“Either put an end to this nightmare or go for a straight war.” This is the common refrain from the people living close to the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) since the firing and shelling between the armies of India and Pakistan has intensified in the past few weeks.
Waking up to the roar of guns every next day has become the new normal in the lives of tens of thousands of people who had, for a larger part of the conflict, led a peaceful existence after both countries entered into a ceasefire agreement in 2003. But that is now a thing of the past.
As the media reports daily that ceasefire violations have taken place, the news seems to be at odds with reality since there is virtually no ceasefire that has existed on the ground for the past 10 years or so.
The beginning of 2018 has seen a steep increase in the firing and shelling that has not only led to human losses but also rendered thousands of people homeless. The past two weeks have seen the situation rewinding back to what was happening before 2003. On the Pakistani side the government formally announced the evacuation of areas and on loudspeakers asked people to move out of their villages that fall very close to the LoC.
The beginning of 2018 has seen a steep increase in the firing and shelling that has not only led to human losses but also rendered thousands of people homeless
Since the dividing line is closer to inhabitations on both sides, people “listened” to the directive from the other side as well and started moving out of their homes. This is slowly turning into a replica of the times they saw a border conflict in from early 2000 to 2003.
On a visit to the border areas in Uri, one can see the fear writ large on the faces of the people who have been on the receiving end. That is why they ask, “Why not go for war?” Their experience with skirmishes of these armies has been bitter. They live on the edge and have faced the brunt of the hostilities. The same is the case with Rajouri and Nowshera sectors in Jammu division where six civilians have been killed in shelling in the last 10 months. In the latest “adventurism” on both sides even 105mm light field guns, heavy 120mm mortar and anti-tank guided missiles have been used and have rattled the areas.
Those who experienced the stand-off on the borders after the December 2001 parliament attack are confident in saying that this might prove to be the worst yet. With both sides trying to target army posts, the shells land in civilian areas. There has not been any let-up in the last two months and the ceasefire violations, according to government sources have crossed the 400 mark in just two months and is likely to record the highest number of violations in recent years.
The ceasefire along the 198km international border in J&K, the 778km line of control and the 110km actual ground position line in Siachen was by and large maintained until 2008 when the terror attack in Mumbai was executed, derailing the entire peace process.
In 2017, the violations had touched the 1,000 mark (860 along the LoC and 120 on the IB) and the intensity had gone up after the surgical strikes across the LoC that were prompted by an audacious attack on the Brigade headquarters in Uri in September 2016.
The year 2017 has been otherwise a bloody one for Jammu and Kashmir since the violence went up and even the army and paramilitary forces also faced heavy losses. “As many as 450 persons, including 124 armed forces, 217 militants, 108 civilians and one Ikhwani were killed in the conflict. The year witnessed the killing of 124 armed forces personnel, which makes the ratio of militant-armed forces killings 2:1,” the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition for Civil Society, a human rights watchdog, said in its annual report. If the army lost 32 soldiers in the attacks near and along the LoC in 2017, it lost 30 more in the hinterland while fighting militancy.
But Government of India sources insist that an estimated 130 to 140 Pakistani soldiers were killed in counter-attacks in 2017. In any case, the level of bloodletting was higher in the previous year.
In the case of ceasefire violations there has been a gradual increase over a period of time. Since the BJP government took office in Delhi in 2014, with a brief pause, the relations between the two countries hit a new low. The year 2017 was the worst by all means. It saw a 230 percent increase in ceasefire violations. In 2017, Pakistan violated the ceasefire 771 times along the LoC while the figure stood at 228 last year. There were 153 violations in 2014.
There were 110 violations along the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir, the lowest in four years, the Lok Sabha was told on December 19, 2017. Similarly Pakistan alleged that India violated the ceasefire 1,300 times. “In 2017, more than 1,300 Indian ceasefire violations, the highest ever in the recent past, have resulted in 52 deaths and 175 were injured. We have consistently stressed that Indian aggression is a threat to regional peace and tranquility,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said in a briefing on December 8, 2017.
The pattern has remained the same in the times of “bad and good” relations. According to Happymon Jacob, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, “The data are clear: constructive dialogue and quiet along the borders are strongly correlated”. In his exhaustive report for the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) in 2017, “Ceasefire Violations in Jammu and Kashmir,” he writes, “Because the primary driver of ceasefire violations in the Kashmir region is without question the larger political conflict between Pakistan and India, the violations should not and cannot be taken in isolation. They are only the tip of the iceberg. The two countries could and should take steps, however, to institute mechanisms to better manage violations urgent measures need to be taken to formalize the 2003 ceasefire”.
Year 2003 was undoubtedly the calmest year on the borders since a rapprochement between the two countries took root. It has been evident on the ground. In that year just two violations were reported. But 2002 was the worst with nearly 5,800 violations on both sides. In 2001 we saw 4,134 violations, year 2004 had four violations, followed by six in 2005, three in 2006, 21 in 2007 and 86 in 2008. Again, for some reason, the graph was down in 2009 with 35. But it picked up again in 2010 with 70 and 62 in 2011 and 114 in 2012. It continued to surge in 2013 which saw 347 and then showed no let-up in 2014 by touching 583 followed by 405 in 2015 and 449 in 2016.
As things have gone from bad to worse what is missing is a Standard Operating Procedure that could be followed in a ceasefire. A mechanism is also missing and nearly no contact between the two countries is adding to the woes of the people. Though the National Security Advisers have been meeting off and on, the latest in Bangkok in December last year, they have not laid out a framework for engagement. With the face-off on the borders becoming a permanent feature, it is the commoner who is suffering along the borders. If breaks are not put on the triggers on both sides, 2018 may prove to be deadly in terms of border conflagration.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Srinagar (Kashmir) and can be reached at email@example.com