The deaths of five Indian soldiers in an ambush with what were Pakistan-based gunmen are only further evidence that the Line of Control (LoC) — and the Pakistani military in general — has started to become a live wire once again. Though it may not seem obvious to most Indians, the India-Pakistan border has seen a relatively peaceful period since the two sides agreed to an LoC ceasefire in 2003. While there has never been a moment of complete peace, the death toll of soldiers on both sides fell after the ceasefire. The endless artillery exchanges came to a close, allowing Kashmiri villagers on both sides of the LoC to normalise their lives. The resurrection of a legitimate democratic process in Kashmir can also be attributed to the drop in infiltration that went along with the ceasefire. The question is now whether this period of relative restraint is coming to a close.
The evidence is accumulating. This is the worst loss of life by Indian soldiers along the LoC in over a decade. Violence along the LoC has been trending upwards the past two years. Militant attacks have resumed in the Valley after a lull of three years. Though publicly being claimed by Hizbul Mujahideen, even foreign observers believe these fidayeen attacks are thinly-disguised Lashkar-e-Taiba forays. Infiltration has also spiked. And, finally, there have been continuing attacks on Indian positions in Afghanistan. One of the theories is that the Pakistani military is feeling its oats as the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan accelerates and the likelihood of the Taliban coming to power in Kabul increases. Another is that the Pakistani military is itself in leadership transition and may be in need of expressing itself forcefully against what it still sees as its number one enemy. New Delhi should also be criticised for failing to consolidate the political gains it has made in Kashmir. Militancy may have waned, but daily protests and riots continue as a final political settlement eludes the government.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has never hidden his belief that India has no choice but to keep up a dialogue with Pakistan, irrespective of what happens on the terrorism front. In the larger context, this is a sensible approach. India is not powerful enough to coerce Pakistan. But it can work to show Pakistan that its terror strategy cannot work. But persuading the Pakistani military — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is almost irrelevant in all this — of this requires a context. At present, with the Indo-US relationship fraying, the Indian economy on the ropes and the Afghan outlook for New Delhi increasingly bleak, there could be no worse context for talks with Pakistan. A lame duck government can only sell the extent of its own weakness.