We are back to the familiar slide in the India-Pakistan relationship. Pakistani firing along the international border and the Line of Control intensified over the last week following India’s decision to call off foreign secretary-level talks. The firing exchanges have been deadly, with Pakistani rangers reportedly directing lethal fire — including machine guns and mortar shells — at 24 border hamlets and 40 border outposts along the border in Jammu and Samba districts. Two civilians were killed and some 15,000 civilians have fled their homes. Both sides have tried to scale back hostilities; the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) spoke over the phone while a commander-level flag meeting was held this week. They seemed to have yielded little as Pakistani rangers violated the ceasefire again on Thursday.
The India-Pakistan ceasefire, which came into effect in 2003, has been under stress since January 2013 when Indian soldiers were beheaded in a cross-border attack.
Both sides periodically accuse each other of violating the ceasefire, citing data on violations to make their case. Pakistan’s firing is, to a large extent, deployed as cover for infiltrating militants into Kashmir, but the latest round appears linked to New Delhi’s decision to peremptorily call off the talks. This is regrettable and counterproductive as it reinforces the sense in India that Islamabad uses violence to achieve political objectives. The new Indian leadership is unlikely to countenance such tactics and will not be averse to retaliating strongly. The mechanisms for managing tensions on the ground do not always work well unfortunately and can provoke unforeseen consequences. The Border Security Force said it tried to contact Pakistan authorities over the phone 16 times at one stage without success.
The Indian government has done well to grant visas to 30 Pakistani business persons — who are organising a trade exhibition in Mumbai and Delhi — in an effort to contain the fallout from cancellation of talks. Both sides must now endeavour to end the cross-border firing as nothing radicalises public attitudes faster than soldiers exchanging fire.