Let ceasefire calm the borders

It is always a “rarest of the rare” occasion when India and Pakistan issue a statement collectively and express unanimity therein. The recent collective announcement by India and Pakistan on having reached an agreement to “strict observance of all agreements and ceasefire on the Line of Control is an extremely positive platform for setting the stage for a healthy bilateral relation between the two. This fresh agreement which comes into force from the midnight of Feb 24/25 2021 might be a good news for the peace loving citizenry of both the countries but it is never less than a fresh elixir of life for the conflict ridden people of J&K on both sides of LOC. The statement issued by both the countries has been more than humane in accepting the interest of achieving a mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders. The statement issued in Delhi and Islamabad also added that they would use existing mechanisms of hotlines and flag meetings to resolve any “misunderstandings”. The statement also goes a step further and signals more positive discussions between the two officials in context to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to derail peace and fuel violence.

Previous attempts to attain ceasefire:

The first attempt in silencing the guns on both sides was made in the form of Karachi Agreement, an agreement which was formally signed by both the countries on 27th July 1949. This agreement was also instrumental in drawing an original ceasefire line (CFL) between Indian Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). The agreement also prescribed for being supervised by the Truce committee of the United Nations Commission of India & Pakistan. One of the terms in the agreement stated that both the countries will desist from stationing their armies 500 yards of the aforementioned CFL, but this agreed term was repeatedly violated by both its signatories. The agreement continued to remain in operation for almost more than a decade. Later, when in 1965 &1971 India and Pakistan plunged into two subsequent wars this treaty lost its sheen only to die in oblivion.

After 1971 Indo-Pak war a second ceasefire was signed in 1972 as part of the Shimla Agreement, but it didn’t taste success and thereafter with no mechanism in place to control hostilities there was a massive surge  in the number of firing incidents, and minor incursions into each other’s territory during the 1980s and 1990s.

In year 2003 a historic effort was made, when Pakistan PM Zafarullah Khan Jamali declared a unilateral ceasefire on the eve of Eid ul Fitr Holiday. India on its part was gracious enough to reciprocate this peace initiative and PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee accepted  Pakistan’s offer of a ceasefire along the LOC. Despite the hype it generated those days, it remained confined to a verbal gesture between the two without being formalised as an agreement. Even though Pakistan made efforts to formalise it in the form of a binding agreement, India demonstrated reluctance and put forth a precondition of “Giving up Terrorism” before talks proceed further and shape up something concrete between the two.

This 2003 informal verbal assurance was fairly successful in its objective and for the first time in several decades, the guns along this frontier went silent, bringing much needed respite to the shelling-scarred lives of people in hamlets along the LoC and to soldiers guarding the border posts. It continued to remain success during the peace process between 2004-2007 but thereafter in 2008, when the peace process started to falter, repeated ceasefire violations again started to surge.

Again in 2018 both sides reiterated to abide by the 2003 ceasefire assurance, but it proved to be a lip service with record breaking ceasefire violations in the year 2019 thereby throwing 2003 agreement to tatters.

Fallout of ceasefire violations:

A breakdown of the ceasefire is not in the interest of either of the countries. In addition to the human toll and the economic costs, it can have negative long term consequences for the security of India and Pakistan even having the potential to push us into the throes of a nuclear war. As per figures and statistics revealed by Government Of India, In the year 2018, Jammu and Kashmir had recorded 2,936 instances of ceasefire violations (CFV) by Pakistan with an average of eight cases daily, in which 61 people were killed and over 250 injured.

In 2019 the CVF swelled and reached the number 3289 instances with an average 9 violations per day. Last year ie 2020 was a record high and Pakistani forces have violated the ceasefire 5,100 times with an average of 14 cases daily. In these ceasefire violations, 36 people including 24 security personnel were killed and 130 injured.

Comparing the figures of last three years with those of the years between 2004-2007, data reveals the later proved to be more peaceful as zero cases of CFV were reported thereby buttressing the case for a stricter adoption of the 2003 ceasefire agreement and formalising it into something more binding between the two. These figures also lesson us for promptly acting towards any such formalised agreement without setting any preconditions or attaching any strings to such an effort keeping in view the collective loss of valuable human lives and property on both sides of the boundaries.

Raison d’être for Ceasefire Violations:

As per Prof. Happymon Jacob, local factors are the main variable of interest. Prof Jacob in his article “Ceasefire Violations in Jammu and Kashmir: A Line on Fire” opines: “local military factors in the India-Pakistan border are in fact behind the recurrent breakdown of the 2003 agreement. That is, CFVs are generally not planned, directed, or cleared by higher military commands or political establishments, but are instead driven by the dynamics on the front-lines”.  He further states that on the Indian side there are three main political factors which have an undeniable influence on the spurt in these CFV and these are 1) Indian leaders’ visits to the region 2) Days of national importance to either side, especially when they coincide with periods of tension; and 3) Pakistan’s attempts to keep the Kashmir issue alive.

Prof. Jacob in his papers further goes on to quote Retired Pakistani Lieutenant General Sikander Afzal who argued that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in New Delhi, India has frequently been using heavy weapons to initiate violations. The military Lieutenant also maintained that the top military and political leadership can intervene within the hour to halt a CFV, thereby suggesting that continued exchanges are the result of deliberate decisions to support them.

Prof. Jacob also sees construction, repair or enhancement of defence works on either side as major cause of ceasefire violation (CVF) for there is a huge ambiguity as to whether or not new constructions are allowed along LOC. Despite objections from each of them against each other both sides continue their construction activities and try to take all available precautions to ensure that their construction activity is undetected. They work at night, use camouflage, and make the most of thick foliage for additional cover. All this in turn breeds bitterness and manifests itself as CFV.

A fresh lease of life:

We are living in times where even pigeons are caged or short at for transcending human conceived boundaries keeping in view the distrust we as nations have created amongst us. Being enveloped in such an environment, a guaranteed & durable ceasefire agreement can prove to be a stepping stone towards attainment of mutual trust and final peace between the two countries.  This ceasefire agreement between the two nuclear powers has enormous potential to set the stage for collective peace and move away from consistent bickering to focus on more serious challenges our nations are currently grappling with. Initiating talks or taking steps for restoring peace or normalcy should never be read as signs of weakness for it really specifies strong signs of statesman leaders at helm who appreciate that human life at stake is what matters to them than routine politics over death and destruction.

Basit Amin Makhdoomi is  a lawyer at J&K  High Court.