Pak-India skirmish

Source: Published in Defence on Friday, January 02, 2015

VIOLENCE along the Working Boundary between Pakistan and the India-held portion of Kashmir has been a regular feature for much of the past year. Sadly, New Year’s Eve was to be no exception.

In typically murky circumstances, with both sides trading accusations and offering contradictory accounts, several Pakistani, and at least one Indian, border guards were killed — the only certainty being that both sides did fire on the other.

What is alarming about the latest, however, is that the Pakistani version suggests that two Rangers were lured into a flag meeting with their Indian counterparts and then killed in a hail of gunfire.

If true, it would be an astonishing breach of the rules of engagement and would surely make managing the peace in an already fraught environment infinitely more difficult.

Also worrying is the Indian defence apparatus’s seeming determination to resort to the use of disproportionate force and then boast about its disproportionate response. When responses are measured in multiple killed for every dead body, something is surely terribly amiss.

Consider also that Jan 1 is supposed to be a day when a spirit of pragmatic cooperation prevails between India and Pakistan.

Exchanging lists of nuclear sites and prisoners is an archetypal confidence-building measure. It indicates that even rivals can develop rules and systems to manage the risk of conflict and the fallout of potential conflict. But CBMs such as the exchange of lists on Jan 1 between Pakistan and India can only go so far; they are not meant or designed to replace real dialogue on substantive issues.

In the immediate term, what is needed is some meaningful work on reducing the LoC/Working Boundary tensions. Whenever uniformed Pakistani and Indian security personnel are shooting at each other regularly, there is always a possibility of escalation, no matter how carefully the two sides believe the issue is being managed or choreographed.

The only effective guarantee of peace is to make sure the guns fall silent. Otherwise, the unthinkable becomes frighteningly more possible than officialdom on both sides would like to project.

On the Pakistani side, it seems inconceivable that with an army heavily deployed in Fata on counter-insurgency duties and a military leadership preoccupied with the response to domestic terrorism in the wake of the Peshawar carnage, conflict with India is part of the agenda at the moment.

While the state here has quietly pledged to defend the eastern borders against any threat, there has been no real belligerence in evidence. Still, the ground between not wanting a fight and learning to avoid one can be wide.

The political and military leadership of both sides needs to come together to bring an end to this turbulent phase along the LoC and the Working Boundary. Surely, no one could argue that distracting Pakistan from its fight against militancy is a good idea at this stage.

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