If nothing else, India and Pakistan have no dearth of issues to disagree and dispute over. The already fragile and precariously balanced “peace,” suffered yet another major setback when starting January 2013, the Line of Control (LoC) alongside Jammu and Kashmir area became restive enough to make the continuity of bilateral dialogue once again dubious and conditional. A ceasefire alongside the LoC, was unilaterally declared by Pakistan in November 2003 proposed by the Pakistani President general Pervaiz Musharaf, and for once reciprocated affirmatively by New Delhi. Ironically Musharaf happened to be the same person, whose “Out of Box” solution for a lasting peace in Kashmir was dismissed not only at domestic front but by New Delhi as well, the latter considering the general as the sole architect and executor of Kargil. This distrust and disconnect in Musharaf’s persona as well as the typical India-Pakistan “non-deliverance” was also visible during the 2001 Agra Summit, which brought crashing down many high expectations and optimism that perhaps for once there might be some positive change.
The ten supposed golden years of ceasefire along what the divided Kashmiri population call as the “khoni lakir” were not ideally without violations or occasional exchange of fire. However, this time period where positively witnessed opening up of cross-LoC trade and transport linkages as of 2007, New Delhi in 2004 happily announced that the completion of 550 km of fence covering most of the 740 km LoC, had most successfully brought down the “infiltration” rate to 20%. The fence alongside the disputed land stretch was of course considered not only as a violation of mutual accords, but also a breach of the fragile trust and confidence that was being carefully crafted. A neutral analysis could have brought about a slightly altered perspective, one in which post 9/11 most of such forces were occupied in another proxy dual, and a Kashmiri population which virtually each summer vehemently voiced its purely indigenous protest against occupation forces and genuine grievances. In fact concerned voices both from Kashmir and New Delhi would highlight the plight but without much effect.
The year-long skirmishes across the LoC initiated when around January 9th, both sides claimed infiltration and then killing of soldiers. What could have been a small scale manageable issue, very soon turned into not only a media circus but also an opportunity for political point scoring, with accusations and counter accusations heralded back and forth. Unfortunately any voices of sanity or rationality were downed by the Indian sale pitch as the country was entering the election year, with incumbent government already on a weak political footing. As for Pakistan, ironically enough, despite being in the thick of elections, conflict with India was never high on the campaign agenda, rather PML-N, which later won the elections, went all out to sound a reconciliatory tone with its neighbor, even when an incarcerated Pakistani was killed in retaliation to Sarabjit Singh’s killing in Pakistan. As for the much demonized Pakistan military, its focus genuinely remained westward. Driven by target rating points, private media houses specially the likes of NDTV fought a successful battle via airwaves, even when official military sources gave another version.
The result unfortunately was as predicted, once again whatever the shape of the peace process, it came grounding to a halt and the future continuity conditional. Any gesture towards normalcy or reconciliation was discouraged and dismissed as a sign of weakness and losing ground, the “other” side was demonized and portrayed barbaric, even to the point that the two prime ministers almost did not meet, because of the heavy negative sentiment. This all happened at a time, when both the nuclear neighbors, have methods, protocols and institutional infrastructure well laid out to defuse and mitigate such disputes. The 1972 Hotline agreement between the director general military operations being one of the longest standing protocols in this regard. This was later strengthened further when a similar link was established between the foreign and external affairs ministries of Pakistan and India respectively. The DGMO hotline and then flag ship meetings ought to be routine and procedural than a major headline, as has become in the case of December 24th meeting. Immediately after January firings, a suggestion by Pakistan to involve the UNMOGIP as an established neutral monitor could have also been effectively taken up. Such incidents show the fragility of the peace process, it shows how emotional rhetoric and political jingoism, spoilers and interest groups, benefit more from the continuation of conflict than peace. So long as this trend continues, development and progress will remain hostage and elusive and the consequences would be for the people of the two countries and the region to face. One can only hope for a positive outcome of the much expected talks, and their potential to turn the khoni lakir into a “line of peace.”