Disquiet along Line of Control

Disquiet along Line of Control

Disquiet along Line of Control

If the ‘Mohali spirit’, uncorked by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his then Pakistani counterpart Syed Yusuf Raja Gilani on March 30, 2011 dissipated into thin air by the end of 2012, the first fortnight of 2013 saw truce violations and fire exchanges across the Line of Control (LoC) bringing the troubled relations between the two neighbours back to cul-de-sac.

Top bureaucrats of India and Pakistan have met at least 13 times since New Delhi restarted structured talks with Islamabad, ending a two-and-a-half year impasse after the November 26 terror attack on Mumbai in 2008.

They covered all the contentious issues that troubled the bilateral relations for decades – Kashmir, Siachen glacier, Sir Creek estuary and Wullar Barrage or Tulbul Navigation Project. They also covered counter-terrorism cooperation, including progress in the trial of the seven 26/11 accused in a court in Pakistan, apart from Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and humanitarian initiatives like exchange of nationals imprisoned in each other’s jails. India and Pakistan External Affairs Ministers met four times – twice to review outcomes of bureaucratic-level talks.

Manmohan Singh alone had four meetings with top Pak leaders, beginning with Gilani on March 30, 2011, when the two Prime Ministers together watched Mahinder Singh Dhoni’s team taking on Shahid Afridi’s eleven in the World Cup semi-final in Mohali.

The dialogue did not yield much, though. Neither did the trial of the Lashkar-e-Tayyiba operatives by the anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi speed up, nor was suspected 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed put behind bars. No noteworthy headway was made in efforts to resolve old disputes.

By the time the second round of talks ended in September last, the only worthy achievements New Delhi and Islamabad could boast of were an agreement to liberalise the bilateral visa regime and a commitment by Pakistan to grant “Most Favoured Nation” (MFN) status to India by 2012 end, for business purposes.

 Year 2012, however, ended without Pakistan delivering on its promise of MFN status. And the brutal killing of two Indian Army soldiers by Pakistani troopers on the LoC on January 8, prompted New Delhi to put on hold implementation of the new visa regime, which was scheduled to begin with visa-on-arrival facility for senior Pak citizens on the Wagah-Attari border checkpost on January 15.

Even Singh started talking tough and his now famous statement, “There cannot be business as usual after this barbaric act,” came amid reports that he was too eager to walk the extra miles to mend ties with the neighbouring country. 

Islamabad suspended cross-LoC trade through the Chakan-da-Bagh checkpost and the bus service between Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir and Rawalakot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Both these CBMs were among the few tangible outcomes of the composite dialogue  launched in 2004 and suspended after the Mumbai carnage.

If the clock did not turn back for India and Pakistan, it surely paused.

The brutal beheading of Lance Naik Hemraj after he was killed along with his colleague Lance Naik Sudhakar Singh on the Indian side of the dividing line was, apparently, intended to dress up the attack as the handiwork of terrorists and not of Pakistani Army regulars.

This was followed by the usual denials from Islamabad about involvement of the Pakistan Army. New Delhi, however, believes that not just the attack on Hemraj and Sudhakar at Mendhar in Poonch district of J&K on January 8, even the provocative firing at Indian Army posts at Rampur two days earlier were elements of a plan drawn up in the higher echelons of the Pakistan military establishment to deliberately disturb the status quo along the LoC.

It came at a time when Pakistan appeared to be on the edge, thanks to Tahir-ul-Qadri – the maverick cleric, who led the “million-man march” to Islamabad to demand the resignation of the “corrupt” Pakistan People’s Party Government, dissolution of provincial and national assemblies  and conduct of the elections due in May under a caretaker administration installed in consultation with the judiciary and military. Many suspected that the Pakistani-Canadian cleric and his invisible backers were trying to stage a ‘soft coup’ and derail the democratic process.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court also ordered the arrest of the country’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. All these made for a perfect occasion for Pakistan’s powerful military or its ‘Deep State’ to escalate tension along the LoC, bring the focus back on Kashmir, raise the threat perception from India and re-position itself as the only credible institution that the nation could rely upon, not just to protect itself from an aggressive neighbour but also to restore internal order.

Internationalising Kashmir

“The current spate of ceasefire violations seems to have been prompted by the desire in the Army to create an opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir issue,” observes Smruti S Pattanaik of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.

She notes that Islamabad’s offer for a probe into the recent violations along the LoC by the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) – an entity New Delhi stopped recognising four decades ago – reflects that desire to bring international focus back on Kashmir.

Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani briefed envoys of US and other western countries in Islamabad, obviously blaming Indian soldiers for the LoC skirmish, which resulted in the death of three soldiers of Pakistan Army. 

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari too had raised the Kashmir issue at the United Nations General Assembly last September. New Delhi had by then made it clear to Islamabad that it would not be possible for Singh to accept Zardari’s invitation to visit Pakistan until the trial of the 26/11 accused was fast tracked and Hafiz Saeed was jailed.

Clearly, despite signs of some degree of political consensus in Pakistan for improving ties with India, the PPP Government finally opted to balance its agenda with political interests and the desire of the Army.

If ‘Operation Geronimo’ killing Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden near a military academy just 100 km from Islamabad put Pakistan Army in a tight spot in 2011, US added to its embarrassment  accusing the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan of helping the Haqqani Network, which had carried out many terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
But, after Barack Obama won a second term in the White House, the US seems to have reconciled to the fact that it would have to work with the Pakistani Army as it prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan.

 No wonder, Afghan High Peace Council’s draft peace roadmap to 2015 puts Pakistan – or its Army – in the driver’s seat for reconciliation with Taliban. As it seems set to get a ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, the ‘Deep State’ of Pakistan clearly felt that the time had come for renewing emphasis on its agenda on Kashmir.

After a war of words for a few days, New Delhi cautiously responded to positive vibes from Islamabad, although none could expect any dramatic outcome from the process in the near future.

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