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#5408, 12 December 2017

IPCS Series on Evolving Discourses of Security in International Politics

Ceasefire Violations in Jammu & Kashmir: A Line on Fire

Report of the discussion on ‘Ceasefire Violations in Jammu & Kashmir: A Line on Fire’, held under the IPCS series on Evolving Discourses of Security in International Politics, on 1 December 2017.

Ceasefire Violations in Jammu & Kashmir: A Line on Fire
Dr Happymon Jacob
Associate Professor of Diplomacy and Disarmament Studies, School of International Studies, JNU

It is crucial to uncover the causes of ceasefire violations (CFV) in Jammu and Kashmir because they are one of the major sources of escalation - political, diplomatic and military - of tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad. Little attention has been paid in existing analyses to the linkage between ceasefire violations and escalation dynamics. Although CFVs are predominantly caused by local level military factors on the frontline, these factors operate within the larger dynamic of political permissibility. A politically permissible environment is one in which there is an assumed permission for aggressive action/engagement. In other periods, for instance between 2004 and 2008, there were clear directions to not engage in firing on the border, therefore there were negligible CFVs. The third kind is the ‘indeterminate’ political permissibility in which there is no clear political direction and the potential for CFVs is high because local commanders have higher autonomy to fire. This was the case from 2009 to 2014.

There is no systematic official data available on CFVs specifying their causes and locations. Not all CFVs get reported in the press. Therefore, press reporting is much lower than the official numbers but this is an important source for the cause and location of the CFVs. On the basis of the data collected and organised from official and other open sources, it is observed that from 2012 onward, areas most affected by CFVs on the Indian side are Poonch, Jammu, Samba and Rajouri. On the Pakistani side, Sialkot, Rawalakot, Kotli and Shakargarh have seen the highest incidences of CFVs.

Political triggers often lead to CFVs. For example, visits by Indian officials to J&K and days of national importance are often accompanied by CFVs. On the one hand, Indian officials emphasise that Pakistan violates the ceasefire to keep the Kashmir issue relevant in the eyes of the international community. The Pakistan army also violates the ceasefire to warn the political class of Pakistan to tread carefully in its bilateral overtures to New Delhi. On the other hand, the current discourse from Pakistan indicates that CFVs by India have increased since the 2014 election in which the Narendra Modi government came to power.

Apart from political triggers, local level military factors on the LoC and International Boundary (IB)/Working Boundary (WB) greatly contribute to the recurrent breakdown of ceasefire between India and Pakistan. While there is no consensus on the type of defence construction allowed along the Line of Control (LoC), new defence construction like increasing the height of a bunker leads to an increase in CFVs. A crucial reason for CFVs is land grabbing. Since the LoC is only delineated on paper and is not a physically demarcated boundary, the operational principle is ‘grabbers keepers’. Land grabbing - opportunistic or aggressive - can take place occasionally, especially in places where there is no regular patrolling. Land grabs can lead to CFVs.

Another motivation for CFVs is to release pressure elsewhere. This means that retaliation to a CFV by the other side might not be carried out in the same sector, and instead responded to in a sector where one has geographical advantage over the other side. Sniping can take a huge toll on troop morale, and the response can be by sustained fire assaults across the border. Third, CFVs are crucial to keep up confidence within the ranks that a future war can be won. CFVs could result from the need to keep moral ascendancy. Similarly, retaliatory firing is done in the name of prestige and honour. Personality traits of the commanders can also affect the interpretation of permissibility to fire across. Other reasons can include inadvertent crossing and speculative firing.

There is a lack of legal treaties and institutional mechanisms on the LoC. The 2003 ceasefire has not been written down or formalised. Instituting urgent mechanisms to better manage the India-Pakistan border in J&K is the need of the hour.

Lt Gen (Retd) Vinod Bhatia
Director, Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS), & former Director General Military Operations (DGMO)

While the data at hand does not indicate a clear linkage between infiltrations and CFVs, there is geographical evidence that demonstrates the contrary. When looking at sectors where infiltrations take place and sectors where CFVs occur, it seems the two take place in the same geographical area, which could be evidence of a connection. Further, there is an established linkage between political dialogue and CFVs as well as terrorism. When political leaders from both countries grow too close, the Pakistani military intervenes to send a message to its own political establishment. Therefore, it is essential that India open channels with Rawalpindi rather than only engaging with Islamabad. The ceasefire is in the best interest of both countries, which is something the Pakistani military needs to understand. Concerning the impact of CFVs on the local population, although it is impossible to quantify in exact terms the compensation local communities should receive for their hardships, the army attempts to assist as much as possible by helping construct schools, providing employment to teachers, and hiring locals for services such as transportation.

Col (Retd) Ajai Shukla
Columnist, Business Standard

In any discussion on CFVs, certain important elements that are often neglected need to be taken into account. First of all, in a conflict situation like on the LoC, where two armies with a history of animosity are facing each other, CFVs are bound to take place. While tight control by commanders and strong SOPs can help minimise their occurrence, CFVs can never be completely ruled out. Secondly, it is important to note that the current levels of CFVs are only one-tenth of what the firing levels used to be in 1999-2001, before the ceasefire came into effect. This indicates that the ceasefire, contrary to popular belief, is still very much alive and holding. Thirdly, an important aspect within the debate on CFVs is its implications for the local population who bear the brunt of these violations. Although the locals are used to living in a conflict zone, constant evacuations complicate their lives. The army offers assistance to local communities along the LoC and is highly regarded by the people that live here, unlike the animosity that prevails in the towns and cities of J&K. Since the J&K administration is conspicuous by its absence in border areas and politicians seldom visit, the army is the only government representation locals are familiar with. The suggestion that Indian political leaders should engage with the Pakistani army because it controls policymaking in Pakistan has serious caveats. This thought stream assumes that Rawalpindi is willing to talk to New Delhi, which is not supported by evidence. The Pakistani army thrives on the India threat as it legitimises their raison d’être. Further, talking to Rawalpindi will constitute an Indian political recognition of the supremacy of the army in Pakistan and will only serve to legistimise an extraconstitutional entity and an undemocratic arrangement. Furthermore, talking to the Pakistan army about political affairs would also drag the Indian Army into the political realm, since any dialogue with the Pakistan Army would require the Indian army to play a major role. This is highly unlikely to happen.

SPS Sandhu
Commandant, Western Theatre Headquarters, Border Security Force (BSF), Chandigarh

It needs to be noted that this data concerns the recognised border (International Boundary) in the Jammu sector and not the LoC. BSF data does not indicate a specific and mandatory connection between terrorist infiltrations and cross-border firing. CFVs through cross-border firing are also done to ‘keep the kettle boiling’, to harass the BSF troops and Indian civilians inhabiting border areas, and to spoil celebrations of festivals in India, besides aiding infiltration. Furthermore, the Pakistani side always causes CFVs, and the BSF responds in a befitting manner in kind - but is never the one to initiate a CFV. These Pakistani offences make the lives of local communities increasingly difficult. People are often displaced for days, schools close regularly, and farmers are unable to harvest their crops. During CFVs, the BSF assists in the evacuation of local citizens, which continues until the firing has ended. This may sometimes take up to 45 days at a time.

Rapporteured by Pieter Jan-Docx, Research Intern, IPCS 

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