15 years after India and Pakistan signed another truce for cease-fire, the Line of Control (LoC), the military controlled de-facto border between the two adversarial forces, has seen more hostilities and skirmishes than actual peace. As a result, a total of 881 ceasefire violations were witnessed along the LoC in 2017, the highest number in the past seven years, resulting in the death and injuries of thousands.
On Monday, Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire for four consecutive days by resorting to heavy cross-border firing along the LoC in Jammu, Kathua, Samba, Poonch and Rajouri districts of Jammu & Kashmir. Since Thursday, the death toll has risen to 12, while the number of people injured – to over 60. The victims include seven civilians and five Indian Security personnel. Diplomacy has taken a back-seat and India has retaliated with shelling in response to the violations, which makes it not exempt from shared responsibility for the escalation of the situation. Law enforcement staff has advised local population to stay indoors and not to touch any suspicious objects as they could be unexploded mortar shells. Nevertheless, as a result of the exchanges of fire, 40.000 people have been forced to flee their homes and take shelter in rehabilitation camps or seek refuge with relatives.
It is widely acknowledged by the International community that Pakistan has been covertly arming, training and financing Islamic militants in Jammu & Kashmir since the early nineties and the present reality has resulted in a scenario where the two nuclear-armed neighbors have engaged in an infinite game of political blame-shifting for violating the military ceasefire in the disputed Jammu & Kashmir region, while the digit of innocent civilians, who have lost their lives, perilously rises day by day. Such a permanent state of cross-border shelling accompanied by malicious propaganda contributes to the impression that war is the only feasible solution. A destabilizing factor to such uncertainty is the Media in both countries, which in essence is supposed to set up the tone for healthy public debate, but often mistakes its role of an impartial bystander with one of a prejudiced commentator. As a mirror of present-day issues and transmitter of social messages and beliefs, the media is expected to avoid providing any biased information, yet frequently, Television Rating Points (TRPs) establish agendas in India and Pakistan. As a result, the general public of both countries is fed with sensationalized and dramatized versions of facts.
The leadership of Pakistan’s Rangers and India's Border Security Forces agreed at a conference in New Delhi in November 2016, that the ‘spirit’ of the 2003 truce accord must be revived to protect innocent lives. However, the present lack of exchange of information and interaction have led to deep trust deficits, estranging the two parties and hindering any prospects for revival of the peaceful accord. The creation of an atmosphere of tranquility, mutual trust and dialogue, before the widening gap between the two countries is seized and dominated entirely by terrorist outfits, whose aim is to exactly sabotage any opportunities for stability and reconciliation, has become vital.
Attempts for creating safe space for debate and rapprochement are not new, but the majority of them have appeared fruitless or unsustainable. Cross-LoC trade and bus services between India and Pakistan through the Poonch-Rawlakot route in Jammu & Kashmir, deemed as a positive approach towards healing the wounds of the 1947 and 1965 wars, while carrying positive psychological effects upon the population since it provided a chance of resurrecting long-forgotten communal ties, have been marred by incidents of terrorism, resulting in the frequent suspension of such Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). If the envoys of both countries, currently responsible for causing the death of thousands of their own innocent civilians, recognize that their powers and abilities could be deployed in curbing down drugs and arms trafficking, and the operation of violent extremist groups around the border and replace the feelings of alienation and embitterment with sanity and rationality, then such Confidence Building Measures will not end up futile.
The soil of the State of Jammu and Kashmir is already blemished by years of military power, proxy warfare, toxic propaganda and rise of extremism. Military confrontation and warmongering will not solve the Jammu & Kashmir issue - on the contrary, it will prove to be even more destructive, as history bears witness to the fact that even small skirmishes between both countries have the potential of transforming into full-fledged wars. Throwing soldiers, both Indians and Pakistanis, into the abyss of war and risking the lives of innocent people will not have any positive outcome. The two neighboring countries were not born to be enemies of each other – political oligarchs, violent extremist organizations and military dictatorships have been culpable of poisoning the minds of millions of people while instilling feelings of animosity. Conflicts, including the Jammu & Kashmir conflict can only be addressed through an inclusive dialogue whereby both countries leverage trust and initiate efforts to solve deep-rooted problems and together build fundamentals of understanding and economic cooperation.
Indeed, the parties have to take into account many factors in reaching out an applicable, eligible and fair settlement, yet the fruits are undeniably worth the effort. Finding a solution to the Jammu & Kashmir conflict and all other outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, have the potential of investing the current enormous amount of military expenditures into economic trade, business ventures, social welfare programs, educational initiatives and law enforcement, while simultaneously ensuring peace and stability of the South Asian region. Such rapprochement will, for the first time since Partition, give the common population the opportunity to interact and engage with each other, reduce their mutual distrust, change perceptions and establish collaborations.
India and Pakistan urgently need to defuse the tensions alongside the LoC and initiate peaceful dialogue through diplomatic endeavors. While being sovereign and independent, both countries need to recognize their interdependency in the region. Escalations of the current situation will have disastrous consequences – not only for South Asia, but globally as well.