Playing with fire

If there is one achievement of the India-Pakistan peace process that has stood out over everything else, it is the ceasefire along the Line of Control that the two countries agreed to nearly a decade ago. Since 2003, when the ceasefire began, it has brought real improvement to the lives of people living along both sides of the LoC. It liberated them from the daily fear of getting caught in the frequent exchange of artillery and joining the tragic ranks of those >killed in “cross-LoC firing”. It is alarming, then, that this confidence-building measure, on the good health of which hang many others, has also been repeatedly violated and jeopardised. In the latest incident, India has alleged that Pakistani troops brazenly crossed the LoC and killed two Indian soldiers, charges that Pakistan denies. Two days earlier, on January 6, there was another incident in which Pakistan alleged that India had crossed into its side of the border and that one of its soldiers was killed in the attack; India claims its troops undertook “controlled retaliation” to unprovoked firing from the Pakistan side. It would seem that with all its troubles on its western border, the Pakistan Army would have little appetite for trouble on its eastern front. Indeed, this is the conventional wisdom on why the Pakistan military did not stand in the way of improving trade relations with India. But the unfortunate reality is that despite better ties on several fronts, relations between the two countries remain vulnerable to the slightest provocation.

The facts of each violation have never been easy to ascertain but are usually linked to local-level tensions. As with any ceasefire, the two armies have in place an elaborate system to deal with violations. The field commanders of both sides hold regular meetings and a hotline connects the Directors-General of Military Operations. While this has helped shepherd the truce through all these years, the question that remains unanswered is why despite such high-level contacts, violations continue to take place with such dangerous frequency — there have been 72 incidents just in the last 13 months, the highest in recent years, a large number of them in sectors south of Pir Panjal. This, the 10th year of the ceasefire, marred as it is by the latest incident, may be the right time for the two militaries to explore ways of strengthening the agreement, and perhaps, to consider ramping up their level of interaction. Given the apparent seriousness of the latest incident, India has been right to make a strong diplomatic protest, but it should ensure that the bad blood over this does not affect the progress, however meagre, in other areas of bilateral relations.

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Printable version | May 4, 2021 8:15:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/playing-with-fire/article4291246.ece

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