India-Pakistan ping-pong

January 14, 2013


In times of tension, the general approach is to think of strategies to make the “other side” feel the pinch. If you are smarting from a reverse, soldiers think of getting even.

We, who inhabit India and Pakistan, are more than conversant with such scenarios. They have been part and parcel of our lives since the emergence of two independent nations in 1947.

In the last week, India and Pakistan have exchanged fire across the Line of Control (LoC), with Delhi asserting that two of its soldiers were killed and their bodies mutilated on January 8, a charge that Islamabad has denied.

On January 7, Indian Deputy High Commissioner Gopal Baglay was called to the Pakistan Foreign Office, where he was told of an unprovoked attack by Indian troops in the Hajipir sector on January 6.

Again, on January 11, the Pakistani side stated that one soldier was killed in unprovoked Indian firing.  This, and other incidents of firing, went against the spirit of the India-Pakistan peace process, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani told Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal.

On January 12, Indian air chief N.A.K. Browne said Delhi might have to look at other options in the wake of Pakistani violations of the LoC.

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, however, said in an interview on the same day: “We think this will pass. We think we have enough agreements in place between the Pakistanis and ourselves to counter these issues ... the mutilation and the beheading that took place is tragic ...”

Earlier, Pakistani Foreign Minister ruled out a Pakistani hand in the killing of two Indian soldiers on January 8 and offered a third-party inquiry into the incident.

Any impartial observer would note that there’s a context to the claims of ceasefire violations by the two sides, and it’s always the “other party” to blame.

Both The Hindu newspaper and DNA reported their own versions of what might have led to the current clashes – giving a background of the recent tensions.

As this blog is written on Sunday, at least one news agency is reporting that there will be a flag meeting between the Indian and Pakistani sides on Monday at 1 pm Indian time.

There’s little doubt that India and Pakistan are up to their old games along the LoC – the circumstances may be disputed, but the fact that soldiers are being killed is clear.

After a futile limited war in Kargil, India and Pakistan had shown great, good sense to put in place what can only be called a “sudden” ceasefire in November 2003.

Without getting into too many details here, let me just say that the ceasefire happened in three days in November 2003, driven by a solid back-channel between India and Pakistan.

This was an event of exemplary importance and has no doubt saved countless lives of Indian and Pakistani soldiers and allowed civilians on both sides of the LoC to lead fairly normal lives.

Largely, this ceasefire has held. Cross-LoC trade and bus services have also added to the confidence that India and Pakistan wanted to move on from old adversarial POSITIONS.

Nothing significant has been added on to the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan since 2003 as to how their differences are to be sorted out.

After showing dramatic political will then, India and Pakistan have done next to nothing in the last 10 years towards putting in place a structure that would lead to greater conversation among local-level military commanders and ensure that firing is history.

The Indians will tell you about their fear that the Pakistani army is still “pushing” jihadis across the LoC, a charge that Rawalpindi will definitely deny.

But these are excuses. The real problem is that there is no political will in Delhi and Islamabad to take the next steps to make the peace process genuinely irreversible.

I am not one of those who share the view of impending war, but believe that television hawks in India have had a field day demanding “more” from their government.

In sectors along the LoC and international border, where both sides feel secure, should not there be a move to move troops back from eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation?

Yet again, if the two sides had been able to come to an agreement on demilitarising Siachen, there would have been a positive, cascading effect all along the LoC and the international border.

It’s becoming clear that a military-to-military dialogue is essential if the quantum of trust along the LoC and in other areas between the two nuclear neighbours is to be enhanced.

In India-Pakistan relations, the status quo has a tendency to deteriorate. We have seen this time and again.

Ironically, India and Pakistan met in end-December 2012 to discuss conventional confidence-building measures, but nothing much came out of the meeting.

Other than those who live in hawkish paradise, history tells us that altering the status quo along the LoC is a pipe-dream, something that Pervez Musharraf hopefully understood after Kargil in 1999.

So, if we understand that, why not take the next steps in trying to demilitarise the frontier?

Or do we have to do some mind-demilitarisation first?


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group