The 13-year itch

Pakistan and India are grappling with Line of Control violations after a period of relative calm

The 13-year itch
The thirteenth anniversary of the Pakistan-India ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) and International Boundary (IB) is just a week away, but the peace deal once described as a high point in troubled ties between the South Asian neighbours appears to have been grievously wounded by the ferocity with which it has been violated over the past couple of months, pushing the two countries perilously close to open war.

The exchanges on the LoC and IB this year are being described as the most intense since the truce went into effect on November 25, 2003, in terms of use of artillery (employed by India for the first time in 13 years to shell areas across the LoC), the span of the affected area, intensity of the shelling and the number of casualties.

The agreement was only respected in letter and spirit from 2003 to 2008. From 2008 to 2013 there were exchanges, which spiked after India started construction of bunkers along the LoC and IB in 2012 in violation of the understanding. The ceasefire has been under particular stress since Modi came to power in 2014. There were 291 violations by India in 2014 and 248 in 2015.

India is said to have violated the agreement 234 times this year so far at the LoC and IB; seven soldiers and 26 civilians have been killed, and another 120 have been wounded on the Pakistani side. Pakistan has reported these breaches to the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). The observers have visited the affected areas to verify the claims. Pakistani officials say that responsibility for the escalating crisis rests entirely with India. For its part, Delhi accuses Pakistan of violating the ceasefire and causing civilian and military casualties on its side. But the Indians do not facilitate UNMOGIP’s work.

This year’s skirmishes are being seen in the context of the uprising and the September 18 terrorist attack on the Uri military camp. Therefore, some people misleadingly interpret them as a sort of a step back from the war hysteria that followed Uri. As a matter of fact, the continuing skirmishes carry the risk of escalating to full scale hostilities between the nuclear armed rivals. Pakistan has repeatedly expressed the fear of Indian belligerence leading to ‘strategic miscalculation’.

There are no signs yet of this confrontation subsiding in the coming weeks, although the usual pattern over the past years suggest that the breaches start tapering off after October. There have, however, been exceptions such as the exchanges in December 2012, which are now retrospectively seen as a precursor for the January 2013 escalation, and the clashes that continued from mid-December 2014 to February 2015. Meanwhile, Indian Army chief General Dalbir Singh, while visiting his soldiers on the frontlines, asked them to be more aggressive in their approach.

Analysts see a clear design behind India’s ‘provocative actions’ this year. They believe that India wants to draw Pakistan into an escalatory gambit, whereas it uses these incidents to tell the rest of the world that it is facing a problem of infiltration from Pakistan and non-state actors. Some also see the intensification of clashes as a sign of a bigger impending crisis a la the 2001-2002 ‘Twin Peaks’ crisis that was preceded by an increased frequency of violations.

The official reading of Indian intentions is that the violations are meant to distract the world from the human rights violations taking place in Indian-Administered Kashmir that may tarnish its soft image. The popular uprising that started on July 8 following the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani has been met with heavy-handed action in which over a hundred people have lost their lives and thousands have been injured. Many people have been permanently blinded from the use of pellet guns by the Indian security forces.

Pakistan has so far acted with restraint and its actions reflect a desire to defuse the situation. Despite high military and civilian casualties, the government is sending Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz to Amritsar to attend the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting, unlike India that cancelled its participation in the SAARC Summit that was being hosted by Pakistan, as a result of which the gathering was cancelled.

The LoC-IB flare-up complicates efforts at normalization and also heighten nuclear dangers. But in the midst of all these fears about a bigger catastrophe people normally tend to forget the devastation these skirmishes bring for those who lose their loved ones and the disruption they cause in the lives of ordinary people living along the LoC and IB.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad and can be reached at and @bokhari_mr