Understanding LOC ceasefire and reorganization

In recent years, there have been thousands of ceasefire violations along the LOC. | Picture Courtesy: India Today

The US influence cannot be the only reason for this change. In its current political construct, India needs some solid reasons to go forward with new arrangements. This can be its preoccupation with China on the eastern front. A conflict on two fronts cannot be a worry-less situation for the country. India might have also had a look at the changing situations in Afghanistan where the Taliban is gaining its ground and its consequences for India, specifically in Kashmir. 

Hamaad Habibullah, TwoCircles.net

Support TwoCircles

On 25 February 2021 came surprise news of India and Pakistan agreeing to strictly observe all arrangements on a ceasefire along Line Of Control (LOC). This decision was taken at a meeting between the Director General of Military Operations (DGMOs) of both countries. Then in an unexpected move, the Indian Prime Minister wrote a letter to his Pakistani counterpart wishing him on Pakistan Day. This was after he had tweeted to Imran Khan for his speedy recovery from Covid-19. These two mentioned events along with some others in between in some ways represent an unexpected shift in the dealing of matters by the Indian government. At the same time, not many people are optimistic about these developments since such arrangements have appeared numerous times before and things can turn around any time between two neighbouring nuclear-armed nations. But people are surely speculating if something has changed and if something really has, then what prompted the change?

Narendra Modi’s BJP government for most of its rule has had a rigid stance with regards to dealing with Pakistan and Kashmir. Be it the constant approach of not indulging in talks unless Pakistan’s satisfactory action on terror, be it the strikes it conducted across the border, or its constant approach to isolate Pakistan internationally. At the same time, one cannot deny the fact that such an approach has immensely helped BJP in its electoral performances. The Indian government’s already strong stance became even stronger post its decision to revoke Article 370, an action which according to many no government in the past or future could have taken. This decision resulted in relations hitting a new low and brought two neighbours to the brink of war. While Pakistan campaigned extensively about Kashmir internationally, earning some global attention to the decades-old issue, India strictly stuck to its line.

In such a political background, this understanding of a ceasefire by India and Pakistan came as a bit of surprise for many. This development came after the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of both countries held discussions over the established mechanism of hotline contact. In the joint statement, DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns. This was a drastic change from earlier positions wherein both countries weren’t even ready for a dialogue. In the aftermath of this agreement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said India desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan and is committed to resolving all issues bilaterally in a peaceful manner. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister welcomed the agreement as a positive development stating “it could be a good start for the future”. He also said that Pakistan seeks peaceful relations with its neighbours. Many analysts are curious whether the outcome was a result of the DGMOs meeting or was there something behind the scenes? As per certain media reports, the ceasefire agreement came after backchannel talks between two countries’ intelligence agencies specifically between India’s National Security Advisor and his Pakistani counterpart. However, Pakistan NSA denied any such happening in one of his tweets, saying the agreement was strictly a result of the DGMOs meeting.

However certain adjustments were being observed even before this understanding. Pakistan Army Chief had earlier announced, “It is time to extend the hand of peace in all directions”. Pakistan NSA in a first interview by any Pakistani official post-August 5 2019 with Karan Thapar even hinted at suggestions of talks coming from the Indian side. An absence of anti-Pakistan rhetoric in political and media circles could be sensed for some time. Not much was heard regarding it during the campaigns for elections which are scheduled around March/April in crucial states like West Bengal, Assam. Even though such expressions have been part of ruling parties’ campaigns. Also during his visit to Sri Lanka, Pakistan PM was allowed to use Indian air space, even though the same was denied by the Pakistan post abrogation of Article 370. Pakistan had earlier even accepted India’s invitation to attend SAARC’s virtual workshop on Covid-19. These events did in some way convey some sort of changes in dealing with things.

In the post-ceasefire agreement, there were reports that Pakistan might start importing cotton from India. Even though no official confirmation has come yet. There are also speculations that the SAARC summit which has been suspended since 2016 might be held. And the diplomatic ties which have been downgraded after the Indian government’s August 5 decision might be upgraded. Again no official confirmation has come yet in such regards. Another big development came in Kashmir, where senior separatist leader Umar Farooq was released after being under house arrest since August 5. This decision was welcomed by many mainstream leaders in the valley. Another unexpected event was the Pakistani team visiting India to participate in the World Cup Qualifiers of Equestrian Tent Pegging Championship 2021. In the political environment of the last three years, any of the aforementioned developments was hard to imagine. It is hard to say with surety that all these developments are connected or planned, but at the same time, one cannot simply turn a blind eye to these turn of events and conclude nothing has changed.

The most suspected reason everyone thinks of and cannot be ignored is American involvement. The previous President had openly offered to mediate between the two countries, the offer received very little response from the Indian side. But this does not mean the US has no influence or no reason to influence on such matters. The Modern War Institute, a think tank at West Point within the Department of Military Instruction in the US, recently published a detailed paper titled “A Kashmir Peace Deal Now?”, with one specific focus on why Washington may make Kashmir Peace Talk a foreign policy goal in the next four years.

Reduction in tensions between two nuclear nations; effective withdrawal from Afghanistan; support for democratic and human rights and China’s recent moves were counted as reasons for the US to facilitate a Kashmir deal. The paper argued that the US need not play an official mediator as was offered by Trump but rather play a constructive role in encouraging their Indian counterparts to accept Kashmir peace talks as a viable strategy. The report further argued that India currently has high leverage inside Kashmir post-August 5 (2019) and also visa viz. Pakistan is currently restraining powerful anti-India militant groups due to its dealing with FATF. The report suggested restoration of the 4G internet and release of political prisoners among other things as some immediate steps India should take in Kashmir.

In its conclusion, the report mentions the following with regards to how the US should go forward in such regards, “There are numerous minimally intrusive techniques Washington may consider for inducing and facilitating Kashmir peace negotiations, be they between New Delhi and Kashmiri representatives, between New Delhi and Islamabad, or among all three at once. In addition to convincing India to give peace talks a try, they include helping to set up the negotiations; providing advice and offering proposals; serving as a sounding board for all sides; protecting the negotiators from outside influence; and when fitting, just staying out of the way.”

The US influence cannot be the only reason for this change. In its current political construct, India needs some solid reasons to go forward with new arrangements. This can be its preoccupation with China on the eastern front. A conflict on two fronts cannot be a worry-less situation for the country. India might have also had a look at the changing situations in Afghanistan where the Taliban is gaining its ground and its consequences for India, specifically in Kashmir.

It is hard to comprehend whether situations are the way they appear and what are the exact reasons behind them. One cannot be sure about what might have led to this reorganization. But as it appears, certain things do seem to be displaced from their previous positions. Maybe with time, we might come to know. As of today optimism regarding these developments is very minimal mainly due to the history between the two nations and the fragile nature of relations between them.

Hamaad Habibullah is a freelance writer and is currently pursuing Masters in Development Communications from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.