Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Thinking Beyond the Line of Control 

#2646, 11 August 2008

Ali AhmedResearch Fellow, IDSA
The Line of Control (LOC) is critical to the India-Pakistan peace process as is evident from the views of the two sides. The LOC is unacceptable to Pakistan as a permanent border as the Kashmir Valley would remain on the Indian side. India's stand is that since borders cannot be redrawn, a movement towards making them irrelevant - "just lines on a map" - is the way ahead. People on both sides of the LOC are to be allowed to move freely and trade with each other.
The criticality of the LOC is also evident from the manner in which it has figured in the headlines over the recent past. Kashmiris have threatened a march to the LOC in order to open it up to reduce the pressures arising from the blockade in Jammu. In the broader perspective, the implications for peace and the potentiality for conflict also centers on the LOC.
The ceasefire extant since 26 November 2004 along it and opening up of trans-LOC routes between Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Rawalkot-Poonch, and at five crossing points elsewhere, are manifestations of the efficacy of the peace process. The former route through Aman Setu has also been opened up to trade through goods trucks being permitted transit between the two places. Two additional routes which are under consideration are the Kargil-Skardu and Jammu-Sialkot.
However, the recent spate of incidents of violation of the ceasefire along its length, amounting to 19 this year alone, indicates the threat posed to the process. Though both states have refrained from overreaction, the rise in incidents found mention in the fifth round of the composite dialogue between the two foreign secretaries as placing the peace process 'under stress'. This, in conjunction with the Kabul attack, even led to the Prime Minister pointing out to his counterpart, Mr Gilani, in their meeting on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, that these events had impacted the prospects of the peace dialogue.
LOC violations are likely to continue and may increase with the proximity of elections in J&K. Pakistan seeks to maintain terrorist manpower levels and levels of terrorism in J&K by fresh inductions into terrorist ranks through infiltration in summer months when terrain astride the LOC is negotiable. This infiltration draws an armed response from Indian forces along the LOC and the LOC fence. Since both sides seek moral ascendancy at the local level for morale purposes and to keep the warrior culture fertile in their forces, there is an inbuilt tendency towards escalation. A view on the increase of ceasefire violations has it that these have been engineered by Pakistan Army so as to provide it with an alibi against US pressure to get tougher on the militants hiding out in Talibanised areas in FATA. There is therefore a need for a joint mechanism to oversee control of the LOC.
A bilateral measure could be to use the little-known and long-neglected hotline between divisional headquarters on the two sides at Baramula and Muzaffarabad. The communication line dates to the follow up actions taken in wake of the Simla Agreement when the status of the Ceasefire Line was changed to LOC. Similar lines can be set up between corresponding military headquarters locations elsewhere such as between Kupwara or Gurais and Skardu, Rajauri and Mangla and Akhnur and Sialkot.
Through this, tackling events at the local level could be delegated to the tactical level for expeditious action, failing which these could be taken up by the Military Operations in either their weekly talks on Tuesday or on an impromptu basis depending on urgency. It would build in the sense of ownership and awareness of CBMs and develop the habits and procedures necessary to make CBMs functional at the grassroots level. Eventually, over the long term, this would enable practicability of making the LOC obsolescent.
For instance, in the middle term, the issue of a ceasefire in Kashmir is likely to arise. This would entail the return of Kashmiri militants stranded in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir to the Indian side. Their effort to get back probably already accounts for some of the ongoing infiltration. This would necessitate coordination with the Pakistani military. In return, the Pakistani jihadis stranded on this side of the fence could be given a one-time safe passage.
Over the long term, demilitarization would extend to the LOC. In this case, the resiting of posts and the environmental implications of the extraordinary belt of minefields would require to be grappled with. Placing such issues into the public domain today would, with further engagement, enlarge the dimension of future potentialities.
It is evident that LOC is not the solution, a fact also acknowledged in the Simla Agreement and unmistakably revealed in the Kargil conflict. There is, therefore, a need to also look at solutions to the predicament posed by the LOC. Thinking the unthinkable today may help unlock intractable problems with which LOC is inextricably linked to in Siachen and Kashmir.

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