As the developments of the past week unfold, the new year does not appear sanguine in Indo-Pak relations. While the past year witnessed many positive developments such as easing of the visa regime, the first month of the new year is replete with vituperative charges traded between India and Pakistan. Pakistan accused Indian army of killing one of its soldiers by violating ceasefire on the border on 6 January 2013, while India accused the Pakistan army of killing two of its soldiers on 8 January 2013 by violating the ceasefire in Kashmir. As the days pass by, the leaders of both the countries have so far not expressed desires to deliberate on this issue. The developments provided an occasion to the radical elements on both sides of the border to argue that only violence can resolve conflicts in the region, and all the past years of dialogue and confidence building measures are sham.
India and Pakistan fought four wars in the past. The wars killed hundreds of thousands of people on both the sides of the border, and wasted many opportunities for peace. It was only in early 2000s that both the countries came together, and initiated people-centric confidence building measures. In 1999 then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee led the peace bus from New Delhi to Lahore to foster bilateral relations. One of the important confidence building measures, particularly relevant in the present context, is that in 2003 both the countries declared ceasefire at the border. For about one decade the ceasefire remained almost sacrosanct as it did not witness any major violation from either of the rivals. The peace process gathered momentum in these years with the two countries developing bilateral relations and diversifying areas of cooperation to trade and commerce and culture. Though Kashmir remained a core issue in bilateral relations, it did not become a playground of radical forces. The peace process was called ‘irreversible’ despite temporary set back after the Mumbai attack in 2008. The skirmishes last week have affected the peace process of the past decade, and may lead to its derailment unless swift actions are taken to defuse the tension…
Aftermath of the killing of two soldiers, India called a meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security to take stock of the situation and decide future course of action, and accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire. India’s Defence Minister, A. K. Antony argued, “It is not an isolated incident, it’s increasing from the last one year. Ceasefire violations are also increasing. It is a matter of concern to us and the tragic, provocative actions … that was a turning point at the moment.” India summoned the Pakistani High Commissioner to India to foreign ministry and issued a demarche. One of the Opposition leaders in India argued for snapping past ties with Pakistan, and taking stern measures. Indian Air Force Chief argued for exploring ‘other options’ against Pakistan. To quote him, “We are monitoring the situation carefully because if these things continue to be the way they are and these violations continue to take place, then perhaps we may have to look at some other options for compliance.”
Pakistan followed the suit. Its foreign ministry called the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan and issued a demarche. Pakistan issued “a strong protest on the repeated, unacceptable and unprovoked attacks on Pakistani soldiers by the Indian army.” It called for an investigation into the incidents by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. Pakistani High Commissioner in India rejected “the Indian allegation of an attack across the LoC (Line of Control – the dividing line in Kashmir) on its military patrol in which two Indian soldiers were claimed to have been killed. These are baseless and unfounded allegations.” Pakistan also closed one cross-border route at Poonch, the main site of the skirmishes. The route was opened in 2006 as a part of confidence building measures towards facilitating people-to-people interactions and trade.
The extremist organizations based in Pakistan argued for more violence against India. Hafiz al Sayeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Toiba and mastermind behind the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008 accused India of ‘destabilizing Pakistan’ and threatened that violence in Kashmir could be ‘ugly.’ Any further escalation in violence will not only jeopardize the peace process, but also impact prospects of resolution of contentious issues through dialogue and deliberation. Any downward spiral in relations will further embolden the radical elements to turn this precarious situation into their advantage by invoking fundamentalism. As both the countries possess nuclear weapons, any conflagration in Kashmir may turn the region into a nuclear flashpoint.
The issue of third party mediation, as suggested by Pakistan, is a red herring, which Indian leadership will avoid through all means. While Pakistan argues for third party mediation for the resolution of the conflict in Kashmir, India has harped on resolution through bilateral agreements. Kashmir was initially an issue at the United Nations Security Council. The cold war days had witnessed the embroilment of Kashmir in cold war politics as reflected in the UN deliberations on the issue. Pakistan has emphasized on the plebiscite resolution of the UN, while India has emphasized on the Shimla Agreement of 1972, which mandates for a bilateral and peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Unless Indian and Pakistani leaders display prudence in handling the current stalemate, the subcontinent may lapse into another phase of violence and invoke the past memories of war. Neither India nor Pakistan can afford another war in an era in which economy receives higher priority, and in which peaceful resolution of conflicts have gained increasing currency. As the turmoil in Afghanistan deepens with passing months, any escalation of violence in Kashmir will impact prospects of peace and stability in the war torn country. Violence will also shrink peace constituency in the region, and provide fuel to Taliban like organizations to proliferate their ideology and actions.