The Line of Control (LoC) has almost become the new litmus test of the India-Pakistan relationship. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke about the tension on the LoC and the problem of cross-border terror before the United Nations General Assembly, at his meeting with President Barack Obama and, needless to say, during his confabulations with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Of course, cross-border terror has been a red thread throughout India’s dialogue with Pakistan — in the same way Islamabad must wave the flag about Kashmir.
However, the present tensions along the LoC are more important to the bilateral relationship than they have been in the past. The relative tranquillity along the LoC has been one of the primary accomplishments of the peace process carried out between President Pervez Musharraf and two Indian prime ministers, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr Singh. First, the LoC ceasefire meant the number of Indian casualties along the border fell from a few hundred to barely a few tens today. Second, the ceasefire meant that militant infiltration across the border became much more difficult and also fell off. Third, the end of the endless artillery exchanges between the two armies and the drop in militant activity helped bring about a degree of stability in Kashmir that is still being enjoyed today. Fourth, a quiet LoC reduced international concerns about Indo-Pak relations and Kashmir being a “nuclear flashpoint.” Finally, the normalisation of the LoC was seen as the first step towards a de facto acceptance that this would eventually be the international boundary.
The sense of increased violence along the LoC and the definite spike in militant activity inside Kashmir threaten to unravel these gains. No one in India should hold their breath expecting Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack to book. The likelihood of the Pakistani system taking on terrorist groups that have quasi-military patronage, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, is even more remote. The LoC is important because it encapsulates the hope of the Indo-Pak peace process. That process may be moribund, but it is much easier to revive if the legacy of diplomacy’s last period of activity endures.