Written by Sandeep Bhardwaj.
The 2003 India-Pakistan Ceasefire Agreement is in trouble. After a decade of peace along the contentious Line of Control (LoC) between the two neighbours, exchanges of artillery fire and ambushes are once again, on the rise. Many observers have called for a new ceasefire agreement. However, before moving on to a new agreement, it is important to answer several questions about the old one, the most crucial being what necessitated it? How did the border violence between India and Pakistan reach a stage where it required a ceasefire to quell it?
Pakistan’s motivation to expand border violence was to undermine the normative understanding of the LoC … By increasing the border violence, Pakistan hoped to change the perception of the LoC in the minds of India and the international community.
At the outset, it is important to consider two common explanations of the border violence which suggests that it is beyond the control of India or Pakistan because it is either a function of local tit-for-tat escalation or perpetrated by sub-state or non-state actors to destabilize the larger peace process. Both of these explanations prove unsatisfactory when set against the fact that both countries managed to control the border violence for ten years despite the constant risk of local escalation and the presence of actors seeking to sabotage the India-Pakistan dialogue. Scholars have also established that there is no significant correlation between high-level diplomatic visits between New Delhi and Islamabad and the border violence, further weakening the spoiler theory. In fact, India and Pakistan do have agency in this regard and high or low levels of border violence are determined by their strategic calculus.
Ever since the end of the 1971 India-Pakistan War, guns never truly fell silent along what was dubbed as the Line of Control (LoC) under the 1972 Simla Agreement. However, the border violence began ratcheting up to extremely high levels in the late 1990s. This was the time when the Kashmir Insurgency was entering its second phase. In the late 1980s the insurgency had begun as primarily an indigenous movement with support from Pakistan. India had responded by an extraordinary military build-up in the state which managed to bring the situation under control. Reaching its peak in 1995, the insurgency began to flag thereafter. It was at this time that Pakistan decided to take greater ownership of the insurgency. Its military and intelligence services got further involved in the day-to-day management of the conflict and insurgents recruited from outside Kashmir were pumped into the valley. From negligible numbers in the early 1990s, foreign militants killed by Indian security forces rose to nearly one-third of the total figure by 1998. The trend line of violence in the state began moving up again. Thus, began the second phase of the insurgency.
At the same time, border skirmishes between the Indian and Pakistani armies rose precipitously. In 1996, Pakistan attempted three times to capture Indian posts in Siachen, next year the figure rose to eleven, according to Indian officials. Next came the Kargil Conflict in mid-1998, when close to fifteen hundred Pakistani soldiers dressed as Mujahideen crossed the LoC to capture the heights on the Indian side. The end of the conflict saw a further escalation in border violence, rather than a decline. In the period 2001-2002, when the two nations engaged in a nuclear stand-off, border incidents reached record-high numbers. Even the apparent resolution of the crisis in mid-2002 did nothing to abate this violence. Discussions in the Indian Parliament show that incidents of shelling and attacks on posts remained commonplace.
The correspondence between the second phase of the Kashmir insurgency and the fever-pitch levels of border violence suggests a connection between the two. It is often argued that the border violence is initiated by Pakistan to provide cover for the insurgents crossing the LoC. However, this doesn’t explain the high levels of violence in areas which are far away from traditional infiltration routes. Another explanation suggests that the high levels of violence were a result of Pakistan’s policy to keep the border “hot” in order to relieve pressure on the insurgency in the valley. This would be putting the cart before the horse. After all, for Pakistan, the whole logic of supporting the Kashmir insurgency is to lessen the “Indian threat” on the border.
It is more likely that Pakistan’s motivation to expand border violence was to undermine the normative understanding of the LoC. Since 1972, the LoC exists in a legal limbo, to be interpreted somewhere between an international border and a ceasefire line. The closer it is perceived to be to the former, the more deterrent value and international legitimacy it enjoys. As it moves further away from this interpretation, it becomes more open to questioning and legal confusion, a perfect breeding ground for an insurgency which has roots on both sides of the border. By increasing the border violence, Pakistan hoped to change the perception of the LoC in the minds of India and the international community. This strategy was concurrent with Pakistan’s diplomatic position at the time. For instance, during the Kargil War, its official position was not just to deny the intrusion but question the very existence of the LoC.
Pakistan’s support of the Kashmir insurgency is predicated upon the idea of a Stability-Instability Paradox. The stability offered by nuclear weapons against an all-out conflict between the two countries, allows Pakistan to take greater risks. This is dependent on what India believes to be the threshold at which the conflict moves from low-intensity to a higher one, thus warranting escalation to an all-out war. By intensifying the border violence and making it business-as-usual, Pakistan hoped to push this notional threshold to a higher level and thus widen its options for low-intensity conflict.
Border violence and the Kashmir Insurgency were thus distinct but inter-related strategies pursued by Pakistan in the late 1990s. However, by the early 2000s, the insurgency had begun to flag once again. This may have been because of Pakistan’s attempts to restrain itself after the 2001-2002 crisis, because of the US Global ‘War on Terror’ or because the insurgency simply began to peter out due to the lack of adequate local support. In any case, by 2003 it was evident that the insurgency was in decline and with it the rationale for border violence.
Accordingly, in November 2003, Pakistan offered a unilateral ceasefire, which was accepted by India. It was a verbal agreement between senior army officials of both countries, with no enforcement mechanism. Yet, defying expectations, the ceasefire held for a decade, outlasting Manmohan Singh-Musharraf peace dialogue which collapsed in 2007.
The renewal of border violence in late 2013 paralleled the worsening internal situation in Kashmir and rising fears of a revival of the insurgency. It is important to note that this rise has predated the current tensions in India and Pakistan’s relationship. Rather its proximate cause was that with the growing possibility of the insurgency’s resurrection, the old logic of undermining LoC has reasserted itself. Thus, it is unlikely that the border violence will abate in the short-term unless preceded by a resolution of the current internal crisis in Kashmir.
In the meantime, the legitimacy of the LoC has certainly diminished in the last two decades, weakening its normative force from the 1970s. Even the 2003 ceasefire contributed to this phenomenon by suggesting that the LoC was somehow closer to an armistice line, which needed an additional ceasefire agreement, than an international border. Lately, even India seems to be buying into this premise as evidenced by its well-publicized cross-border 2016 “surgical strike” against Pakistan. Both nations need to recognize that whatever short-term benefits such an approach may offer, in the long-run a legitimized LoC is essential for national security of both India and Pakistan.
Sandeep Bhardwaj is a researcher at the Centre for Policy Research specializing in South Asian geopolitics. He writes on South Asian history at revisitingindia.com. Image Credit: CC by President of Russia.