Last month, India and Pakistan committed to abiding by the 2003 ceasefire agreement. The announcements were made after deliberations over the established hotline between Directors-General Military Operations of India and Pakistan. That the joint statement is the first one to be issued by the two militaries after 18 years is not only significant but also being dubbed a welcome departure from the unremitting acrimony between the two countries. In other words, the resuscitation of the ceasefire agreement is being seen as a precursor to incremental improvements in Indo-Pak relations, much to the detriment of the ‘Kashmir cause’. Further, according to the Indian media, the joint statement was a result of backchannel discussions between the security top men of India and Pakistan, Ajit Doval and Dr. Moeed Yusuf, something that the latter has categorically denied. Though the commitment to upholding the ceasefire is good news for the innocent Kashmiris living along the Line of Control (LoC), it is unlikely to positively affect the trajectory of Indo-Pak relations going forward. Also, the ceasefire has and does not change anything related to the Kashmir issue; the logjam will continue to make a return to normalcy all the more unlikely.
There are two things to consider while assessing the impact of a ceasefire on the Kashmir issue. One, ceasefire violations (CFVs) on the LoC or the Work Boundary (WB), for that matter is normally not directly in line with the overall state-of-affairs in and related to Kashmir. According to Happymon Jacob, a host of Autonomous Military Factors account for violence on the LoC. As a result of the brazen use of high-caliber weapons by India, Kashmiri civilians living on Pakistan’s side of the LoC and the WB are killed and injured. In 2020, 27 civilians lost their lives while 250 were severely injured due to more than 3,000 CFVs by India. Thus, silencing guns, albeit temporarily, will be a huge sigh of relief for innocent Kashmiris living along the LoC. A reduction of violence on the LoC and WB will, therefore, remove one of the potential sources of escalation, given that an action-reaction response-mechanism is followed by both India and Pakistan. Other than adding to tensions, the fire-trade between the two countries does not help anyone, especially the Kashmiris. Two, a ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan does not denote peace. As of today, India continues to illegally and unconstitutionally occupy Kashmir while also aggressively pushing for demographic changes. For its part, Pakistan continues to stress that the onus for peace lies on India. In a series of tweets commemorating Pakistan’s valiant retaliation to India’s 2019 breach of its sovereignty, Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated that India needs to take “necessary steps to meet the long-standing demand and right of the Kashmiri people to self- determination according to UNSC resolutions.” Thus, conflating a renewed commitment to reducing violence with ‘abandoning Kashmir’ is problematic. This is primarily because the only tangible dividend of this agreement is that Kashmiris living along the border areas will be spared of the carnage that they witness day-in, day-out. If anything, such a thought behind entering into a ceasefire commitment is not reflective of a snub from Islamabad. Absent a ceasefire, protecting innocent civilians living along the border areas is full of escalatory risks, which Pakistan and the Kashmiris cannot afford. The predicament for Pakistan is bigger; its retaliatory options against Indian aggression on the LoC are limited because it does not want to target Kashmiris living across the LoC.
All this, however, does not mean that the recent agreement is insignificant. After years of ignoring the sacrosanctity of the LoC, coupled with extolling its surgical strike stratagem, India’s decision to commit to a ceasefire is noteworthy. Coming on the heels of disengagement with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the agreement with Pakistan shows, among other things, India’s growing inability to sustain kinetic activities against its adversaries. Regardless of the reasons that propelled New Delhi to acquiesce for a ceasefire, it is important to note that, it will give breathing space to both capitals. The question that arises then is this: will India use this window to meaningfully engage with Pakistan? One could find a silver-lining in recent efforts to dial down rhetoric. One could also highlight Gen. Bajwa’s recent speech in which he delved into the need for giving peace another chance. However, it would be wrong to expect a series of breakthroughs going forward. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) are certainly critical to promoting peace. That said, they are not effective when the principal casus belli rages with no end in sight. Pakistan is dealing with a very different India, one that is led by those who have grandiose, expansionary designs. Will an irrational Indian leadership take positive strides towards peace, especially when those are related to New Delhi losing its control on a piece of land? That Occupied and annexed Kashmir is a land that India covets is one of the reasons as to why progress towards peaceful coexistence is a far short.
Today, India has reached a point where it cannot hoodwink Pakistan and the Kashmiris, for that matter. Whether the ceasefire is a step in the larger scheme of things or not remains to be seen. It surely depends on India. If India thinks that a two-front peace is better than a two-front war, it should take this opportunity to seriously consider Pakistan’s plea for eradicating poverty through conflict-resolution. An India buoyed by being mollycoddled as a veritable bulwark against China, is least likely to tread the path towards peace and stability.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of his organization.
Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Associate at the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research at the University of Lahore. He is also the Associate Editor of Pakistan Politico, the country’s first strategic and foreign affairs magazine. He is also teaching undergraduate courses on Foreign Policy and National Security. He has been working in the think tank circuit for the past 4 years. His research interest lie in nuclear deterrence, military strategy, and the geopolitics of South Asia. He regularly contributes to premier dailies.