The ceasefire violations on the Line of Control (LoC) in Uri sector of northern Kashmir recently, which have caused extensive damage in villages in the area, have come at a time of the year that is generally peaceful here. While this has been blamed on the lower volume of snowfall this season leading to the opening of routes of infiltration for the Pakistan Army to send militants into Kashmir, that the army opened up field artillery guns is a worrying sign. Although it is believed to have come in response to 120mm mortars fired by the Pakistan army, it marks the first time in the last 15 years that artillery has been used in this sector. That artillery was used only for a short duration provides some comfort, but this cycle of retaliation using higher calibre weapons now seems to be expanding to all sectors on the LoC — out of more than 425 ceasefire violations this year, only eight have been on the LoC in sectors north of Pir Panjal. So far, following the surgical strikes in September 2016, the LoC in areas south of the Pir Panjal ranges witnessed heavy exchange of fire between the two armies.
As stated explicitly by the army chief, General Bipin Rawat, the Indian Army has decided to adopt a proactive stance on the LoC to target the posts of the Pakistan army which have been acting as launch-pads for infiltrating militants. But apart from providing a sense of satisfaction that an aggressive stance is being adopted to maintain the tactical balance on the LoC, it has not served any strategic purpose for the Indian Army — Pakistan hasn’t altered the ways in which it continues to meddle in Kashmir. The unending cycle of violence has caused death and destruction on the LoC, including targeting of villages and innocent civilians, while more soldiers from both armies have lost their lives. There is an inherent danger in this approach, which means that the situation could further go out of hand between the two nuclear-weapon states.
At the same time, it is gratifying that senior officers of the army are rethinking the current stance. General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Lt Gen M M Naravane said in Chandigarh on Tuesday that it will be difficult to restore calm on the border at the tactical level, and that a lasting peace with Pakistan can only be found at the negotiating table. Highlighting that 2017 was the worst year in ceasefire violations and the first two months of 2018 were no better, he rightly concluded that “restoring ceasefire requires statesmanship, not brinkmanship”. It is a message the army must heed.