Dialogue a must to prevent escalations along volatile India-Pakistan border
The Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of Pakistan and India re-affirmed their commitment last month to follow the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) ‘in letter and in spirit.’
This was a much desired outcome because there has been a manifold increase in ceasefire violations (CFVs) over the past few years. This ceasefire commitment came in the month of Ramzan, like in 2003, when Pakistan had announced a ceasefire across the Line of Control (LoC). India accepted that offer and both implemented the ceasefire along the International Border (IB) and LoC, even extending it till Siachen under the statesmanship of then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This time, however, violations were observed barely after 3-4 days of the commitment and incidents reported on both sides, in which people lost their lives.
Incidents of CFVs have dramatically increased along the LoC, with Indian claims of 860 incidents in 2017 and 908 incidents in the first five months of 2018, while Pakistan claims 1813 incidents in 2017 and 1321 incidents in 2018.
India reported 152 incidents in 2015, which increased in 2016 to 228 incidents of ceasefire violations. These incidents had come down to almost nil after the 2003 ceasefire was declared.
After 2014, CFV incidents have jumped and, particularly after the surgical strikes of 2016, increased to a point where not only soldiers of both sides, but civilians have faced the ruthless competition of guns and mortars. Civilians, as young as an eight month old child, have lost their lives.
According to reports available in India, around 12 civilians were killed in 2017 and 79 were injured. In 2012, four civilians died and, in 2013, no civilians were killed in CFVs.
Houses, schools have been damaged, crops destroyed and many villagers moved to makeshift camps. The Indian government is building bunkers for people living along the border and raising compensation amounts, but there can be no alternative to ensuring a stable and peaceful border.
It has been reported that 2018 is the first time heavy artillery has been used across the front lines, causing heavy damage on both sides.
As per the report of the Jammu & Kashmir government, there are 590 villages with a population of around 530,000 situated between 0 and five km from IB / LoC in five border districts of Jammu. Among these, 448 villages are considered as ‘vulnerable’ to CFVs.
Worried with the rising tide of incidents, people in border villages and civil society initiatives have appealed for peace. In March 2018, Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an India-Pakistan Friendship Initiative, issued an appeal to the governments on both sides to restore peace along the border. This appeal was endorsed by civil society leaders, academicians and retired officers and diplomats of both sides.
In response to a question in the Lok Sabha on April 3, 2018, India’s Minister of State in the Home Ministry said that a study group was formed under the chairmanship of the Special Secretary (internal security) to examine problems faced by the border population. This group had visited border villages in Jammu, Samba, Kathua, Poonch and Rajouri districts and recommended the construction of 14,460 bunkers (13,029 individual and 1,431 community bunkers), compensation as per NDRF norms and formation of two new border battalions for J&K police. In a separate estimate by the J&K government, 210,000 families were affected and 193 houses damaged between 2012 and 2014.
With the current commitment, both sides need to effectively operationalize the existing systems of hotlines, flag meetings and weekly dialogue between the DGMOs. The progress by both sides in recent days has the potential to pave the way to build trust and secure more agreements gradually.
Despite an agreed ceasefire agreement, with SoPs, engagement at the political and diplomatic levels through dialogue is necessary to avoid any further escalation of violence along the border. In the absence of these, both armies would continue to respond to each other in their own ways. Improved relations between India and Pakistan are necessary for a peaceful border and this can directly benefit victims of conflicts, which include soldiers and the border population of both sides.