A mortar-for-bullet game

IN THE FIRING LINE: “The India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement is dead, after having survived hundreds of violations year after year since its inception.” Picture shows a villager in his shop which was damaged in shelling allegedly from the Pakistan side, in Bainglar village, about 60 km from Jammu. Photo: Nissar Ahmad   | Photo Credit: NISSAR AHMAD;NISSAR AHMAD -

The conclusion of a number of significant agreements by India and the United States during President Barack Obama’s recent visit to New Delhi has attracted a great deal of adverse commentary from Islamabad. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Affairs pointsman Sartaj Aziz has voiced serious concerns about the regional “strategic imbalance” arising out of the Indo-U.S. deals at a time when Indo-Pak relations have reached a new low due to ceasefire violations along the LoC (Line of Control) and the International Border (IB). Pakistan, according to him, “is examining the imbalance and the possible ways and means for redressing it.” Strategic assessments such as these, made in the wake of the recent spate of violence along the border, could potentially lead to a renewed standoff between the South Asian adversaries. There is therefore an urgent need to put in place mechanisms to get the relationship back on track.

The India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement is dead, after having survived hundreds of ceasefire violations since its inception in 2003. It is no less than a miracle that this agreement actually lasted over 11 years despite there being absolutely no document guiding it. New Delhi and Islamabad should now begin negotiations to conclude a new ceasefire agreement instead of engaging in a “mortar-for-bullet” game of military one-upmanship and killing each other’s soldiers and hapless villagers residing astride the contested lines in Jammu and Kashmir.

The LoC was put in place by the Simla Agreement of July 1972 replacing the ceasefire line created by the Karachi Agreement of 1949. The current ceasefire agreement governs the cessation of hostilities along the India-Pakistan border created by the Simla Agreement. The agreement does not define the modalities, rules or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to manage the ceasefire on the LoC and the IB. Indeed, the absence of a structured ceasefire agreement is one of the major reasons behind the incidents that take place along the LoC and the IB.

Causes of violations

To understand what can be done to contain the hostilities along the LoC and IB, we need to appreciate why they break out in the first place. To explain these incidents using just one such cause — a cover for infiltration of militants into Kashmir from the Pakistani side — is misleading.

One of the major causes of ceasefire violations is indeed the deliberate firing by Pakistani troops in order to provide cover for the infiltrators trying to enter Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly, this is intentional and part of Pakistan’s traditional policy towards India. That said, given the progressive reduction in the infiltration attempts on the LoC and IB witnessed over the past decade or so, one must concede that ‘providing covering fire’ is not the most significant cause for ceasefire violations.

Secondly, firing also takes place in response to various political developments in India or Pakistan, or is generally reflective of the state of affairs between the two states. The ceasefire agreement tends to hold during peace processes and fruitful dialogues as was witnessed during the period from 2004 to 2007. The recent spate of ceasefire violations, then, was also a result of the complete absence of any bilateral engagement between the two sides.

The third major cause is the construction, repair or enhancement of defence works on either side. This happens because there is a lack of clarity regarding whether or not new constructions are allowed along the LoC. The 1949 Karachi Agreement does not allow construction within 500 meters on either side of the LoC but the Simla agreement is silent on the issue. Even though the August 2005 Indo-Pak joint statement agreed “not to develop any new posts and defence works along the LoC,” both sides seem to be violating this.

Islamabad and New Delhi should ensure that there is more regularity to the meetings of Directors-General of Military Operations

When civilians, livestock and Kashmiri returnees (from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) cross the LoC, the two sides tend to engage in firing. Such incidents happen because there are no agreed-upon SOPs to govern such movements on the India-Pakistan border.

Hostilities also break out due to confusions over the LoC itself: lack of clarity about who controls what and which piece of land falls on whose side. Such confusions exist because of the absence of a proper demarcation of the LoC as well as the fact that over the decades, the demarcating line itself has become less clear due to natural causes such as soil erosion, rains, snowfall, landslides, etc. Such territorial confusions in an unfriendly atmosphere lead to hostilities.

Finally, there are also deliberate provocations in order to test the resolve of the forces on the other side. Military commanders on either side often narrate stories of how the personal traits and inclinations of local commanders often lead to major military standoffs. Egos of individual commanders can and do impact the balance of nerves when detailed SOPs about the implementation of the ceasefire agreement are absent.

Defence construction

First of all, there is an urgent need for a clearly written down ceasefire agreement. A new agreement, after appropriate negotiations, should be signed by the two Premiers, and not communicated by the Director-General of Military Operations (DGMO) over phone as was the case in 2003.

Second, joint SOPs should be developed to govern issues relating to crossings, returnees etc. Indian and Pakistani forces manning the border have their own respective SOPs catering to various situations and eventualities, but that’s not enough. It is also important for both sides to draft joint SOPs to ensure that inadvertent crossings, returnees and movement of livestock do not provoke firing by either side.

Third, there should be more clarity on the issue of defence construction along the LoC. The two sides could specify the distance to keep while making new constructions, besides specifying the kind of constructions to be allowed. Likewise, there is also an urgent need to jointly demarcate the LoC in order to avoid territorial misunderstandings.

Once these major steps are taken, Islamabad and New Delhi should ensure that there is more regularity to the meetings of DGMOs. Direct and frequent engagement at the level of DGMOs has its own importance from a conflict de-escalation point of view.

Sensitive sectors on the LoC and IB should be identified and joint measures should be undertaken to avoid incidents and repel infiltration attempts, even though the latter is possible only if Islamabad is serious about preventing infiltration. The two sides should also consider joint investigations of ceasefire violations and joint patrolling of sensitive areas.

None of the above steps can be translated into policy if there is no bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. Not only that structured bilateral dialogue process is absent, there is hardly any engagement between the two sides other than the grossly inadequate High Commission-level contacts. The back channel diplomacy which had ‘famously’ brought the two sides very close to a Kashmir deal in 2007 has also been non-existent since the formation of the new government in New Delhi. The responsibility of initiating a dialogue with Islamabad undeniably lay with New Delhi, which unilaterally cancelled the dialogue process in August this year.

New Delhi should, therefore, get off the diplomatic high horse it is now riding in its own strategic interest, and negotiate a new ceasefire agreement with Islamabad.

(Happymon Jacob teaches at the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi. E-mail: )


>>The second paragraph of the Comment page article, “A mortar for bullet game” (Feb. 6, 2015), said the LoC was put in place by the Simla Agreement of July 1972 replacing the ceasefire line created by the Karachi Agreement of 1948. In a subsequent paragraph, the article talked about the 1949 Karachi Agreement. The correct year is 1949.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 8:13:00 AM |

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