from Siachin, which is a different kettle of fish altogether, mired as it is now with the Chinese actions in Depsang.
The main glitch which is ‘resolution of Kashmir’ may well be done with, once Islamabad turns Gilgit Baltistan into a full province, thus virtually ending the ‘Kashmir problem’.
As can be seen what is needed is the building up of trust, and what better way than to start an Asian highway across Pakistan into Afghanistan and Central Asia, maybe even China. Islamabad’s mind seems to be running along the same lines. It now says it has shifted from geopolitics to geoeconomics. If that’s true, then the LoC can to be turned into an international border and highway connections opened up.
Nothing builds trust like money. It’s possible. But all that means the Pakistan army has to turn away from its decadal dependence on terror. That seems unlikely, in which case a ceasefire is about as likely to sustain as a bridge built with straw. Certainly, Moeed Yusuf seems to think so, and he should know.