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#4696, 13 October 2014

Dateline Islamabad

India-Pakistan: Working Boundaries and Lines of Uncontrolled Fire
Salma Malik
Assistant professor, Defence and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University

After a much-deliberated stalemate, Afghanistan finally had a new democratic government with a power-sharing arrangement. The signing of the controversial Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) provides a false sense of security to many who felt that the US military must not pull out completely as the perceived regional proxies would turn Afghanistan into a complete proxy battlefield.

Though Pakistan has time and again reiterated its policy of non-interference and non-intervention in Afghan internal affairs, the same cannot be said about other regional actors. That will add to complicating the bilateral equation further. Another moot point is the Durand line, which always carries the potential to ignite fiery exchanges of passionate and politically loaded rhetorics and on rare instances, exchange of firepower. However, the more volatile of the “unofficial” boundaries has been the Line of Control (LoC) and working boundary on the eastern border, which has over the years, successfully become a testing field of India-Pakistan relations. Like any and all bilateral arrangements between the two neighbors, the 2003 ceasefire agreement regarding the LoC has also been blatantly violated in the past several years. 

With both elected governments in Pakistan and India being driven by economics, the general perception was that even if there is no substantial progress on the bigger problem areas, at least both administrations will try and maintain congenial relations and move towards progressive engagement. However the first sign of trouble was the calling-off of the Augus 2014 foreign secretary level talks after Pakistan’s high commissioner to India met with the Kashmiri leadership.

Interestingly, anyone familiar with the New Delhi diplomatic setup and the grand receptions held would actually find a much greater number and variety of Kashmiri leadership in attendance, brushing shoulders with all and sundry.

Sensitivities aside, if seriously committed to the process, a better approach could have been registering a well-worded protest and allowing the talks to proceed as per schedule. However, several times in the past too, much investment has been made in holding a meeting than making it meaningful. What if the meeting had proceeded as per schedule? There is little doubt that nothing substantial would have resulted from the parleys. Despite a much clearer vision regarding what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants regarding internal growth and development and a foreign policy to match with it, there was a somewhat vague gesturing vis-à-vis relations with Islamabad. Although, during his election campaigning Modi and his party had been vocally very anti-Pakistani, yet the very brief period of positive overturing soon after elections, gave space for optimism that perhaps things might be on the mend. 

The recent round of cross-LoC fire resulting in substantial infrastructural damage as well as heavy civilian fatalities on either sides of the LoC and working boundary, has again brought out media histrionics seeking death to Pakistan and dealing the enemy (Islamabad) a crushing decisive blow. Where on one hand it makes the Modi government’s policy towards its neighbor clear, it also retards the process (whatever it may be) substantially.

A recent statement by the new-kid-on-the-block, Bilawal Bhutto, regarding wresting the entire Kashmir from India got a knee-jerk reaction from across the border. Interestingly, one set of replies was hacking of the Pakistan Peoples Party web site by an Indian group which posted propaganda stuff with inflammatory statements. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif too, much to New Delhi’s displeasure highlighted the plight of Kashmiris at the recently concluded UNGA session in New York. Immediately, conspiracy theorists hinted at a silent pledge between Sharif and Modi regarding silence over the K-word.

However, what has intentionally been forgotten in this entire conflict narrative is the plight of flood-affected Kashmiri population, which has suffered loss of lives and livelihood. 

Cross-LoC fire has unfortunately become a barometer of India-Pakistan relations. Sooner or later the guns will fall silent, after claiming many lives both civilian and military, with unpleasant words exchanged and angry gesturing at the political level. In the worse-case scenario, it may require a higher level of deployment, but that is highly unlikely. What it will claim in its wake is a chunk of peace, and a window of opportunity to act wisely by either side and discuss the problem, rather than indulging in blind rage and provocative statements.

Although New Delhi does not accord the same status to UNMOGIP than Pakistan, the latter’s proposal of making this office more proactive may not be a bad idea. Apparently, sticking to bilateralism and seeking a third party’s role behind the curtains which results in crisis stability has become a norm for the two neighbors. The current crossfire, while may apparently look like a good marketing strategy – with Modi allegedly approving an all-out assault – will further fracture the already fragile base on which “conditional” peace stands. If either side is genuinely interested in peace, there is a need for reviewing both policies and postures. 

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