Making Sense of LoC: Internal Politics & Bilateral Firings

31 Oct, 2013    ·   4160

D Suba Chandran asks why the Line of Control (LoC) has become violent after ceasing fire for almost a decade

Why have our Line of Control (LoC) and the international border in J&K has suddenly become violent? After ceasing fire for almost a decade, what has substantially changed between India and Pakistan that is echoing along the LoC/IB in J&K? Especially, when there is a democratically elected government and the civil society at large in Pakistan prefer a positive bilateral relationship between the two countries? On its part, even if the Congress government has not made positive utilization of the ceasefire, certainly has never wanted to derail the process. So why has our LoC become violent now?

Primary reasons are on the other side of the LoC and international border, especially over the relationship between the military and the elected government under Nawaz Sharif. It is no secret that the relationship between Nawaz Sharif and the military, despite the efforts by his brother Shabaz Sharif, is not positive. Though the Sharifs were the product and protégés of the military and its ISI in the late 1980s and 90s, the relationship has changed dramatically between the two, when Nawaz Sharif sacked Jehangir Karamat and also his successor Pervez Musharraf. While Karamat left silently, a gentleman officer he is, his successor, the Commando staged a coup and imprisoned Sharif. The relationship between the PML-N and the military ever since is well known to everyone.

Before and after his electoral victory, Nawaz Sharif has been openly advocating better Indo-Pak relations, for two simple reasons. First, he is well aware, as a businessman, given the economic situation within Pakistan, he cannot pursue a hostile strategy towards India. A better relationship, especially over trade, J&K and gas pipelines will substantially help Pakistan. Second, he is also well aware, a positive relationship with India will also undermine military’s inputs into foreign policy making, especially relating to New Delhi and J&K.

For Pakistan’s military, any independent foreign policy by the elected government vis-a-vis Afghanistan and India is unacceptable. While the civil society at large, including the retired military officials within Pakistan have been demanding a positive approach towards Kabul and Islamabad, they are not powerful enough to make an impact on the military. The military leadership is unlikely to accept any negotiations through the back channel between the two Prime Minsiters, as it happened between Sharif and Vajpayee through Niaz Naik and RK Mishra. Immediately after the elections, it was clear for the military that Sharif would revive the back channel diplomacy vis-a-vis India.

While the military in Pakistan is not averse to allow a track-II dialogue between the two countries, and even between the two parts of J&K, it is less likely to accept back channel diplomacy between the two Prime Ministers. Of course, even the track-II dialogue between the two countries today is packed by former military officials; hence the GHQ is comfortable with such an approach. In fact, it would be surprising to note, for some track-II dialogues, the military in Pakistan even sent serving officials!

Besides the domestic equation with the elected government and its reluctance to accept a civilian led dialogue with India, the military in Pakistan perhaps also perceives that the changing regional environment from Kabul to Kashmir is in its favour.  The US today needs Pakistan more than ever, as it is winding up its operations in Afghanistan. Especially for two reasons: first, the US needs to get back all its military hardware from Pakistan via the Chaman and Khyber passes into Pakistan and then exit via the Karachi port. Second, the US also needs Pakistan’s active inputs to ensure that the next government in Afghanistan remains stable. Pakistan can make the US plans to go haywire simply by not cooperating. Geographically, the US will have no other options, unless it reaches an agreement with Iran!

For Pakistan, an added advantage is the growing political divide between China and India. It is unfortunate, that Beijing sees Indo-US strategic partnership as essentially anti-China, and hence been attempting to expand the relationship with Pakistan. The new cooperation on nuclear reactors is certainly a part of this Chinese strategy to prop Pakistan and checkmate India within the region. Perhaps, the larger Sino-Indian relations and the military hostilities along the Line of Actual Control between the two militaries make Pakistan’s military leadership to feel confident that the regional environment favors them.

So what would be primary aim of Pakistan military in violating the ceasefire along the LoC? Is it attempting to send more infiltrators into J&K, or using it as a strategy to scuttle any Indo-Pak rapprochement between Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif, or both? A section in the rest of India also links it with forthcoming elections in J&K and impending winter. The last two are less likely to be primary reasons; the political situation within J&K is not in favour any mainstream political party, hence there should be no reason for Pakistan to plan now to upset an already confusing situation. Why would winter and infiltration suddenly become an issue in 2013, when it was not the case since 2004?

Primary reason from Pakistan’s side seems to be in terms of the differences between the military and elected government, and the former’s effort to scuttle any back channel diplomacy between India and Pakistan.

Now, what about India? From the Indian side, more than the military response, the media, especially electronic media in New Delhi has taken over the responsibility of charting the course. The political leadership led by Manmohan Singh seems to have abdicated its responsibility to pursue a coherent strategy, and more importantly, explaining to the Indian nation what it has in mind vis-a-vis Pakistan and the firing across LoC. Why blame only General Goswamis of the electronic media, when the political leadership provide that space to prime time boardroom warriors?

What is evident is the Prime Minister’s un-confusing stand in terms of not making any decisions. Narasimha Rao, the former Prime Minister who was known for such a strategy in not taking decisions, should be extremely proud of his protégé. Well done, Manmohan Singh.

While the national media in India is on an offensive strategizing an Indian response, what has been under focussed, is the impact on villages along the LoC and the IB. When everyone was dreaming of a the new generation not getting exposed to cross-border firing, positive developments in the last few years to the families along the LoC will now be pushed into back seat. Once again, children in their teens and below ten are likely to use “shelling” and “firing” in their regular vocabulary, while their fellow brothers and sisters elsewhere will be talking about facebook and twitter. What have we done?

Even more importantly, a section within Pakistan’s civil society, however feeble, was in fact talking about normalizing relationship with India. Despite the general belief that Pakistan’s media is free, there are numerous “embedded” anchors on the other side, who are now using and being used to propagate the classic – Indians are not serious about improving bilateral relationship. After seeing the Prime Minister in action, or inaction during the last two years, perhaps, there is an element of truth.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir