Caught in the crossfire

November 01, 2016 12:57 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:50 pm IST

Exchange of fire between Indian and Pakistani forces on the Line of Control and the International Boundary has rendered the 2003 ceasefire ever more fragile. On October 29, the Army said it had destroyed > four Pakistani posts in Keran sector along the LoC and inflicted heavy casualties. This came a day after > Sepoy Mandeep Singh was killed in the Machhal sector and his body mutilated by a terrorist who fled across the LoC thereafter. In a social media post, the Army’s Northern Command had warned that the atrocity would invite an appropriate response, and the reprisal followed. This represents a major escalation in the ongoing exchange of fire. > Ceasefire violations have become a daily occurrence since the terrorist attack on the Army camp in Uri in September and the subsequent “surgical strikes” by the Army. The use of 82 and 120 mm mortars in addition to small arms and light machine guns has become routine, a significant scale-up during peacetime. The firing has also spread to the IB, especially a 192-km stretch in Jammu that Pakistan refers to as the working boundary. In 2014, about 430 incidents of ceasefire violation were reported along the IB; in 2015 this dropped to 253. In contrast, till mid-October only four incidents had been reported along the IB — but that calm has been broken since the Uri attack. After the surgical strikes, there have been 60 ceasefire violations.

The brunt of these exchanges is borne by the civilian population in the border villages. Hundreds have been shifted to shelters and bunkers for safety. The density of civilian settlement is much higher on the Indian side in comparison to Pakistan’s. As a result, the increased firing across the border creates more pressure on India. In fact, after the two countries agreed to a ceasefire in 2003, the resultant calm had won the confidence of local residents. Villagers began farming right up to the fence, tourism picked up, and even informal border trade increased. The current spiral of violence threatens this peace dividend. After the surgical strikes, the security forces retain a free hand in responding to infiltrations and instances of firing. No senior government functionary has publicly addressed the issue. Pakistan too is playing the incidents in large part on domestic considerations. However, the latest incident underscores the need for an urgent political initiative to prevent the cycle of brutality and reprisal from acquiring its own momentum, as happened in the early 2010s. It is time the government gathered the reins to address the issue politically and have peace restored on the border.

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