The long-awaited meeting between the Directors-General of Military Operations of India and Pakistan did not come up with any eureka ideas on how to safeguard the ceasefire on the Line of Control, but the very fact of their face-to-face interaction gives the hope that the two sides can still settle differences in a sensible manner. This year, which marked the 10th anniversary of the ceasefire on the LoC, has also been the most trying for it in the entire decade. By September, the number of ceasefire violations had exceeded 200, going by numbers given out by New Delhi. The horrific beheading of a soldier on the Indian side of the line in January, and an ambush in August, again on Indian territory, created a political furore, undermined other gains in the bilateral relationship and put paid to diplomatic efforts to get the peace process restarted. The latter incident also triggered exchange of fire along the LoC lasting many days, ominously reminiscent of the bad old days of the 1990s when artillery exchanges across the line were a routine occurrence. It was against this backdrop that the meeting between the two military officials took place, on a specific directive from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif that the DGMOs must sit together to decide on steps to maintain peace along the LoC. That the militaries took more than two months to schedule it, a period in which there were more incidents on the LoC, is a sad commentary on the state of bilateral ties. Having agreed to make their hotline contact more “result-oriented”, the two sides must now ensure that this existing mechanism — the two officials have been in regular weekly contact over the phone — actually delivers. It will also not hurt for the DGMOs to make meetings a regular part of their interaction.
India was right in rejecting Pakistan’s proposal to include officials from the two foreign ministries in Tuesday’s military talks, but with a step now taken towards normalisation on the LoC, the political leadership on both sides must focus on getting the stalled wider dialogue restarted. With a general election in India due next year, the convenient reflex on both sides would be to wait for the next government, especially as India-Pakistan ties have been turned into a hot button political issue over the last few years. Yet, a new government in New Delhi, irrespective of the colour of its politics, will also need to talk to Islamabad, and the sooner the dialogue begins, the easier it will be to pick up the threads after the election.