As India-Pakistan war of words flares again, the challenge now is to keep the ceasefire intact.
The hope that the February 24 agreement between the Indian and Pakistan armies to revive the 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control and International Border would lead to a wider thaw in relations between the two neighbours appears to have been misplaced. After an all too brief lull of four months, both sides are moving back to their default setting of open hostility. Pakistan’s National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf has blamed India’s external intelligence agency for a car bombing in Lahore outside the home of Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafiz Saeed, in which two passers-by were killed and several others injured. Earlier, the Jammu & Kashmir Director General of Police said that the drone attack at the Indian Air Force base in Jammu may have originated in Pakistan.
Leaders have painted themselves so much into their respective corners that no one wants the political risk of breaking out. The Pakistan government’s U-turn on even limited trade with India was a classic example of how hard put the hybrid civilian-military government was to explain to its people why it had shifted from its earlier declared policy that there would be no contact with India unless Delhi reversed the August 5, 2019 decisions on J&K. Pakistan’s insistence on the “restoration” of Indian constitutional provisions in Kashmir that it never accepted earlier is of a piece with this dilemma. Pakistan’s belief that it stands to gain strategic advantages through the Taliban in Afghanistan with the US departure is as short-sighted as its use of terrorist proxies in Kashmir, apart from being contradictory of its own Army chief’s passionate espousal of “geo-economics”.
Meanwhile, in this country, a powerful political leadership has not even owned up to back channel talks with Pakistan even though such contacts have been confirmed by several others, including a high-ranking official of the country that played host to the meetings. The expectation that the prime minister’s outreach to J&K’s mainstream political parties, despite all its limitations, might provide a platform for a dialogue with Pakistan was also belied as it offered no clear road map even towards the minimal demand of statehood. The challenge now is to keep the ceasefire intact. Too many civilians and soldiers have died in the near undeclared war on the Line of Control in the “exchange of fire” between the two armies since 2008 until the agreement earlier this year. Its continuance will provide hope, however small, that the two countries might still find common ground.
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