TRADITIONALLY India has used the Simla Agreement to avoid third-party mediation in its disputes with Pakistan. Its rejection of Islamabad’s proposal for a UN probe into the latest clashes across the Line of Control in Kashmir can be seen against this backdrop. But technically New Delhi is not on a strong wicket if it uses the 1972 agreement to bypass the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan. Class ii of the Simla Agreement expresses the resolve of the two countries to “settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon”. This has allowed India to reject offers by friendly countries to help solve the festering Kashmir issue. UNMOGIP’s role is not political, however, and it is not charged with the task of mediating between Pakistan and India for resolving their differences over the disputed territory. Its role — as its name suggests — is one of an observer whose duty it is to monitor “developments pertaining to the strict observance of the ceasefire of 17 December 1971”.
In the latest clashes across the LoC, both India and Pakistan have lost soldiers. Both sides have not only accused each other of aggression, Indian officials and media have also alleged that Pakistani forces mutilated the bodies of Indian soldiers, which the Pakistan government has denied. Mercifully the two governments have decided not to exacerbate matters, and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar made clear that the clashes would not be allowed to derail the peace process. There is no doubt this is the correct approach, for the Thimphu spirit must be pursued vigorously to prevent as far as possible LoC violations that can only set back progress. But that doesn’t mean that the facts regarding these recent LoC incidents should not be established. If Pakistan and India cannot establish the truth themselves through cooperation and in an impartial manner, then there is no better forum than the UNMOGIP to do so.