An agreement that includes CBMs similar to those in the 1996 India-China pact, with the January 2004 India-Pakistan joint statement additionally written into it, could have an impact beyond the LoC.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York in September, they agreed to “find effective means to restore the ceasefire” in Kashmir. To this end, the Directors-General of Military Operations on both sides were asked to set up meetings between themselves to find ways to maintain “peace and tranquillity” on the Line of Control.

Ten years of ceasefire

Despite the instruction, the two DGMOs have not been able to schedule a meeting. It is not clear what the stumbling block is, but when Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid and Sartaj Aziz, foreign policy advisor to the Pakistan Prime Minister, met in New Delhi recently, they had to reiterate that instruction. The Line of Control has remained peaceful since the third week of October but no one knows for how long it will remain so. Instead of marking 10 years of the ceasefire, a significant achievement in India-Pakistan relations, with a celebration, all there is to the anniversary is dreaded anticipation of the next violation.

The ceasefire came into existence on November 26, 2003, after a unilateral announcement by Pakistan which India reciprocated, amid a flurry of other moves to normalise relations two years after the terrorist attack on Parliament House. There was no written agreement. After two decades of near-daily artillery fire exchanges, the guns just fell silent on the 740-km LoC and the AGPL on that Eid day a decade ago.

Soon after, India resumed building a fence on the LoC, a project it had begun much earlier but had to stop because of the artillery firing. Though Pakistan had earlier protested and criticised the construction, it allowed it to go on, and the 550-km fence was completed in 2004.

Only in August 2005 were some terms of the ceasefire spelt out in a joint statement after officials from both sides met for talks on Conventional Confidence Building Measures. The statement reaffirmed the commitment to uphold the ceasefire. Both sides agreed to upgrade the then existing hotline between the two DGMOs by the end of September that year, and hold monthly flag meetings between local commanders in designated sectors. Most importantly, they agreed not to develop any new posts and defence works along the LoC.

The arrangement worked well until 2008, the same year a democratically elected government took charge of Pakistan. From January that year to March 2009, there were, according to the annual report of India’s Ministry of Defence, 87 firing incidents on the LoC, of which 51 were ceasefire violations by Pakistan. Subsequent annual reports record only ceasefire violations by Pakistan: 33 in 2009 rising to 57 in 2010; and 61 in 2011. In 2012, the number spiked to 108. This year opened with the killing of two Indian soldiers at the LoC, one of whom was beheaded. In August, five Indian soldiers were ambushed. Both incidents effectively muddied the waters for a peace process that has been struggling to get started. According to numbers from the Indian side, the violations by Pakistan have topped 200 already this year. Officials on the Indian side are clear that the incidents are linked to cross-border infiltration.

LoC & LAC

Compare this situation with that on the Line of Actual Control. No one disagrees that this border is under stress. Unlike the LoC, the LAC has not been demarcated. There are several areas where claim lines are overlapping, so patrols encounter each other as each side patrols up to its respective claim.

The 1986-87 faceoff in Wandung prompted talks between the two sides leading to the first border agreement between India and China in 1993, on the “maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the line of actual control in the India-China border.” That was followed by another agreement on confidence-building measures between the two militaries in 1996. The expectation was that the two sides would at least be able to soon demarcate the LAC, but this did not happen, necessitating the Border Defence Co-operation Agreement, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang last month, that adds another layer of CBMs to the existing mechanisms. Meanwhile, both sides have designated Special Representatives to find a resolution to the boundary dispute.

The entire set of these agreements has acted as a cushion for tensions along the LAC. Not very well, it could be argued, as the Depsang incident showed, but the undeniable fact is that until the faceoff earlier this year, there had been no such extreme situations between the two militaries since 1986; as for casualties, there have been none for more than four decades. The underlying philosophy of the institutional mechanisms for India-China border co-operation seems to be that it is impossible to guarantee there will never be tricky moments between the two militaries at the LAC until the boundary question is resolved; until then, the effort should be to minimise such incidents and, if they do take place, to resolve such situations without resorting to firepower.

Formalise the arrangement

Falling as it does in a bad year for the ceasefire on the LoC, its 10th anniversary may be the right time for India and Pakistan to consider formalising their unwritten ceasefire arrangement, with a layered set of border co-operation mechanisms for the two militaries similar to those that exist for the LAC so that the two sides deal with incidents rationally and with maturity.

Purists would argue that a formal ceasefire comes into existence only after hostilities, orally or in writing, and that as India and Pakistan were not at war in 2003, there was no need to do anything more than just agree to stop exchanging fire. However, as events have shown, that agreement has been violated time and again since 2008, and this year, went far enough to prevent dialogue between the two countries. The weekly telephone calls between the DGMOs were sufficient when there were no incidents, but this hotline has proved inadequate at a time of crisis on the LoC.

It will also be argued that the India-China border management effort has worked well because the nature of their relationship, and between the two militaries, is different from that between India and Pakistan; indeed, that in the case of Pakistan, it is the unique character of the Pakistan military and its philosophy of proxy war that presents a problem, not just at the LoC, but for the entire gamut of India-Pakistan relations.

But if, as Prime Minister Singh and Prime Minister Sharif agreed in New York — for the first time using a phrase that has only ever been used in India-China relations — “peace and tranquillity” along the border are a prerequisite for moving ahead on the dialogue process, they should be doing everything to secure that.

All said and done, written agreements are far better for building stable relations between countries. An agreement that includes CBMs similar to those in the 1996 India-China pact, with the January 2004 India-Pakistan joint statement (in which Pakistan agreed not to allow territory under its control to be used for terrorist activities against India) additionally written into it, could have an impact beyond the LoC.

The possibility that the two militaries would oppose it, or that the Pakistan Army will never answer to such an arrangement, are not good enough arguments against such a move. In fact, they only prove the need for it. A formal agreement for peace and tranquillity on the LoC, authored on the Pakistani side by a popularly elected government, may even help Prime Minister Sharif regain some initiative on his India policy, and put a civilian stamp on it.

nirupama.s@thehindu.co.in

More In: Lead | Opinion