The story of two ceasefires
It is important to invest in negotiations, political concessions and soft power within Jammu and Kashmir
The Narendra Modi government in New Delhi has decided to make a host of political concessions — in the form of conciliatory moves, positive responses and toned-down rhetoric — vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and Pakistan. More notably, we are also perhaps witnessing a cautious, and sensible, adoption of diplomacy and soft power in the final lap of the Modi government’s term in office. While that is indeed welcome, has its willingness to play down its aggressive rhetoric and dismount from the moral high horse come a bit too late in the day to make a difference?
Over the past month or so, New Delhi has offered to reach out to the separatists in Kashmir (junking its earlier resolve not to engage them), reportedly carried out backchannel parleys with the separatist leadership in Srinagar, declared a ceasefire during the month of Ramzan, and agreed to maintain the 2003 ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) with Pakistan. The India-Pakistan ceasefire was declared on May 29, which has so far continued with a few exceptions. The tone and tenor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership’s statements towards the Kashmiris has suddenly demonstrated some much-needed warmth and ‘love’.
Context of the ceasefires
These conciliatory moves have come against the backdrop of several worrying developments within J&K and on the border. For one, the intensity of ceasefire violations had been steadily rising, with damage to civilian habitats and civilian and military casualty rates going up. India reported 19 military casualties and 12 civilian casualties due to ceasefire violations last year, and Pakistan reported 50 civilian casualties (Pakistan does not report military casualties on the LoC/IB but unofficial data show higher military casualties than India). Past experience suggests that fire assaults and cross-border raids on the LoC are fraught with potential for bilateral escalation.
Within Kashmir, an increasing number of local boys are joining the ranks of militancy, and terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets have been on the rise. In 2013, the number of Kashmiri youngsters joining militancy was 16, which rose to 126 in 2017, and 27 in the first three months of 2018. In 2013 there were 170 terror-related incidents in J&K, which went up to 342 in 2017.
It is in this broad political and security context that we should assess the significance and desirability of the bilateral India-Pakistan ceasefire and the internal Ramzan ceasefire.
There is little doubt that the two ceasefires and the associated peace moves make perfect sense in helping normalise the situation both internally and bilaterally. However, the crucial question is this: why has the Modi government, which has derived domestic political mileage from a hawkish and aggressive posture, suddenly decided to change track and experiment with conciliatory moves?
First, there seems to be a counterintuitive rationale behind it. While the BJP has traditionally benefitted from a hardline policy in Kashmir, and towards Pakistan, the diminishing returns of such a policy have started kicking in. Not only has government not delivered on its hardline promises (such as the abolition of Article 370, or keeping infiltration and terror attacks under check), but the use of force has failed to achieve its objectives. Hence, the potential to use the Kashmir or Pakistan bogey for electoral gains is limited for now.
In fact, the reverse logic has gained salience: it would be risky for the government to have a violent border and a troubled Kashmir going into the 2019 campaign. For the BJP, it’s time to focus internally, and a semblance of peace on the border and in Kashmir would help. More so, with the ‘Modi wave’ on the wane, it needs to keep its allies close: the BJP’s coalition partner in J&K, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has been insisting on both the internal and India-Pakistan ceasefires.
Second, while the BJP’s hardline policy on the border initially received popular support in the Jammu region, such support is drastically fading now, given the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians from the border villages and the attendant misery for the local population.
Third, India’s policy of disproportionate bombardment against Pakistani forces, especially last year, has also not helped. For instance, India violated the ceasefire more than twice as Pakistan did in 2017 (i.e. India fired twice as much), but tables have already turned in 2018: Pakistan violated the ceasefire 1,252 times till May this year whereas India violated the ceasefire on 1,050 occasions. In other words, India’s policy of disproportionate bombardment on the border has not only not helped matters but it has now become a major problem for the locals. (It is equally true that Pakistani civilians also suffer but that may not create problems for the civilian government in Islamabad).
Similarly, both infiltration into J&K and militant attacks in the State have been on the rise. In 2014, 65 terrorists infiltrated into J&K, with the number steadily rising since then. In 2016 it was 119, and last year it went up to 123. In other words, New Delhi’s hardline policy has not only not worked, it has actually had the reverse effect.
Finally, India and Pakistan have been signalling to each other for some time about the possibility of a rapprochement. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has on several occasions spoken of the need to build peace with India. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in responding to his suggestion for the peaceful resolution of India-Pakistan disputes, recently said that “any comment on wanting peace will definitely be taken seriously”. This desire for rapprochement is also a continuation of positive bilateral engagement since the resolution of the diplomatic row arising over the harassment of each other’s diplomats.
Clearly, both India and Pakistan, and in particular the people of J&K, will immensely benefit for these two ceasefires. But how long will they last? As for the internal ceasefire, I am skeptical about New Delhi’s ability to engage Kashmiri dissidents in a durable dialogue process. New Delhi may have reached out, but does it have a clearly-articulated blueprint for bringing peace to Kashmir? In particular, the BJP may find it exceptionally difficult to be seen as making ‘concessions’ in Kashmir, and Kashmiri dissidents may not be able to come on board without major political concessions from New Delhi.
The bilateral ceasefire is also not without problems. First, experience suggests that without political dialogue between India and Pakistan, especially on Kashmir, ceasefire agreements tend to break down. More so, there are fundamental structural flaws in the India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement which make it prone to breaking down even when the decision-makers in India or Pakistan do not intend to break it. If indeed such ‘local/tactical’ factors do trigger ceasefire violations, a number of measures — such as formalising the ceasefire agreement through a written down document and regular scheduled meetings of Directors-General of Military Operations, among others — would need to be taken by the two countries to sustain the ceasefire.
Finally, and perhaps most important, there is an undeniable direct link between the Kashmir insurgency on the one hand, and India-Pakistan dialogue, maintenance of the ceasefire agreement, terrorist infiltration into J&K and terrorist violence in Kashmir on the other. Put differently, unless New Delhi takes effective measures to reassure Kashmiris, there is no guarantee that the two ceasefires will survive. With hawkishness and aggression having evidently failed, it’s time to invest in negotiations, political concessions and soft power. And Pakistan must make efforts to control terrorist infiltration into Kashmir for these to be successful.
Happymon Jacob is an Associate Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and curates an online archive on the India-Pakistan conflict - http://indopakconflictmonitor.org/
Courtesy The Hindu