Hundreds have been killed and maimed in the senseless, mindless violence across the Line of Control ever since it came into being in 1972, mostly as a result of the callousness to formalize ceasefire agreements and border management treaties, an attitude reflective of the inimical relationship between the two neighbours.
In his groundbreaking book, ‘Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics’, Defence Analyst and Prof of Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Happymon Jacob, through extensive research establishes that the predominantly larger, serious and prolonged ceasefire violations (CFVs) occur due to lack of written down bilateral ceasefire agreements that can lead to a massive conflagration.
The LOC ceasefire from 2003 to 2008 following Pak-India DGMOs hotline communication has not been converted into a written document. And, as ridiculous as it sounds, there are existing treaties that govern the management of the border between India and Pakistan, but no ratification by either side to abide by them. The two sides last met in 2005 to frame new rules, but nothing happened thereafter.
The 2,912 km border between the two neighbours is split into the International Boundary, the Working Boundary and the Line of Control. The 742 km-long LoC falls between Azad Kashmir on the Pakistan side and Jammu and Kashmir on the other side. The Working Boundary lies between Sialkot and the disputed Kashmir region. And then there is the International Border, which is internationally recognized, covering the larger parts of Punjab and Sindh in the south.
The 1949 Karachi Agreement, a holistic document, forbids any defensive structures within 500 meters of the LoC, but India does not recognize it. Same goes for the India-Pakistan Border Ground Rules,1960-61. India does not officially recognise the ground rules and they remain in limbo and create conditions for CFVs.
Similarly, there are no SOPs to cover any human crossings on the treacherous LoC either. Bizarre as it might sound, Pakistani villages are located right up to the Zero Line and in some cases even ahead of the forward military posts. Also in some cases, Indian farms exist beyond their fence towards the Pakistan side where the farmers work daily. Also, families split by the LoC are living across the difficult terrain. There are marriages to attend, relatives and friends to meet. Firings take place due to inadvertent cross-border movement of people and even animals. Life hangs perilously low at the LoC. Pakistanis get killed trying to bring grazing animals on the other side of the line or even those cutting grass get mowed down on suspicion of being militants trying to cross the border.
In the words of former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, “LoC firing never gets the headlines; it still takes lives and destroys the families left behind.” Consider the magnitude of the tragedies when in 2016, 382 violations were reported and in 2017 Indian forces committed more than 1,970 ceasefire violations. In 2018, 14 civilians died and 65 were injured due to 330 ceasefire violations.
Then there are areas where the demarcation line does not exist and it is “assumed to be somewhere near a certain distant grove of trees”. Similarly, areas where the LoC was eroded by heavy snowfall, landslides, floods, further blur the lines of civility. In such conditions, it is not just civilians but even soldiers on both sides who lose track during patrolling and wander into each other’s territory causing ceasefire violations. This happens at a time and age when GPS navigation is available on every cell phone and it can be used to demarcate the border independent of any erosion – but that requires a sincere intent to prevent the ‘meat grinding’ that goes on in the LoC theatre. All these lacunae that trigger CFVs point to a systemic pattern of gamesmanship and ritualized killing to preserve the status quo.
The major reason for CFVS is the general state of the relationship between Islamabad and New Delhi, which largely determines the ebb and flow of ceasefire violations. While the LoC has never been peaceful, and smaller violations take place even in the best of times, diplomatic engagements have largely kept the violations very low like during Gen Musharraf’s peace process in 2003-2008. Even from 2010 till 2012, when the foreign ministers and foreign secretaries of both countries kept meeting, CFVs remained low to moderate.
Since 2016, Modi has used the rejection of dialogue with Pakistan and disproportionate bombardment on the Line of Control as part of a punitive policy to appease the domestic crowd; and ceasefire violations have both multiplied in intensity and frequency. Pakistan has repeatedly asked New Delhi to formalise the 2003 ceasefire agreements, but India does not want to.
Many of these CFVs may not happen if there is a political will to resolve the outstanding issues. In the existing antagonistic environment, retaining military ground advantage and resisting changes to the status quo on the LoC emerge as another important reason for ceasefire violations.
Such belligerent environments encourage misdemeanours too. Happymon Jacob, who extensively travelled along the borders and the military facilities of both India and Pakistan, mentions that once a junior Indian army officer activated a border clash continuing for days only to prove his assertiveness. All he did was to trigger a firing exchange with the Pakistani border post claiming that to be an interception of insurgents crossing the border, and invited a TV team to record that.
This is the most dangerous part – when national security and foreign policy are played out in the public domain with people cheering and jeering.
Due to the massive deployment of Indian troops at the border, installation of laser lights, alarms, cameras and radars and the fencing of the Pak-India border since almost a decade, infiltrations have largely reduced. But, the frequency and intensity of ceasefire violations remain high.
In his extensive research, Happymon establishes 9-10 occasions in the last 18 years where ceasefire violations arising out of the above factors led to extremely serious political, military and diplomatic escalation. Without agreeing to watertight, written agreements binding ceasefire and border management rules, Indian gamesmanship will continue to risk triggering regional and global instability.
Email: amjad.siddiqithenews. com.pk