Peace Audit

Ten Years of Ceasefire along the LoC: Recent Violations

20 Dec, 2013    ·   4220

Muhammad Faisal says that the post-election scenario in India will decide how tensions along the LoC and relations with Pakistan are to be handled

After the War of 1971, the territorial positions of India and Pakistan were cemented through the establishment of the 740 km long Line of Control (LoC). Both countries agreed to respect this position until a political settlement of the dispute could be negotiated. But for the next three decades, the LoC remained a hotspot as the two armies exchanged fire regularly. The subcontinent experienced the crises of 1984, 1987, 1990, and Kargil which took place after the 2001-02 crisis. The intensity of each crisis was gauged by the heated exchange of fire and shelling across the LoC. Hence, the LoC became a measure of tension between arch rivals. Even after the diffusion of the 2001-02 crisis, small scale skirmishes continued across the LoC. In 2003, the Indian PM Vajpayee made several peace overtures to Pakistan; in return, Pakistan offered bilateral ceasefire along the LoC. Both countries agreed to, and concluded an agreement in November 2003. Soon after ceasefire went into effect, India completed the fencing of the whole LoC to control infiltration from across the border. In August 2005, after expert-level talks, both countries agreed not to ‘develop any new posts and defence works along the LoC’.

After the ceasefire agreement, peace processes to resolve Kashmir and other outstanding disputes through dialogue gained momentum. A four-point formula was advanced to resolve the Kashmir dispute and it proposed to make the LoC irrelevant. The Indian PM Singh also talked about ‘converting LoC as a line on the map’. Reportedly, both countries almost came to a political settlement in 2007, but political instability in Pakistan prevented the dialogue from producing a substantial agreement. Nonetheless, ceasefire across the LoC was observed to a large extent by both sides, despite irregular fire exchanges and occasional encounters. Ceasefire was even maintained during the gravest escalation of recent years - during and after the Mumbai terrorist attacks. India acknowledged that cross-border infiltration has declined significantly. But mutual complaints of ceasefire breaches have increased in recent years. These complaints were highlighted, most recently, by both sides, during technical talks on conventional CBMs in New Delhi in December 2012.

2013 saw a sharp increase in ceasefire violations from bother sides. Exchange of fire and shelling continued from both sides in various sectors. (The periodic exchange of fire and shelling along the LoC was a norm prior to the ceasefire agreement. Troops would exchange fire and local field commanders would resolve the issue through flag meetings. But this time, something different happened.

In the last months of 2012, the Indian army tried to construct new observation posts in the vicinity of Charonda in the Haji Pir sector. After detecting the new construction near the LoC, the local Pakistani commander sought a regular flag meeting to address the issue. Both the DGMOs also spoke on the hotline, and when Pakistan’s objections that these constructions were in violation of the ceasefire agreement were raised, Indian commanders insisted that they were routine maintenance and up-gradation of old buildings and not a violation of the ceasefire agreement. Pakistani troops and local commanders issued warnings over loudspeakers but that yielded no substantial results, and hence, the exchange of fire between two sides was re-commenced.

A report in The Hindu, on 10 January 2013, also backed Pakistan’s version, as the newspaper stated that bunker construction by the Indian army sparked the flare-up across the LoC. These skirmishes between both armies gradually spread to various sectors across the LoC, and fire was also exchanged along the working boundary in Sialkot sector. Subsequently, the Indian army upped the ante and the Indian media created a war-euphoria. War mongering by the Indian media was so intense that the New York meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, was consumed by discussion on ceasefire violations along the LoC. Both premiers tasked their DGMOs to resolve the issue bilaterally but a meeting has yet to take place.

Recently, India announced the construction of a wall along the LoC akin to the Berlin Wall built during the Cold War. It can be reasoned that the Indian military deliberately escalated the skirmishes along the LoC to advance the idea of constructing a wall, thus turning the LoC into a permanent de facto border. The India military is averse to a change in the status of the LoC. At a time when India is in election mode and when the Congress-led government is at its weakest, relations with Pakistan and ceasefire violations across the LoC have become a hot topic of debate.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government have made several attempts to engage India in security and trade dialogue to resolve outstanding issues. But the response from India has not been constructive. Any progress on addressing the underlying causes of the recent flare-up across the LoC and subsequent dialogue on the LoC’s fragility will have to be undertaken by the new government in New Delhi. Until a mechanism to resolve the lingering Kashmir dispute is evolved, the 2003 ceasefire agreement will be the basis for maintaining a fragile peace in one of the most militarised and volatile regions of the world. It remains to be seen how the new government in New Delhi, most probably formed by the BJP, handles simmering LoC tension and the broader relations with Pakistan, after an election won on nationalist posturing.