On the LoC cliff

Are India-Pakistan relations headed for a long freeze?



The Ceasefire Line (LoC) dividing Kashmir is rattling with the sound of gunfire yet again. But let us remind ourselves these are very limited-scale hostilities. The LoC is a gigantic line. The latest hostilities remain limited to a very small area. But make no mistakes, the impact of these hostilities will be long, and will definitely not help in easing the relations between the two countries. These hostilities could well mean a new era of instability in Kashmir.
The deaths of Indian and Pakistani soldiers in contested circumstances have raised emotions on both the sides. In this environment, we must not forget to spare our thoughts for the people living on the LoC. Having lived a life of relative ease over the last few years, these hapless people are again in the line of fire. Children must be terrified. The old and the sick must be facing difficult times.
As always, some voices on the Indian side are advocating going further and taking what appear to be extreme actions. Though the atmosphere is surcharged on the Pakistani side as well, responses there seem to be relatively less shrill.
Look at it from whatever angle; it is a dramatic climb down from an environment of measured reconciliation and conflict resolution between the two countries in recent months. If one were to take the voices of war mongers seriously, this situation represents itself as a cliff.
We all know most of the people on both the sides do not want a war, but the problem is that calibrated fights generally happen in very ideal situations. We live in a very imperfect world. As intrinsic political animals, men have waged wars throughout human history. Peace is rich, but seldom sustainable, especially in an environment where history, culture and politics have left legacies of hate and revenge. What we are seeing today is a reminder of the same reality.
From this seemingly dangerous cliff the two countries will definitely disengage. There will be no war – limited scale or whatever – because the costs of a war will be too heavy for these two countries. And sensible people on both the sides know that too well. What could, however, happen is the initiation of a new shadow war, which would seek revenge in forms other than war. And it is those actions that will not help the cause of peace between the two countries. And it is those actions that will compound Kashmiris’ tragedies further. 
In view of the extreme voices calling for extreme responses, these hostilities in the longer term may make the two countries disengage from the peace process they had engaged in the last year. That both the countries are preparing for their national elections will make the prospects of progress in peace process even dimmer.
In Pakistan, those who have advocated a militaristic approach towards India are back in business. With the NATO about to disengage from direct combat in Afghanistan in April this year, the focus is likely to shift towards Kashmir. Although Tehreek-i-Taliban chief’s reported statement that Kashmir remains top on his group’s mind may appear a public relations exercise, it is likely to see military digging further trenches in Kashmir. Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Syed’s latest statement hinting at “ugly violence” in Kashmir in coming days is not inconsequential either.
All this may not necessarily result in a high-charge insurgency in Kashmir again, but this environment is enough to scuttle all attempts towards revoking AFSPA and Disturbed Areas Act in the state.
One of the other immediate fallouts of the LoC hostilities will be political forces in India and Pakistan using the Kashmir card yet again. As LoK Sabha elections near in India, political parties, mainly the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), may seek to divert people’s attention from more pressing issues facing the nation.
Very similar is going to happen in Pakistan. The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) today finds itself facing a real challenge from Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf and now Tahirul Qadri’s new political initiative. These situations are very complex and challenging for both the countries, and, as such, a national political mobilisation for creating the effigy of a common enemy could come very handy.
Beyond politicking, the saner foreign policy establishments of the two countries do not want India-Pakistan relations to take this course. But it is doubtful how much they will be able to stand up to the political tide.
On the top of everything, this situation is bad news for Kashmir. As much as it will not help its current precarious situation, it may be equally unhelpful in real and sustainable conflict resolution.
The columnist is a technical consultant in international development and a Contributing Editor with Greater Kashmir

Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 12 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 13 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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