Events can be orchestrated to shape the agenda of bilateral conversations. There is plenty of evidence that such an attempt is afoot, considering the intense firing along the India-Pakistan Line of Control, ahead of the meeting of national security advisers on August 23. The MEA summoned Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s high commissioner, to convey its anger about “unprovoked firing” since August 8, which saw the “systematic targeting” of civilian populations, including through the use of artillery.
Five civilians were killed on August 15 and the firing continued on Sunday along six sectors of Poonch district, killing another person and injuring 10 others. Islamabad has, meanwhile, contested India’s version of events — Mr Basit accused India of 70 ceasefire violations during July and August while others reported that a Pakistani woman was killed and eight others were injured in shelling on Sunday by Indian forces.
There is little love lost between the two establishments now, notwithstanding the exchange of Independence Day greetings between the two prime ministers. Establishments are entitled to have different perspectives but they also have a responsibility to contain the effects of such differences, particularly if they start costing civilian lives.
India and Pakistan must avoid letting the situation slide back to the days before the ceasefire (in November 2003) where the firing caused untold misery to communities on both sides of the LoC. Targeting civilians ought not to be a negotiating position; leaders should recognise that incessant firing polarises public opinion, making it more difficult to achieve any negotiated compromise.
The atmospherics do not portend well. As if the Gurdaspur attack and the capture of Pakistani terrorist Mohammad Naved were not enough, the Kashmiri separatist Asiya Andrabi did her bit to inflame Indian opinion by addressing a Jamaat-ud-Dawa rally in Pakistan over the phone. This is a serious offence that warrants prosecution. It is one thing to demand space for dissent in Kashmir and quite another to openly consort with a terrorist organisation in Pakistan that is committed to cold-blooded murder in India.
New Delhi is unlikely to see recent events and Andrabi’s actions as mere coincidence, knowing full well that hardline Kashmiri separatists do take instructions and cues from Pakistan. The NSA talks promise to be intense but they must yield definite outcomes on easing border tensions.