The ceasefire on the Line of Control has all but unraveled. There have been 83 ceasefire violations along the LoC and the international border in Jammu, and 17 in Kashmir, all since September 29, the day India announced it had carried out a military strike in PoK. In this time, six soldiers, including a BSF jawan, and more than a dozen civilians have been killed. Alongside, there have been infiltration attempts, both in Jammu and Kashmir. There appear to have been casualties on the Pakistani side too. Thus has the most important confidence building measure between India and Pakistan — one that assured a normal life for the hundreds of thousands of people living along the LoC on both sides, gave a measure of stability to the region and underpinned bilateral engagement for the better part of 13 years — been virtually abandoned. The ceasefire was not a written agreement, but a mutually reciprocated cessation of hostilities across the LoC by both sides since November 2003. It had been under strain since 2008, but despite the increasing incidents and frequency of violations, both sides managed to keep temperatures down. That political will to safeguard this crucial confidence building measure is no longer evident. What has replaced it is the determination not just to give, but also be seen as giving, a “befitting reply”. True, this is not a war yet, but that is hardly reassuring. The two militaries may claim they are hitting only each other’s positions. In truth, they are wilfully endangering the lives of civilian communities on both sides of the border, and destabilising the entire region.
The reckless readiness to sacrifice nearly a decade’s incremental diplomatic achievements is also evident in the akratic manner in which both sides have named, shamed and expelled each other’s intelligence officials posted in the respective high commissions. It is now being freely bandied about that soon the two sides may reduce or downgrade diplomatic representation. For perspective, consider that the last expulsion before this current round of spy vs spy was of an Indian visa counselor by Pakistan in 2006. Call it diplomatic maturity, or a will for betterment in ties, New Delhi did not respond in kind despite the strain in ties over the July 11 Mumbai bombings that year.
Both sides need to stop and reconsider what looks and feels like a deliberate race to the bottom before it reaches a point of no-return. There can be no underestimation of the value of the ceasefire, and every attempt has to be made to restore the peace on the LoC/IB, whether through talks between military area commanders or at higher levels of diplomatic engagement. This is the only way forward. There is nothing more foolish or foolhardy than to think there is another option.