Months after the reiteration of the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the militaries of India and Pakistan, the calm along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir remains tenuous. Although the local population widely welcomed the agreement of February 2021, patience and a wait-and-watch tactic on both sides are what is keeping the guns from roaring. But, for how long will the patience last?
This month, the General Officer Commanding of 15 Corps in Srinagar confidently pointed out that the guns on the LoC between India and Pakistan had remained silent since the reiteration of the ceasefire agreement in February 2021. “The ceasefire violations have not increased. This year there has been none [ceasefire violation]. At least in the Kashmir Valley, there has been zero…” the General informed the media on 20 September 2021, clearly stating that, “there has been no instigation from across the border.”
Hours after the General’s statement came out, the border area of Uri along the LoC witnessed a flurry of activity, including the suspension of internet and mobile services in the wake of an infiltration attempt. Search operation lasting three to four days led to the killing of three infiltrators and the recovery of five AK-47 rifles, eight pistols and 70 hand grenades from the militants killed. This was the second infiltration attempt in the Uri sector in a week. With no success, an operation was launched to deal with the six infiltrators who crossed the de-facto border on September 19.
The top army officials described the infiltration attempts as a change in the behaviour of Pakistan. While speaking to the media on September 23, General Pandey seemed to have recalibrated an earlier assessment. He said, “It is just not possible that such number of activities can take place without the complicity and connivance of local Pak army commanders.” He pointed out that, “The current level of peace and stability, the tourist footfall, in fact, the visit of large number of ministers to the Valley… is rankling across… The intent of sending the small weapons in terms of pistols and grenades is to ensure that you are arming the so-called hybrid terrorist, the youth who are studying in the day and in the evening they are given a task to hit.”
On September 26, the guns roared in the Teetwal sector along the LoC for the first time since the agreement in February. News reports suggested that brief gunfire was exchanged between the armies of India and Pakistan. RPG, 60mm mortar shells, pika and HMG, were fired for about 10 minutes, breaking the seven-month silence.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 14,000 firing and ceasefire violations incidents occurred on the LoC and the International Border between India and Pakistan from 2010 to February 2021. This year witnessed a tremendous downfall in the ceasefire violations—last year, 4,645 took place and about 592 this year—bringing a great sense of relief to the soldiers and border populations on both sides.
Many domestic and international observers saw the agreement of February 2021 as a first among many steps that could lead to a détente between India and Pakistan. Reports suggested that a diplomatic upgrade was in the offing with the restoration of High Commissioners, the conducting of a SAARC Summit in Pakistan, and that the restoration of trade ties could normalise relations between the two countries. Due to domestic pressures, Pakistan’s government and military put forth conditions – primarily the repeal of some of the decisions taken on 5 August 2019— to improve the bilateral relationship. More so, the government did not appear to be on the same page on opening up trade between the two countries. Pakistan’s cabinet rejected the proposal to import cotton and sugar from India—an initiative approved by Imran Khan in the role of the Commerce Minister and later shelved due to the backlash within the cabinet.
Both countries failed to move forward from the ceasefire agreement of February 2021. India, which is in a stronger position vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir, had no incentive in complying with Pakistan’s demand. In essence, India has no concession to extend to Pakistan, given its dominant position in the equation. Likewise, the domestic pressure in Pakistan, particularly from the civilians, did not see merit in continuing the backchannel diplomacy without bargains from New Delhi.
Although both countries had an incentive in letting the borders go silent, the recent events on the LoC suggest that such incentives have lost longevity. For India, easing out of tensions on the western front while dealing with a crisis with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) arguably drove the ceasefire agreement. Likewise, the developing Afghan situation made calm on the LOC fruitful for the Pakistan military.
The Afghanistan situation worked well in favour of Pakistan, and the apprehensions of chaos in Kabul post-American withdrawal have subsided. As a result, Pakistan has little pressure on its western borders with Afghanistan except for the threat posed by Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan. India’s concerns, particularly the crisis on the LAC, persists. On top of that, the fallout from the Afghanistan situation has complicated the security dynamic further, alleviating the threat of cross-border militancy.
For India, continuing the ceasefire along the border cannot come at the cost of allowing infiltrations, and the smuggling of weapons and narcotics across the LOC. The exchange of gunfire comes as a deterrent to quell the infiltration attempts by raising the costs for the Pakistani military outposts along the de-facto border.
However, the incidents of September 2021 have brought the sustenance of a renewed ceasefire agreement to the brink. Hypothetically, should the infiltration attempts across the border continue, the patience of the Indian Army will wear thin. It would, as an established tactic, fire upon the Pakistani military posts in the areas where infiltration is attempted.
The recent statement made by Imran Khan at the UN suggests a renewed effort to signal to the West that Pakistan does not see a possibility of a thaw in bilateral relations between the two countries. At the UN General Assembly, Imran Khan said, “Last February, we reaffirmed the 2003 ceasefire understanding along the Line of Control. The hope was that it would lead to a rethink of the strategy in New Delhi. Sadly, the BJP government has intensified repression in Kashmir and continues to vitiate the environment by these barbaric acts. The onus remains on India to create a conducive environment for meaningful and result-oriented engagement with Pakistan.”
The recent infiltration attempts and firing on the border runs concurrently with Pakistan’s prime minister’s utterances. It is only a matter of time when the guns along the LOC will start roaring again, crushing yet another moment of hope for the local population.
Khalid Shah @khalidbshah is an Associate Fellow at ORF. His research focuses on Kashmir conflict, Pakistan and terrorism. Views are personal.
The article originally appeared on the Observer Research Foundation website. It has been published with permission.