After decades of tension and snooping along the line of control, the de facto international border in controversial Kashmir, India and Pakistan finally agreed to a ceasefire in 2003. The agreement came about after a major crisis in 2001-2002 that brought the two states to the brink of war.
That collapse began with an attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based terrorist organization, on the Indian parliament in December 2001. In response, India embarked on a massive military mobilization along its borders with Pakistan to force it to end its support for a number of terrorist groups operating from its soil. Pakistan nodded to curb various terrorist groups, but it was clear that it was not ready to bow to Indian pressure.
The 2003 agreement lasted only three years, but proved robust over that period. According to reliable sources, no side has violated its regulations during this period
Now, after a couple of years of plunging Indian-Pakistani relations over a series of bloody border battles, both sides have agreed to strike another deal. Both will hold their fire and negotiate to end the long-smoldering conflict between them. There is reason to be optimistic; Even a fragile peace is better than an ongoing conflict. However, given the difficult history of the peace accords between India and Pakistan, there is also cause for caution.
The control line was created in 1972 after the third India-Pakistan War. The original intention was to create a working border while efforts continued to secure a permanent border. Since then, there have been regular clashes between the two warring parties in the control line.
In April 1999, the Pakistani military infiltrated the line of control in the Kargil region and sparked another war for Kashmir. This battle, which took place after the two countries were nuclearized in May 1998, attracted international attention as it was only the second armed conflict between two nuclear-armed states. The world breathed a sigh of relief when the dispute was contained and brought to a peaceful end through US intervention.
In the 20 years since then, neither side has taken action along the line of control to spark another war, but a number of crises have disrupted India-Pakistan relations nonetheless. In addition to sparring in 2001-2002 in November 2008, the two sides came dangerously close to war again after a major terrorist attack on the city of Mumbai, which was caused by another terrorist organization based in Pakistan. However, with some nudge from the United States, they moved to a different truce.
However, it shouldn’t last. And last week, after years of escalating tension and unrest along the line of control, the two sides again agreed on an indefinite ceasefire in the region. Violations of previous ceasefires have been the norm since August 2019, when India revoked the special status of the states of Jammu and Kashmir. According to a report submitted to the Indian parliament, there were over 5,000 ceasefire violations in the past year alone. The report published by Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh attributed them all to Pakistan. A more dispassionate source, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, confirms a high number of violations in recent years, but finds the attribution somewhat bleak. The director general of military operations in Pakistan, meanwhile, claimed that there were nearly 1,300 Indian violations in 2017.
It is tempting to attribute the dramatic increase in ceasefire violations to the rise of the right-wing Hawk Hindu nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India in 2014.
For one, local commanders on both sides of the border have considerable leeway for military action, according to Indian scholar Happymon Jacob, who has conducted what is probably the most complete analysis of the causes of ceasefire gaps. When one side strengthens its position by building new bunkers or other fortifications on its side of the border, the opposing side often sets fire to it. These actions seldom have the formal imprimatur of higher commanders or political authorities.
Then other politics also play a role. After Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resumed office in 2013, he appeared to be interested in improving relations with India. However, the Pakistani military had little interest in prosecuting such overtures. As a result, they decided to stir up anger along the line of control, undermining Sharif’s offer of peace.
In 2014, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, his government gave local commanders more leeway to use force when they saw fit. As far as possible, violations of the Indian armistice increased after that point. In 2016, while pursuing its counterinsurgency strategy in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, the Indian army killed Burhan Wani, a local commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen insurgent group. Wani’s assassination sparked further insurgent infiltration from their sanctuaries in Pakistan as his compatriots tried to avenge his death. Armistice violations on both sides then increased.
Indian-Pakistani relations have deteriorated dramatically in the past five years, particularly after a suicide attack on an Indian military convoy near the city of Pulwama in Indian-controlled Kashmir in February 2019. Jaish-e-Mohammed, who carried out the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament took responsibility for the incident. After the attack, the Modi government authorized the Indian Air Force, for the first time since the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, to penetrate the international border and strike at a terrorist training camp in Balakot. Within a few days, Pakistan returned the favor with a mostly symbolic strike near Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Despite heavy rhetoric from both capitals, the crisis came to a standstill.
With all the tensions of recent years – and yet with no impending war – it might come as a surprise that India and Pakistan are now signing another ceasefire. However, it appears that both sides believed it was in their own best interest. Given that India has barely stabilized its northern border with China since a series of clashes last year, it can hardly afford to escalate further with Pakistan.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has its own needs to ease tension. Under US President Donald Trump, Washington had taken a tough stance on Islamabad, largely because it concluded that Pakistan does not support the Afghan peace process and continues to support various terrorist networks. But now that there is a new US president, it is in Islamabad’s interest to show that it can be a responsible partner in the region.
The question is what happens next? In order to hold this ceasefire longer than the others, Islamabad must find ways to contain the activities of a terrorist organization that exists within its borders. As long as Pakistan is exposed to international pressure from the United States and other countries to crack down on terrorist groups within its borders, the chances are it will actually comply. New Delhi, in turn, must convince its commanders to exercise reasonable restraint along the line of control. To demonstrate its sincerity towards the ceasefire, the Indian leadership can make good faith efforts to this end.
Peace remains a long way, but both parties can use this moment to create a more conducive environment for addressing the underlying causes of this protracted conflict.