India and Pakistan have returned, barely three months after a seemingly cordial meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, to harsh rhetorical exchanges. Mr Sharif’s four-point peace proposal was less a set of practical diplomatic steps than a list of utopian conceptions that one would expect at the end of a peace process rather than the beginning. Calling for the demilitarisation of Kashmir and a bilateral renunciation of the use of force is the stuff of dreams, not a brief for negotiators. The only part of Mr Sharif’s proposal that could be the basis for some tangible forward movement is his call for the 2003 Line of Control ceasefire to be respected. Before 2003, it is often forgotten, India and Pakistan lost hundreds of soldiers each year to cross-border exchanges. Kashmiri civilians who lived close to the LoC had to abandon their homes or lived in constant fear. The next few years saw these figures drop dramatically: In 2009, five Indians were reported to have been killed because of violence along the LoC.
This began to change from 2012, with violations of the ceasefire becoming increasingly common. Terrorist violence in Kashmir spiked soon afterwards, though nowhere near the levels of bloodshed of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But New Delhi was right to be concerned — and felt the need to do something about it. After all, Pakistan initiated a policy of cross-border shelling to provide the cover by which it could infiltrate militants into India. If Rawalpindi was trying to communicate something to New Delhi, the only message that any Indian government would assume was that Pakistan planned to bring Kashmir to the boil once again. The Narendra Modi government’s response of intense retaliatory fire, therefore, is hardly a surprise. There seems to have been an increase in Pakistan-sponsored violence in Kashmir, even spilling over into Punjab, after the Ufa summit. Possibly this reflected the Pakistan army’s unhappiness with the joint statement that was produced. Hopefully, Mr Sharif’s statement represents a signal that that is over and Pakistan would like to return to the status quo ante of 2009.
The LoC ceasefire is worth saving. More than just saving lives and money and the benefits for the people of Kashmir, a quiet LoC was a symbol that Pakistan had shelved any idea of using a Kashmir insurgency to further its territorial claims. The balance of economic power is now too tilted in India’s favour for that to ever succeed. Pakistan’s use of terrorism has helped discredit its Kashmir policy in the international arena. Hopefully, amid the heated words at the United Nations is the possibility of both sides finding a common interest of once more bringing quiet to the western front.