Dr Huma Baqai
THE first Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement between Pakistan and India was signed in 2003. It came after 2001-02 military standoff between the two countries. The post-Kargil agreement was signed by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee. It held on for next ten years. This agreement was seen by many as a milestone because it brought complete peace along the Line of Control (LoC) until 2006. Between 2003 and 2006, not a single bullet was fired on the LoC.
Since 2006, ceasefire violations became a norm. The situation in 2013 was so bad that an Indian General referred to it as a mini-war. Recent years have witnessed a worsening of the situation with increasing number of violations by the Indian side, resulting in civilian casualties on Pakistani side. All this despite an agreement reached in 2018, to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire agreement.
The cross-border firing became more serious post the Pulwama incident in February 2019. The so-called Balakot surgical strike and India’s unconstitutional decision to scrape Jammu and Kashmir status in the August of the same year. Indian troops committed more than 2,900 ceasefire violations across the LoC in 2020, leaving as many as 33 innocent civilians martyred and another 260 wounded in different parts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
India also targeted the UN military observers in December 2020, that was on a routine monitoring mission along the LoC. The violation continued despite the pandemic. Thus, the latest ceasefire agreement comes as a surprise to many. Both sides have kept communication, restricted to a few, prior to the announcement of the ceasefire.
As per media reports, post the announcement, Ajit Doval from the Indian side and Dr Moeed Yusuf from Pakistan’s side were involved in the tricky back door diplomacy to reach this agreement. It is seen as a very encouraging step. Top officials on both sides have been cautiously optimistic, when commenting on this development.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi welcomed it, saying, “It could be a good start for the future. India will have to abide by this ceasefire agreement with sincerity. How can we make progress on the issue of occupied Kashmir unless the environment is conducive?” US envoy Asad Majeed Khan said, “Pakistan is committed to a peaceful neighborhood, the onus is now on India to create the right conditions.”
He further added that US should play its role. The US and UN welcomed the “positive step”, which will provide an opportunity for further dialogue. On the other side, Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “India desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan.
We have always maintained that we are committed to addressing issues, if any, in a peaceful bilateral manner.” The agreement is both comprehensive in its focus and adherence. It includes three areas: the international border; the Line of Control; and the actual ground position line in Jammu and Kashmir.
Thus, it covers the region from Siachen in the north to the creeks of Sindh and Gujrat. The joint statement published by both the Ministries in Pakistan and India on 25 February 2021, is self-explanatory.
“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders,” the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns, which have the propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence.
Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and all other sectors with effect from midnight, 24th/25th February 2021. The statement also reiterated to make use of existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding.
Although the statement covers purely military matters, buried within it are the seeds of normalization. Should both sides, particularly India, wish to pursue deconfliction. Nobody is under the illusion that the bitterness afflicting the bilateral ties between India and Pakistan will magically disappear.
The relationship is extremely complex. The conflict between the two countries has seen many transformations. The relationship follows a cyclic pattern of highs and lows. This particular return to some normalcy took a very long time, and the costs were high. It is hard to speculate as to what triggered it. The Sino-Indian border situation, the new administration in the US, and the initiation of peace process in Afghanistan, can only be very small contributing factors.
On Jammu and Kashmir, external factors only have a limited influence, and the institutional interest and internal politics on both sides are the main determining factors. The realization that this cannot go on forever seems to have dawned on both sides. The agreement is seen as a breakthrough by many. In the short term, the development bodes well for the people living along the LoC, who have paid with their lives the cost of Indian aggression.
In the longer view, the hope is that New Delhi genuinely wants peace with Pakistan, and the ceasefire agreement should culminate in restarting the dialogue process. Pakistan is genuinely interested in pursuing at least a functional relationship with India. This aligns with the paradigm shift in its foreign policy thrust from being a geopolitical state to a geo-economics state. It never took dialogue off the table, despite Indian belligerence under the Modi Administration. History is witness to the dividends the ceasefire agreement of 2003 resulted in.
Both countries had started bus and truck services between the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir. The easing allowed normalcy to return and facilitated regular life along the LoC. NC Astana, former Indian Police Officer, respected for his insight on security affairs, in his book, National Security and Conventional Arms Race: Spector of a Nuclear War, categorically says, “India has no clarity about its military and strategic objectives vis-à-vis its stated adversaries, Pakistan and China, and can defeat neither of them in a war.”
The Wire carried a review of the book. It quotes the book as seeing “a huge mismatch between the militaristic officials and media rhetoric, on the one hand, and the reality on the other hand, which is that India cannot defeat either country [Pakistan and China] militarily. The reviewer, Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of the esteemed current affairs portal quotes the author as suggesting that instead of pouring vast sums of money into expensive weapons imports, India would be better served by finding solutions to the security challenges both Pakistan and China present by strengthening itself internally and pursuing non-military solutions, including diplomacy.
Both Pakistan and India need to seize this moment and let the ceasefire culminate into peace building or at least normalcy. Let not this just be a military and operational endeavor, let’s take it further. Let’s do it for our people and give diplomacy a fair chance.
The author is Associate Professor of Social Sciences at the Institute of Business Administration Karachi.