Feb 10, 2018
Photos of grieving women and old men hugging the casket soldier killed on the Jammu and Kashmir border skirmish are appearing on the front pages of newspapers almost every day. Dressed in battle fatigues and bullet proof jackets, Indian army jawans and personnel of the Border Security Forces are constantly moving through border hamlets and paddy fields to take position to fire across the border. Devastation is visible all around — blood stains on the floor, broken windows, injured animals and splinter marks on the walls. By mid -January this year (2018) a chain of hamlets and towns along the Indo-Pak border in R.S.Pura sector have become empty. Over 40,000 villagers have abandoned their homes to escape heavy shelling by Pakistani forces. The BSF had fired over 9,000 rounds of mortar shells across the Jammu IB in the last few days as part of “pinpointed” retaliatory action against this “unprovoked” firing from across the border. In Nichal village in Samba district, an old man waiting to receive body of his son felled by Pakistani bullets appealed to Prime Minister to either engage Pakistan in dialogue, or engage it in a full-fledged war to get lasting peace in Jammu and Kashmir. It is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has virtually frozen all high-level contacts with Pakistan and vowed to continue doing so until Islamabad stops providing all logistical support for the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir. There is no indication that Mr. Modi is going to change his stance in near future.
Bilateral relations between India and Pakistan has been virtually reduced to soldiers firing at each other across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. During 2017 there were nearly 860 hostile military actions on the Indo-Kashmir border. According to information in the first month of 2018 there were more than five incidents of exchange of fire every day on the Jammu Kashmir border. Earlier this month, the Press Trust of India (PTI) cited a report from Indian intelligence sources that claimed 138 Pakistan military personnel were killed in the preceding year in “tactical operations and retaliatory cross-border firings” along the LoC. The same sources put the death toll of soldiers on the Indian side at 28. Both militaries are known for boasting of enemy fatalities, while downplaying casualties on their own side.
In retaliation of heavy Pakistani firing and shelling that killed Border Security Force Constable K.K. Appa Rao, Indian army in August 2017 had initiated “Operation Arjun”, which targeted farms and residences of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officers and retired Pakistani Army officers. An official document accessed by IANS revealed that “Operation Arjun” continued till September 24, with the BSF using small and medium arms as well as aerial weapons, causing heavy casualties and damage on the Pakistani side. According to reports, in January 2018, Indian side has fired around 9000 rounds of mortar shells across the international border in Jammu as part of “pinpointed” retaliatory action against this “unprovoked” firing from across the border.
With both sides accusing the other of “unprovoked firing” across the Line of Control (LoC) the situation is on a knife’s edge. These violations in the Jammu and Kashmir region are significant as these compound bilateral military, political, and diplomatic tensions. These have the potential to escalate into bigger military engagement in the aftermath of terror incidents.
Since late 2008, India-Pakistan “comprehensive peace dialogue” has been in limbo. However, till 2016 the incidents of violation of ceasefire were about 300 per year. On September 28, 2016, India responded to the Uri attack by mounting surgical strikes on militant bases. After the “surgical strike” the incidents of ceasefire violations have increased exponentially. The cross border firings spread to the international border in Punjab as a result of which villages on both sides of Punjab had to be evacuated. The US endorsed India’s Sept. 2016 “surgical strikes” inside Pakistan. While India asserts terrorist infiltration from Pakistan is the primary cause for cease fire violations, Pakistan claims that the outstanding bilateral disputes are the issue. Even if terrorist infiltration were to end, there is no certainty that the ceasefire violations would end. The situation is complicated by the new military belligerency which is behind the massive rise in the cease fire violations during last year.
A further consequence of Washington’s downgrading of relations with Pakistan in favour of India, is that it has emboldened the Indian ruling elite in its dealings with Pakistan. Seizing on the deterioration in US-Pakistani relations, General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Indian on January 12, 2018, issued a warning to Pakistan. He said that Indian forces were ready to call Pakistan’s ‘nuclear bluff’ and cross the border to carry out any operation if asked by the government. Pakistan Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif responded the next day, with his own warlike message. He said, Indiana army chief’s statement “Amount to (an) invitation for (a) nuclear encounter. If that is what they desire, they are welcome to test our resolve. The general’s doubt would swiftly be removed, inshallah [God willing].” Earlier in the day, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had also responded to the Indian army chief’s ‘nuclear bluff’ assertion by warning that India will be given a befitting response if they engage in any misadventure.
Pakistan has been stockpiling strategic nuclear weapons for several years. There are reports that recently it has deployed tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons as its first line of defence against any large-scale Indian invasion or impending invasion. Pakistan claims that Indian has been planning attack them under its “Cold Start” strategy.
Pakistan has long viewed Afghanistan as vital to giving it “strategic depth” in its rivalry with India. Washington’s promotion of India as a major player in Afghanistan is exacerbating tensions in the region. Trump administration’s encouragement of India has helped expand the Indo-Pakistan strategic conflict onto Afghan soil. It has emboldened Afghanistan which, has adopted an increasingly hostile and aggressive policy towards Islamabad.
Islamabad frequently accuses Indian intelligence of working in tandem with Afghan intelligence to foment terrorist attacks inside Pakistani territory, including by supporting the separatist insurgency in Baluchistan.
The Pakistan claims that US government’s efforts to upset the “balance of power” in the region has forced them to deploy tactical nuclear weapons and expand its military-strategic ties with Beijing. With the US government providing India access to its most advanced weapon systems, and Pakistan moving to strengthen its strategic ties with China, the region is increasingly being polarized into rival Indo-US and raising the danger that a war between India and Pakistan could draw in the world’s great powers.
As we have seen in the past, when India and Pakistan dialogue process on key disputes is under way, cease fire violations go down. When the governments stop talking to each other, and bilateral tensions go up, the forces deployed on the line of Control, gain autonomy and local factors tend to have a dramatic influence on ceasefire violations. Instead of resuming bilateral dialogue, which is the only way disputes can be resolved, both governments have adopted unsustainable militarist approach which has the potential of engulfing the region in a larger war, which would cause massive bloodshed and enormous damage to both countries.
The fear that under the BJP rule, India will be increasingly drawn into US imperialism’s game plan for extending its hegemony over this region to counter China’s growing economic and military power is real. The USA has always fought their wars in other people’s territories bringing utter devastation to the people and the economy. That continuous localized military clashes, can lead to large-scale war is an established historic fact. We have become so used to this perpetual cycle of instability and constant confrontations, along the Indo-Pakistan border that we have lost sight of the inherent danger that these confrontations pose to peace in South Asia. As a result, despite our best efforts, the next big war in the Asia-Pacific, like most military conflicts, may come as an apparent surprise when we least expect it. For what is clear is that the current instability in the Asia-Pacific cannot endure indefinitely.
The present confrontation and jingoism has to stop, it harms lives of people on both sides. There is grave concern that after 70 years of independence a large proportion of the populations of both countries are still steeped in poverty, hunger, disease and homelessness. It is incumbent that the concerned citizens of both countries lead the way by giving a joint call emphasizing the absolute need for the two countries re-establish the relations that existed at the end of last century or beginning of this century when both governments were talking to each other. The dialogue should however not be limited to politicians, the armies or bureaucrats. Civil society organisations of both the countries must be a party to the dialogue as they alone will persuade the states to alter their course.
The author is a renowned human rights and peace activist, author and regular contributor of leading journals and news magazines in India, Nepal and Pakistan.