High Tensions at the LoC

India and Pakistan share a 3,252 km long border, 767 km of which forms the military control line called the Line of Control (LoC) that runs through Jammu and Kashmir, dividing it between the two countries. Of late, the situation at the LoC has been markedly tense. Indian and Pakistani armies have according to reports been engaging in a furious exchange of mortar shells and bullets, which have caused deaths of not only soldiers but also several defenseless civilians located near the de facto border.

The most recent rise in tensions at the LoC began after the September 2016 attack, when a group of what were believed to be Pakistani nationals entered a military base in North Kashmir’s Uri town, killing 17 Indian troopers. The attack took place amid widespread protests in Kashmir against the killing of militant leader Burhan Wani and about a hundred civilians by Indian forces.

Following the Uri attack, an Indian defense spokesman reportedly blamed Pakistan for initiating, saying the attack was only “appropriately retaliated by the Indian forces” later. Such statements are routine from both the Indian and Pakistani side when it comes to escalation along the LoC.

This year however, the scale of escalation along the LoC was particularly concerning.

On March 5, India’s Minister of State for Defense Subhash Bhamre claimed that Pakistan has violated the ceasefire agreement between the two countries as many as 351 times since the very beginning of the new year. He accused Pakistan of conducting 209 violations in January and 142 violations since February 21.

According to Indian official reports, last year as many as 12 civilians were killed and 79 injured due to cross-border firing. In January alone however, eight civilians lost their lives to cross-border shelling and as many as 58 were reportedly injured.

More recently, three members of the United Nations Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) were fired at along the LoC. While the UNMOGIP was able to get away, Indian troops shot at and injured two locals who were reportedly briefing the UN observers on the situation in the area.

Last year in May, two UN observers barely escaped in AJK’s Bhimber district, when their vehicle was allegedly targeted by Indian troops from across the LoC.

At the center of present day geopolitical dynamics is an intensifying power struggle in the South Asian region. In December, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Lt. Gen. (retired) Nasser Khan Janjua warned that the possibility of a nuclear war in South Asia cannot be ruled out. According to Janjua, as a core part of US policy to “counter Chinese influence in South Asia, Washington is conspiring against [the] China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) along with the Indians.”

On the US role in the region, the NSA accused Washington of “speaking India’s language” and said that the two nations share an identical stance on the Kashmir issue. “The US is following the Indian policy on the longstanding Kashmir dispute,” he remarked.

Dhruva Jaishankar, a fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s India office in New Delhi, recently pointed to how the US has at various points in history sided with Pakistan as its ally and attempted to mediate in conflicts involving the country. Today, as Pakistan continues to look east, India is actively working to secure closer ties with the US.

Observing the recent shift in US policy towards Pakistan, Jaishankar concluded: “Deteriorating US-Pakistan relations today, specifically frustrations in Washington with Pakistan’s inability and unwillingness to stem its support for terrorist groups, has opened up some opportunities for India”.

Pakistani Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, also considered this change in US policy and India’s advances towards the US. He highlighted how as a result of the “unfortunate choice” US has made in partnering with India to counter Chinese influence, Pakistan has been motivated to intensify its partnership with Russia and China– deeming this as “a regional recalibration of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy”.

In one way perhaps the new US policy may be good for Pakistan considering it now is more interested than ever before in expanding its ties beyond its traditional allies. Nonetheless, US role in the peace process between Pakistan and India remains uncertain. For now, it seems China’s bourgeoning relationship with Pakistan may be able to balance the India-Pakistan power equation. In the meantime, with frequent ceasefire violations on the Line of Control and Working Boundary, the two countries continue to stand against each other without any indication of improving or enhancing bilateral interaction.

Certainly, for the sake of regional peace the restoration of the cease fire on the LOC is an urgent requirement. Taking cue from the Pakistan’s Army Chief’s recent statement on Pakistan wanting good relations with all its neighbors will be a step in the right direction. A meeting between the DGMO’s of the two countries could perhaps start the process for a peaceful solution in the Indo-Pak relationship.