Ice-breaker

The just-concluded India-Pakistan meeting at the level of the Director-Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) provides reason for some satisfaction.

While it did not produce agreement on a robust plan of action to strengthen the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), this was an unrealistic expectation. After all, tension has skyrocketed over the past year, with the armed forces of the two sides not only exchanging fire repeatedly but also accusing each other of barbaric beheading and torture of soldiers. The decade-old ceasefire is in tatters. In the circumstances, an agreement on specific steps to strengthen the ceasefire was not feasible. Although in substantial terms the meeting may not have accomplished much, that it took place is itself an achievement. This is the first time in 14 years that the DGMOs have had a face-to-face meeting. The direct interaction appears to have acted as an ice breaker. It will hopefully pave the way for tranquility along the LoC and revive the comatose peace process.

India and Pakistan have put in place several mechanisms to build bilateral confidence. Hotlines and face-to-face meetings between commanders at various levels are among these CBMs. However, the two sides seem averse to using these mechanisms. While the DGMOs have been in touch weekly over hotlines, they have not met face-to-face since the Kargil conflict. Could the recent crisis along the LoC have been averted had the DGMOs met directly to clear the air? Did they have to wait for directions from their prime ministers to meet? That the the DGMOs met almost three months after Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif decided on the need for such a meeting underscores the extreme lethargy of the Indian and Pakistani defence establishments in using available mechanisms to ease bilateral tensions.

At the just-concluded meeting, the two DGMOs agreed to make their weekly hotline contact “more effective and result oriented.” This is welcome.  With India going into election mode, substantial steps in the diplomatic dialogue are unlikely. It will be the responsibility of the defence establishments in both countries to keep the ceasefire and the peace process alive. Pakistan has a new army chief and India will be watching him and his forces closely to see how committed they are to the ceasefire on the ground.

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