Talk to ease tensions

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:26 pm IST

Published - August 30, 2014 12:30 am IST

Amid all that is wrong with India-Pakistan relations, the ceasefire that came into existence more than a decade ago can be held up as the single biggest achievement. After years of daily exchange of fire across the Line of Control (LoC), when the guns finally fell silent on Eid day in November 2003, it not only brought peace to the lives of thousands of people who live in villages on both sides but also created a conducive atmosphere for bilateral dialogue after a two-year diplomatic freeze, and troop mobilisation following the December 2001 Jaish-e-Mohammed attack on Parliament. But the unwritten truce has been fraying steadily since January 2008 with the frequency of ceasefire violations by Pakistan going up each year since then. Last year saw the beheading of an Indian soldier, and another incident in which five soldiers were ambushed at the LoC. This year, in August alone there have been more than 20 instances of ceasefire violations. More worrying, the heavy mortar fire over the last few days has taken place at the International Border between the two countries. Outside of the three wars fought between India and Pakistan, this non-contested line had remained more or less peaceful until mid-August. It is manned not by the militaries of the two countries, but by the Border Security Force on the Indian side and by the Pakistan Rangers on the other. But how serious matters are can be gauged from a BSF officer’s remark that the shelling of the past few days has been the “heaviest since 1971”. It has killed two civilians in a Jammu village; thousands of others have been forced to flee their villages.

The absence of dialogue between India and Pakistan at a time like this is cause for concern. Indeed, the near-non-existent dialogue process since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks has meant that the two sides have not been able to address the ceasefire violations in a structured way almost since the time these began. A vacuum can only encourage forces in Pakistan pitted against improvement of relations with India to vitiate the atmosphere further. In the past, ceasefire violations have provided cover for cross-border infiltration of militants. Coming as they do ahead of the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly elections expected to be held in November this year, such incidents heighten security concerns. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the shelling across the International Border came after India cancelled a scheduled round of Foreign Secretary-level talks. It should be clear after the failure of a flag meeting on August 27, between the local commanders of the BSF and the Rangers, that matters cannot be resolved at that level, or even at the level of the Directors-General of Military Operations, their hotline notwithstanding. The sooner New Delhi and Islamabad begin talking, the better.

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