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Confrontation on the LoC

February 22, 2018

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THE almost daily exchange of fire across the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, in the Kashmir and Punjab sectors, with growing losses of life and property on both sides, must be brought to an end as quickly as possible, because the danger of the situation getting out of control and developing into a full-scale armed clash between the two countries is real.

Each of the two sides has been releasing figures of losses suffered by it in the course of ceasefire violations by the other side. At a recent (Feb 9) briefing, the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson said that “in 2018 to date, Indian forces carried out more than 200 ceasefire violations, resulting in the death of 13 civilians and injuries to 65 others”. This was said to be in continuation of ceasefire violations at an unprecedented scale in 2017, when the Indian forces committed 1,970 violations, resulting in the killing of 54 Pakistan civilians and injuries to more than 200 people.

The Indians are telling equally disturbing stories. According to their reports, there were about 860 incidents of firing across the LoC in the Kashmir sector during 2017 and more than five incidents of exchange of fire per day during the month of January this year. The Indian intelligence sources have been quoted as saying that 138 Pakistani military personnel were killed in 2017 in what is described as “tactical operations and retaliatory cross-border firings”.

Neither party is talking seriously about preventing a conflict that will harm both.

In addition, the plight of the people living in villages along what is now the line of conflict is indescribably serious. Some partial evacuation from villages in Pakistan has been reported but the people on this side seem to have shown greater determination to face the threats to their life and their routine work than their Indian counterparts. On that side, according to one report, by mid-January this year many hamlets and towns along the India-Pakistan border in R.S. Pura sector had become empty, and over 40,000 villagers had abandoned their homes to escape the shelling.

No place-loving Indian or Pakistani can view this mutual bloodletting with equanimity.

The military personnel on both sides are under ceaseless strain and the danger of their losing their cool and indulging in wanton killing is too great to be ignored. The two countries could be dragged into a conflict on a wider scale before they realise what has happened.

The explosive situation is getting aggravated by the jingoistic rhetoric the subcontinent’s political leaders are fond of. The Indian leaders are treating LoC ceasefire violations and an attack on a military camp as part of a single Pakistan design to harass them. Their foreign minister, home minister and army chief seem to be competing with one another in coining the crudest possible terms to frighten Islamabad. They avoid giving a date for replying to “Pakistan’s misadventure” but vow to take the fight into Pakistan territory, and the army chief Gen Rawat is ready to call this country’s “nuclear bluff”.

From Pakistan’s side too warnings are regularly issued to the effect that any “Indian misadventure” will be effectively repelled. Making a statement in the Senate on the country’s security policy the other day, Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir said that “any Indian aggression, strategic miscalculation, or misadventure, regardless of its scale, mode, or location would not go unpunished and shall be met with an equal and proportionate response”.

Both sides are confident of outdoing one another in a conflict. Neither party is talking seriously about preventing a conflict that will harm both.

Those having something to do with military matters sometimes enjoy the sound of sabre-rattling even when thoughts of war are far away from their minds but their jingoistic remarks have extremely grave effects on not only their armed forces but on their populations as well. The tension between India and Pakistan has been raised to an extremely high level as if they are spoiling for another war, which is likely to be as meaningless and as indecisive as the earlier ones.

The escalation of the India-Pakistan confrontation defies reason and the logic of neighbourliness. Neither side can push the other out of their shared land nor erase their history of living together and fostering one of the world’s most glorious cultures. Anyone who builds policies on the premise that India and Pakistan will never have friendly relations is eventually bound to lose the bet.

True, there are serious disputes between the two closest neighbours, but a time must come when, instead of using these disputes and differences to condemn the people on both sides to live perpetually under the shadow of war and destruction, solutions to all differences will be sought through strengthening of cooperation for mutual good. A beginning can be made by defusing tension along the LoC by setting up a joint mechanism to ensure that the people living along it can breathe in peace and pursue their normal business without fear of a shell landing in their kitchen or in the school nearby.

This matter can be pursued regardless of Pakistan’s anxieties over the growing US-India collaboration in critical areas or the increasingly close relations with Pakistan’s traditional friends, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. These issues require a realistic reappraisal of Pakistan’s foreign policy, however agonising it might be. The illusions on which the external policy has been based so far will have to be discarded. The sooner the better.

Tailpiece: The Chinese are reported to be negotiating with the Baloch dissidents/insurgents for security of CPEC road and other links and the Pakistani authorities have backed the move. Why can’t the Pakistani authorities talk to the naraz (angry) Baloch nationalists?

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2018