THE pattern of violence along the Line of Control in the disputed Kashmir region is familiar, but against a backdrop of an unravelling security and political situation in India-held Kashmir, the latest LoC tensions are particularly troubling. The usual set of accusations and recriminations have followed the violence over the weekend along the LoC: Pakistan has accused India of targeting local populations across the LoC; India claims it was Pakistan that started the exchange of fire. And as ever the brunt of the violence has been borne by the local population – numerous injured and several reportedly dead by Sunday. With Pakistan’s civilian leadership in Beijing for the One Belt, One Road summit and India declining to participate because of its objections to CPEC projects linked to China through the Gilgit-Baltistan region, the cross-LoC violence is also a reminder that the local and the regional are closely connected in Kashmir.
For Pakistan, the challenge remains the same. Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa has been a frequent visitor to the LoC in recent times and has had a consistent message: Pakistan will defend itself against Indian belligerence while drawing international attention to India’s crimes against the people of IHK. It is a sensible approach and should be complemented by counselling restraint to local commanders along the LoC. If India is keen on escalating conflict to draw attention away from the trouble it faces in the occupied territory, Pakistan should not allow attempted Indian diversions to succeed. Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office three years ago, there have been periodic tests, varying in intensity, of Pakistan’s resolve along the LoC. By now, Pakistan should be able to separate genuine incidents from possible Indian attempts to cause a flare-up along the LoC for political purposes.
On the political front, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Mr Modi need to return to the path of dialogue urgently. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Kazakhstan presents an early opportunity, especially since the gathering will mark the accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO. The absence of dialogue has allowed Mr Modi to pursue ever more aggressive policies in IHK and for all of Pakistan’s attempts to bring global attention to bear on India’s violence against the Kashmiri people, the whole spectrum of Pakistan’s relations and disputes with India has suffered. Indeed, for hawks in both countries, the argument that dialogue in current conditions is meaningless is part of the problem – arguably, it is the absence of dialogue that has allowed the situation in IHK to worsen and Pak-India tensions to remain at worryingly highs levels. Mr Sharif has shown great courage in adhering to his dialogue-focused approach to India. The Indian prime minister needs to reciprocate and demonstrate that he truly understands the demands of statesmanship.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2017