Syed Ata Husnain
On India-Pakistan,the good news is that the armies are talking.
It is good to see the trust reposed in the director-general of military operations (DGMO) to stabilise,if not resolve,a tricky military-to-military relationship,which more often than not transforms into a tricky nation-to-nation relationship. But what do such meetings really achieve,and how should they be handled? This time around,its been all about the Line of Control (LoC) and the frequent flare-ups which threaten to trigger greater tension with Pakistan.
The DGMO meeting is not a flag meeting. Flag meetings are at the level of local commanders or staff. They take place on either side of the LoC or border,as the case may be. They are not part of the political dialogue but are just border conferences to temporarily dilute a military standoff in a situation where political parleys are not possible. Unlike a political dialogue,it does not take much effort to organise a flag meeting. Sometimes,they can be held for a specific purpose,not linked to the LoC or to border tension. However,the usual flag meetings at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and LoC are held to de-escalate a crisis situation. A flag meeting between general officers is rare it remains pegged at the level of colonel or brigadier to keep the agenda local. It does not resolve an issue and neither should it be expected to unless it is to hand over or take back someone who has unwittingly crossed the LoC. This is because the agenda is usually contentious and the participants are not empowered to dilute the established positions. There have been times when firing has recommenced in the vicinity of a flag meeting,even as the local commanders returned to their respective sides after the meeting. Lasting solutions to even local problems are almost impossible.
Ceasefire infringements have been the order of the day in Mendhar and Krishna Ghati since 2007 despite numerous flag meetings. Other hotspots are Poonch,Uri,Tangdhar and Keran. The Pakistan army allegedly supports terrorist infiltration by drawing our men into exchanging fire.
What then should be expected from the DGMO meeting? The first thing a Kashmir hand would observe is its venue. Why across the Attari crossing and not at Islamabad,Lahore,Amritsar or Delhi? By not being held at these other locations,the DGMO talks appear to have been given the colour of a flag meeting. Actually,it should have been held against the strategic backdrop of the recent turbulence,with an agenda not restricted to any level. I am sure it was,but even in military diplomacy,symbolic gestures are important and convey the seriousness of intent. I am not sure whether just an operational-strategic flag meeting works towards the larger aim of the prime ministers.
The Pakistan armys reported demarche to its LoC troops to not initiate any negative situations on the LoC and to de-escalate potentially negative events is a positive development. However,at the end of the day,it is the truancy of the terrorists who the Pakistan army claims are not under its control that must make up the operational and tactical agenda. Pakistan has never accepted that it gives the Lashkar-e-Taiba space for its activities against India. Terrorist infiltration attempts continue unabated. The Pakistan army must be made to realise the futility of such meetings if it is not going to accept this fact,which is central to almost all the negativity and turbulence on the LoC. There is no doubt that the Pakistan army follows a two-track policy on dealing with terrorists those who instigate internal unrest in Pakistan are treated differently from those who seek to keep the fire burning in J&K. It will be difficult to convince a professional army that such a policy will bring it to grief. Yet,a degree of accountability among the Pakistan armys units on the LoC must continue to be our demand. That is as realistic as it gets.
Lastly,the much-publicised pre-meeting agenda put out in the media by the Pakistan establishment needs a comment. Bringing in the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan to monitor the ceasefire or the infiltration attempts will be akin to retracing our steps 40 years. The Simla Agreement clearly lays down the mutuality aspect of dealing with Pakistan on all issues relating to Kashmir. To expect India to take a step back from the agreement is naïve,unrealistic and loaded with malice because our stance is only too well known.
Without commensurate progress on Afghanistan and the other mutual interests of India and Pakistan at political and diplomatic levels,the DGMO talks are likely to remain at the operational and tactical level,and not rise to the intended strategic level. Yet,in the decisive year of 2014,it is good that the two armies are now engaged. It sends a good message to the rogue elements within Pakistan and forces a greater sense of responsibility on the Pakistan army. Perhaps,with the arrival of General Raheel Sharif,these positive strokes could be converted to something more meaningful,even as India starts to take the internal issues of Kashmir to a higher degree of resolution.
The writer,a recently retired lieutenant general,is a former general officer commanding of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps