OPINION

Arrest this negative trend

India and Pakistan have wisely decided not to make too much of the flare-up on the Line of Control, although they have put out contradictory versions of the incident. In allowing the problem to be sorted out at the battalion commander level, the two sides signalled that they wished to treat it as a disturbance in a confined area. The Directors General of Military Operations of the two armies have also been in touch on a hotline in an effort to keep the situation under control. That said, there is clearly a need for Islamabad and New Delhi to put in greater efforts to arrest this negative trend. A ceasefire that has held quite well for over four years has been allegedly violated on at least 19 occasions since January 2008. In Islamabad’s version, the clashes occurred mainly because Indian army units have built new forward observation posts in a display of aggressive intent. If this is the case, a clear demarcation of positions held at the time the ceasefire was instituted could reduce the chances of intentions being misconstrued. According to New Delhi, on most occasions Pakistani troops opened fire to facilitate infiltration by militant groups. This version needs to be treated as credible because there were provocative actions of this sort on a fairly regular basis before the ceasefire was put in place. A few months ago, there was even a case of mistaken identity: Pakistani soldiers were killed by a militant group driven back from the Indian side.

There appears to be a link between the increase in the number of ceasefire violations and the transition to civilian rule. During its four months of existence, the federal government led by the Pakistan People’s Party has slipped up on more than one front. It cannot credibly claim that it is powerless to act against militant groups. Much evidence has accumulated over the years that these groups raise funds, recruit personnel, and train them in parts of Pakistan patrolled by police forces and not the army. The federal and provincial governments can certainly produce better results if they put their minds to it. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was reminded of his responsibilities when the White House issued a fact sheet after his meeting with President George W. Bush. The communique emphasised Pakistan’s obligation to protect its neighbours. In a significant departure from past practice, the fact sheet did not specify Afghanistan as the neighbour that needs to be protected. India and Pakistan must give the highest importance to maintaining and building on détente — and must do this directly and bilaterally, without any intermediation.

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