400 ceasefire violations were reported during only the first two months of the new year at the line of control (LoC) — the dividing territory between Indian and Pakistani-controlled portions of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. India reported 192 violations in January of 2018 and Pakistan listed 400 till February of the same year. According to data gathered from reports circulated in the media, 583 and 315 ceasefire violations were reported by India and Pakistan respectively in 2014. By the year 2017, reports shot up to 860 and 1970 by India and Pakistan respectively. Observing the trend in ceasefire violations from over the years and the most recent reports of violations topping an astounding 400 this year, there is visible concern among observers from both sides regarding the possibility of 2018 becoming the year with the highest number of ceasefire violations since November 2003—the year the ceasefire agreement was signed.
More recently, a soldier and two civilians were martyred in firing at the LoC, and three terrorists were subsequently killed in retaliatory firing by Pakistani troops. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Indian army resorted to unprovoked ceasefire violations targeting the civil population in the village of Bramla with heavy automatics, mortars and anti-tank guided missiles in the Thub and Banchiran sub sectors (Padhar Sector) at the LoC. Some news sources revealed that Pakistan Army troops targeted certain Indian posts which initiated fire.
Unfortunately, India and Pakistan accusing each other of violating the ceasefire agreement has become common in the India-Pakistan relationship. Unprovoked firing from either side is routinely followed by both sides claiming they were merely responding to the other side’s aggression. There is obvious mistrust between the two countries; terrorism, LoC ceasefire violations, the Jadhav case and the issue of Kashmir are only some of the reasons for disagreement and conflict between the two neighbors. Ever since the January 2016 Pathankot attack, dialogue between the two countries has remained rather difficult; India has made its opposition to foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan also very clear.
From January 2013 to February 2018, 66 Pakistani civilians lost their lives and 228 were injured as a result firing along the LoC. Following this, India refused to issue visas to 503 Pakistani pilgrims planning to participate in the Urs of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif in March 2018. In February 2018, India kept 200 Hindu pilgrims from coming to Pakistan. This was not only a violation of the 1974 Pakistan-India Protocol on Visits to Religious Shrines but it also did significant damage to bilateral ties during these years.
It is necessary to consider that any means of enhancing bilateral ties and people-to-people contact, whether it be through trade or tourism, can play an important role in efforts towards normalization in the India-Pakistan relationship. Needless to say, both countries will benefit from improved relations. It would certainly reduce the load on military budgets on both sides that are constantly increased in view of the threat of conflict. Pakistan’s response to India increasing its defense spending has typically been raising its own dependence on nuclear weapons. Several specialists analyzing arms control have concluded South Asia may be in great danger given the presence of nuclear weapons and the volatility in relations between India and Pakistan.
While neither country will likely budge on major bilateral issues anytime soon, finding other areas of mutual interest may go a long way in the relationship.
According to reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, officers and families of the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi faced harassment, intimidation and ‘outright violence’ from the Indian state agencies last month. Over 50 incidents of harassment of Pakistani diplomats and their families were recorded between March 7 and 23. Similar accounts from the Indian side accusing Pakistan of the same kind of treatment also surfaced. Tensions between the two countries flared up after India accused Pakistan of involvement in attacks on its military posts in a bordering town — an accusation Pakistan strongly denied.
Other than working to resolve issues in exchange between diplomats from both sides, it would also help if Pakistan considers speeding up work on the delay in granting Islamabad Club Membership to the Indian High Commissioner, who has according to reports applied for membership to the Club. Membership is a routine matter for envoys and past high commissioners who have all availed it in the past. The current stall however comes at a time of brewing conflict between Islamabad and New Delhi due to frequent cross-border firing at the LoC.
Pakistan inviting Indian Defence Attache and senior diplomats of the Indian High Commission to join March 23 celebrations was a step in the right direction. New Delhi returned Pakistan’s gesture by proposing to send doctors to Pakistan. Pakistan and India also agreed on the release of certain civilian prisoners in each other’s country. The proposal for the prisoners swap in specific category was first made by India.
Nonetheless, owing to its history, any optimism regarding India-Pakistan relations has to be cautious. If tensions between India and Pakistan are to lessen in any meaningful way, the two countries must work consistently in their efforts to ensure there is a willingness to talk and resolve matters on both sides.