Blow Hot, Blow Cold
The recent incidents at the LoC have once again plunged the Indo-Pak bilateral ties into crisis. Can the two neighbors reconcile and find some peace in an otherwise turbulent relationship?
After the LoC crisis, can India and Pakistan salvage their relationship?
Pakistan and India have been nervous neighbors since their birth in August 1947 after the British decided to grant freedom to the Indian subcontinent. The region was carved out into two independent nations because the Muslims sought a separate homeland for themselves. Following the announcement for the creation of Pakistan, religious riots broke out. The Hindus were outraged at what they considered the desecration of “Mother India” while the Muslims retaliated with equal fury. The partition plan, not being based on either Hindu or Muslim majority populations, resulted in a mass exodus of Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India towards their respective “promised land.” Refugee caravans were targeted by murderous hordes, with Sikhs and Hindus attacking the Muslims and vice versa. Thousands of lives were lost and the resulting trauma left deep scars.
Hardly a month had gone by that the first Kashmir War erupted between India and Pakistan. Both laid claim to the beautiful valley, which was set ablaze with strife and bloodshed; Pakistan attempted to liberate Kashmir from what it considered “unlawful Indian occupation” while India tried to consolidate its hold. The UN ultimately enforced a ceasefire, with India occupying 46% of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan left with the remaining 37%. India agreed to abide by UN Resolutions to hold a plebiscite allowing the Kashmiris to opt for either Pakistan or India but later reneged on its commitment.
Pakistan and India went to war in 1965 and again in 1971 but the fate of the Kashmiris did not change. “The Ceasefire Line”, a military controlled line between the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir, was re-designated as the “Line of Control” ( LoC) following the Simla Agreement, duly signed on 3 July 1972. In 1989, the Kashmiris took up arms seeking freedom but their struggle was brutally crushed by India and draconian laws were introduced to further oppress them. India alleged that Pakistan was aiding and abetting the Kashmiris. Blaming Pakistan of “cross-border terrorism”, India fenced 550 km of the 740 km LoC in the 1990s.
Some major attempts have been undertaken over the decades to establish peace between the hostile neighbors. In February 1999, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Pakistan and the historic Lahore Declaration was signed, heralding a major breakthrough in overcoming the strained bilateral relations in the aftermath of the nuclear tests in May 1998. However, in May 1999 the Kargil misadventure marred the peace prospects. Ironically, in the aftermath of the Kargil War, Pakistan came under a military dictator who launched a Composite Dialogue for peace with India and a ceasefire was duly declared. The Composite Dialogue made some progress, with both sides agreeing to install confidence-building measures such as trade, commerce, opening of routes for visitors from both sides of the divide and softening the visa regime. Unfortunately, the Mumbai attacks of 2008 scuttled the initiative and the two neighbors were back to square one.
Painstakingly, peaceniks again tried to rebuild the peace process and things were looking up, when a fresh bout of scuffles across the LoC in early January this year escalated animosity between New Delhi and Islamabad. The jingoistic saber rattling by Indian political and military leaders and a vociferous section of the Indian electronic media was mercifully not reciprocated by Pakistan. Good sense ultimately prevailed; a tête-à-tête between the Directors General of Military Operations on both sides and saner elements in the Indian media managed to bring the tempers down. However, it is worth examining how a few bullets fired across the LoC can bring trigger-happy neighbors to the brink of an outbreak of hostilities. How can such a fragile peace be maintained?
Both India and Pakistan suffer from an acute trust deficit. Conspiracy theories abound to provide a rationale for each other’s idiosyncrasies and odd behavior. It is purported that groups in India like the BJP, Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), in other words the Sangh Parivar, forced the hand of the otherwise dovish ruling Congress Party to act belligerently, especially with elections just around the corner. Others were of the view that India wanted to divert attention from its domestic issues, like the recent gang rape of a young girl or the rise of the Maoists. The omnipresent “foreign hand” is a popular scapegoat. Opinions vary from the US urging India to pressurize Pakistan and the equally preposterous notion that Iran may be urging Indian belligerence to avenge the attacks on the Shia community in Pakistan. It is pertinent to examine how situations like the LoC incidents can be avoided. It seems that the entire world holds its breath every time there
is a development, as a minor incident can spark a flashpoint between the two nuclear armed states and cause a major catastrophe.
The good news is that the PakistanIndia trade relationship is intact. The carefully grafted visa regime for senior citizens may have been put on
hold but is likely to be revived soon. If the number of stakeholders in the Pakistan-India peace process is increased, the trust deficit may reduce. The business community, which weighs profit and loss denominations and is governed by basic economic principles of supply and demand, should be more deeply involved in ensuring that peace and reconciliation between the hostile neighbors is preserved. After all, if the European states could sink their centuries old hostilities and differences to become a union, sans borders, have a common currency and execute mutually supporting economic strategies, then what is keeping Pakistan and India from rising to their true potential by burying the hatchet? Communication is the harbinger of peace. All channels of communication must remain open, including those from the government, military, media, people and the corporate sector.