No one in India or for that matter in Pakistan seems too enthused by the joint statement of the two directors-general of military operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan recommitting to the spirit of the November 2003 ceasefire. It essentially means an attempted quieting of the Line of Control and removal of the dangers of escalation caused by the artillery exchanges and missile attacks on villages and fortifications which cause casualties among the civilian and uniformed elements in the LoC’s vicinity. The cynicism is understandable; renewed attempts have been made in the past too but unless actions in the military domain are accompanied by those in the political, diplomatic and social domains the glue for peace and stability just doesn’t set. Quoting statistics of ceasefire violations (CFVs) over the years is meaningless. It’s more important to understand how and why those ceasefire agreements did not succeed.
CFVs have three connotations. First is the tactical purpose; usually to give covering fire for terrorist infiltration, a practice which has been on the wane with quieter means of infiltration. Second is a reminder to the world by Pakistan to project the continued existence of the J&K issue; a few casualties, civilian or military, does get sentiments high in both India and Pakistan, with the world worrying about escalation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. The initiation of such CFVs by Pakistan is often in conjunction with politico-diplomatic events like the UN General Assembly session or timed with visits of important international leaders to either country. The third is usually a spirit of competition, also called “moral ascendancy”; and no specific reason for CFVs except something contrived such as an allegation of construction of fresh fortifications.
What it takes to keep the ceasefire in place without violations is the existence of a conducive political and diplomatic environment, absence or minimisation of infiltration related events and stability in hinterland streets.
The November 2003 ceasefire, many times incorrectly called a unilateral ceasefire by Pakistan, was a result of tremendous backroom work by the political leaderships and diplomats who too understood the significance of a quiet LoC on the overall peace process. This time Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s national security adviser, has denied any back channels were worked between him and India’s NSA Ajit Doval and ascribes the ceasefire agreement to military-to-military discussions and consultation. This appears to be Pakistan’s way of trying to prove the initiative didn’t come from it but rather from India. In other words, that Pakistan had minimal compulsion to call for a ceasefire and attaches little importance to it. That is usually a ploy by a country known to resort to violations of international norms.
Even if we agree that it’s unimportant about who took the initiative, will a political-diplomatic situation exist in the near future to allow the ceasefire to persist without CFVs. It is best not to expect a zero CFV situation in the near future as flexibility towards the agreement may actually help to give it more substance. Imran Khan and Moeed Yusuf have both tried to focus on one theme -- that is the absolute lack of any change by Pakistan in its J&K policy -- even as the ceasefire comes into effect. In the 2004-08 the ceasefire held with minimal CFVs except in some areas like Mendhar. Both sides continued back channel discussions and didn’t allow CFVs to upset them. It lasted as long as there was no big-ticket event; Mumbai 26/11 effectively put an end to them and the CFVs multiplied progressively. A big-ticket event remains a threat this time too.
The strategic environment of the emerging times appears different from the recent past. Internationally, there appears a trend towards dilution of confrontation to assist the world recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. The passing of the Donald Trump era is marked by new hope which America’s new President Joe Biden and his administration is attempting to facilitate.
Pakistan’s importance due to its influence in Afghanistan and the high-end relationship it has with China gives it scope to punch above its weight. It also knows that handling Afghanistan if the US withdraws fully is going to be a Pakistani responsibility. With China also not averse to finding an exit from the embarrassment it suffered in Ladakh, Pakistan, by initiating the ceasefire recommitment, is reaping the benefits of the emerging environment. If it can reduce violence and curtail the chances of a larger conflagration on its eastern border, it can handle Afghanistan far better; that wins US support too as it helps in an easier drawdown and eventual departure of US troops. With Ladakh cooling down, there’s little sense for Pakistan to keep the LoC or Kashmir hot. But everything is temporary, for how long it cannot be said. Yet, it provides a window for all stakeholders to revisit their core interests and examine their bottom lines for any possibilities of permanent peace.
With Pakistan reiterating there is no change to its J&K policy and India going strongly in the direction of full and final integration of the people and territories of J&K under the Indian Constitution, the ceasefire seems only a positive blip in the canvas of conflict and despair. No one expects any change in either policy, and there’s no finality of outcomes expected anytime soon. The ceasefire is something which creates a more congenial environment in which to improve ties, which can then eventually help resolve the tenuous issues between the two countries; no one expects any miracles in the short term.
Noticeably, in the midst of all the buildup of negativity on the J&K and Ladakh fronts, it was only Imran Khan who continued his fusillade, personal and otherwise, against the Indian leadership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi maintained a statesmanlike approach, not naming the adversaries or indulging in name-calling, with the fullest regard to the future, in which he knew negotiation and discussion will be with the very same people you abuse.
The obstacles to the ceasefire are many, the chief one being the lack of acceptance of peace with India by Pakistan’s “Deep State”, and the intent of the jihadi elements to disallow any peace. It is only a special effort by the Pakistan Army, civil society in Pakistan and the media which can hope to ensure that the ceasefire lasts and becomes a stepping stone to the beginning of a peace process between India and Pakistan.