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Violations of Ceasefire on the Line of Control: Unravelling Pakistan’s Motive

Colonel Satinder K. Saini was Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • July 23, 2008

    While addressing the customary press conference after the Foreign Secretary level talks with Pakistan on July 21, 2008, the Indian Foreign Secretary stated that the India-Pakistan dialogue is “under stress” and Pakistan must address New Delhi’s concerns about cross-border terrorism. The talks were held in the shadow of the recent attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, which, India alleges, had the involvement of “elements in Pakistan”. The Indian Foreign Secretary also admitted that the ongoing ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir has come under strain. He was referring to the alarming increase in the number of incidents of ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army across the LoC, wherein Pakistani troops had opened unprovoked fire on Indian positions. The number of such ceasefire violations has risen sharply in 2008, and in more than 15 of such incidents Indian troops have suffered some casualties. In fact, the number of ceasefire violations in 2008 is approximately half of the total number since November 26, 2003 when the ceasefire came into effect.

    Ceasefire on the borders has been one of the most tangible and effective military confidence building measures between India and Pakistan. It was in fact a Pakistani proposal, which was reciprocated by India with the caveat that it reserved the right to deal with infiltrating terrorists across the border. More than the two armies facing each other across the dividing line, the ceasefire has been beneficial to the local people astride the LoC, who can now lead normal life without the fear of losing their life, cattle and property. While minor aberrations of the ceasefire by Pakistan have been experienced intermittently, this is the first time that the ceasefire regime is under pressure. Notably, the joint statement issued after the meeting of the India-Pakistan working group on cross- L0C confidence building measures on July 18, 2008 did not contain the usual commitment by both sides to uphold the ceasefire.

    At the present juncture, maintaining the status quo and ceasefire on the LoC is in Pakistan’s interest, since a large part of its regular Army formations is deployed on internal security duties especially on its western border. Therefore, for Pakistan to disturb the tranquillity along the LoC by initiating firing defies logic. There can be many reasons for these ceasefire violations. Firstly, it could be the handiwork of terrorists coming from rear areas, surreptitiously sneaking in between the Pakistani positions and firing across the LoC. But this view is hardly credible given the control exercised by the Army and the ISI on terrorist organisations. Secondly, it is plausible that fundamentalist elements within the Pakistan Army who are against the India-Pakistan peace process may be indulging in such acts, either directly or by involving terrorists. Despite various centrifugal forces and domestic pressures, the Pakistan Army still remains a professional and cohesive force. Therefore, the likelihood of this possibility is also low.

    The third and more likely reason could be that ceasefire violations are part of a well thought out and planned strategy of the Pakistani establishment. It is evident that Pakistan has been under tremendous pressure in the last few months to get its act together and clean up the areas on its border with Afghanistan of Al Qaeda and Taliban elements. To deflect pressure and resist any demands for an increase in force levels to undertake concerted counter terrorist operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and along the border with Afghanistan, Pakistan could be raising the bogey of deterioration in the situation and threat on its eastern border. It is therefore likely that as the pressure to perform on the western border increases, more such violations of the ceasefire on the Lo with India can be expected. However, it would not be in Pakistan’s interest to create any major incident on the border with India at this stage.

    In the long term, adoption of such a strategy by Pakistan is likely to be detrimental for the enlargement of the confidence building measures regime, both in the military and non-military fields. Confidence building measures by virtue of their very nature depend on continued functioning of communication channels between the two countries, restraint, transparency and verification of agreed measures. The bedrock for the success of such measures is development of trust by reducing tensions between the two nations and mitigating the elements of uncertainty and unpredictability. History shows that the pace of implementation of confidence building measures between India and Pakistan has been rather slow, largely due to the trust deficit between the two countries. It is vital that this gap be bridged incrementally and one effective way of doing this is to keep the guns silent on the borders.