Provocative act

There is heightened tension along India’s border with Pakistan. Pakistan has fired two rockets across the border at Wagah and India has retaliated with machine-gun fire. Pakistani rockets fell at least two kilometres inside Indian territory. This is the first time in several decades that firing is taking place across the International Border. India has lodged a strong protest against Pakistan’s hostile moves and its violation of the 2003 ceasefire agreement. A ceasefire came into effect along the International Border, the LoC and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in Siachen in November 2003. Since last year, there has been a noticeable increase in violations of the ceasefire along the LoC. Now the Pakistanis seem to be engaging in ceasefire violations along the International Border as well. This is serious. Such actions are putting the six-year-old ceasefire under severe pressure.

In the past, Pakistan has stepped up firing across the LoC when it was trying to push militants into Kashmir under cover of shelling to distract the Indian security forces. In recent years, Pakistan’s ceasefire violations appear to be tied to a larger game-plan. It is part of a strategy to provoke India into large-scale deployment of its forces along its frontier as happened in 2002. This is aimed at triggering a crisis along the India-Pakistan border with a view to providing Islamabad with justification for redeploying its troops currently deployed along the border with Afghanistan to that with India. While Pakistan’s civilian government and military have worked together in fighting the Taliban in the Swat region and other areas bordering Afghanistan, there are still sections in the military, especially in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that have been unhappy with the action on the militants. It is possible that these sections are now provoking tension along the India-Pakistan border to divert the attention of the Pakistan army to the frontier with India.

India-Pakistan relations are in poor shape. Islamabad’s reluctance to act against the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks, its continued infiltration of militants into Kashmir and the sharp spurt in cross-LoC firings have resulted in a perceptible chill in bilateral relations. The ceasefire violations along the International Border will add significantly to that tension. While India’s anger is understandable, it must resist the temptation to react excessively as this is what anti-India sections in Pakistan want Delhi to do. A firm but restrained response is in India’s interest.

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