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Grey areas

The LoC and working boundary skirmishes are closely tied in with the broader Indo-Pakistan relations

Grey areas
Pakistani residents gather at a damaged house, allegedly caused by shells fired by Indian troops, at the Dhamala border village near Sialkot. — Photo by Arif Ali / AFP

In one of the worst LoC and working boundary skirmishes between Pakistan and India since the 2003 ceasefire, the last two weeks witnessed unprecedented targeting of civilian areas, leading to at least 30 civilians died on both sides of the border and more than 50,000 people displaced.

As always, the exact cause is yet to be determined but both countries blame each other for starting ‘unprovoked’ firing on the borders.

It seems the bilateral arrangement between India and Pakistan has failed. The director general of military operations of both countries talked to each other on hotline on October 14 to discuss the situation. But it seems to have had the least impact on the tense ground situation.

Sartaj Aziz, adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs to the prime minister, has written a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon on the recent border tension with India and has sought the UN intervention accusing India of “deliberate and unprovoked violations of the ceasefire agreement and cross-border firing” over the past weeks. Aziz also called upon ambassadors of five permanent members of the UN Security Council to urge India to respect the ceasefire agreement and engage in a meaningful and serious dialogue with Pakistan.

India is wary of all such efforts by Pakistan that internationalise the Kashmir issue, especially after PM Nawaz Sharif’s recent speech at the September UN General Assembly’s session.

Security experts in India say that Modi wants to be seen differently from the previous government as far as relations with Pakistan are concerned. “An important factor determining Modi’s rhetoric is his desire to be seen differently from the previous government which in his view ignored the Indian interests and was meek in its approach towards Pakistan,” says Sameer Patil, Associate Fellow, National Security, Ethnic Conflict and Terrorism, at Gateway House, a Mumbai-based think tank. The other factor, according to Patil who is also an ex-staffer of India’s National Security Council, is that the hostilities with Pakistan came at a time when campaigning for two important state assembly elections was in full swing.

“There is a perception here in the Indian establishment that with the current political crisis in Pakistan, the Pakistani Army has assumed a dominant role in foreign and security policy decision-making. So the feeling is to limit engagements with Pakistan, at present.”

“The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has staked its prestige for these elections. During the campaign, PM Modi was repeatedly ridiculed by his political opponents for his Pakistan policy. So his statements on Pakistan, many of which made during the election rallies, should be seen in this context,” he tells TNS.

Patil is of the view that even after the current hostilities cease, it will take quite some time before both countries resume any high level contact. “There is a perception here in the Indian establishment that with the current political crisis in Pakistan, the Pakistani Army has assumed a dominant role in foreign and security policy decision-making with a very limited role for the civilian government. So the feeling is to limit engagements with Pakistan, at present. Hence, prospects for bilateral relationship do not look bright,” he says.

PM Nawaz Sharif according to sources in Pakistan’s foreign office tried to influence foreign policy regarding India and Afghanistan after coming to power. “He went to Modi’s oath taking ceremony though different quarters in the country expressed their reservations on this move. He did not meet or talk on phone to the Hurriyat leadership during that trip which was a huge blow to Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir,” they say, adding that the main focus of Sharif’s appeasement policy towards India was based on trade.

Also read: The Line of Conflict

The PM office initially tried to closely monitor the official communication with India and sent several letters back to foreign office asking it to mellow down the language of those letters, the sources say. “There was a feeling among different quarters that PM Sharif gave too much leverage to India and was not even toughening his stance on hard issues. His posture was more conciliatory than treating India at par,” claimed one source.

Experts on Pak-India relations say the situation is going to be a lot worse before getting any better. “Pakistan and India’s policy on LoC does not fall under the mainstream policy ambit. The field commanders in both countries form an executive policy on LoC,” says Salman Zaidi, deputy director of Islamabad based think tank Jinnah Institute, who leads the institute’s strategic security initiative and works on its Indo-Pak and Pak-Afghan Track II portfolio.

“New Delhi has been pursuing a policy of unilateral term of agenda on Kashmir while we have not even decided the term of agenda of our policy,” says Zaidi, adding that India wants us to give an alternative policy on Kashmir.

“India’s cancellation of foreign secretaries’ meeting after Pakistan High Commissioner’s meeting with Hurriyat leaders in August shows that there is a marked shift from the Congress government’s policy of strategic restraint,” he says, adding that current political crisis in Pakistan again sends signals across the border about who is the boss in Pakistan.

According to Zaidi, India has already communicated to Pakistan through unofficial channels that it would not tolerate violations on LoC or any Mumbai-like incident. “We do not exist at international level. We are at receiving end of India’s policy in South Asia. Whether we make our relations better with India or not, she is going to determine South Asia’s history for the next four years. We have nothing to sell — even our main bargaining chip of route to Central Asia has backfired. Nobody is ready to take it anymore in the region,” he says.

Aoun Sahi

aoun sahi
The author is a staff reporter.

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