The latest Indo-Pak agreement to adopt a ceasefire on the Line of Control (LOC) has shown that India’s national security establishment is capable of not only the military ability to stand up to a two-front threat – from China and Pakistan – but to also negotiate diplomatic agreements with both our hostile neighbours.
This in itself is a unique achievement, in the history of India’s boundary disputes. For this outcome, the credit must go to the National Security Advisor, Mr Ajit Doval, and his back-channel diplomacy with Mr Moeed Yusuf, the special assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on security affairs, though Yusuf denied any such meeting and called these claims ‘baseless’. Pakistan’s establishment has always taken pride in standing up to India militarily and has always used the faintest opportunity to project to its people that any long term and lasting peace with India will only come about on its terms.
This in itself should remind us that India would do well to accept this ceasefire announcement – like so many in the past – with caution. As Indian Army’s tough responses began to pinch Pakistan, the Pakistan army chief General Bajwa chose to tone down his strident anti-India stand – that he had maintained since the Balakot airstrikes in 2019 – and stated on 2nd February that, “it is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions”.
This line was thereafter echoed by Kashmiri leaders. But to their disappointment, on February 5th, Islamabad chose to tone down its usually aggressive support for the ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day,’ a sign that Pakistan was willing to adopt a new approach to dealing with India. However, New Delhi’s stand against Pakistan remains unchanged; Pakistan must abandon the use of terrorism.
But in a move that could have significant implications for civil-military relations, the Indian Army has been given the opportunity to engage both with China and Pakistan, for peace on the unsettled boundaries—the LAC and the LOC—though the Line of Control is a ‘de-facto’ border with Pakistan. Perhaps the idea of the DGMOs announcing restoration of peace could have come from Pakistan. It could be that its powerful Pakistan Army now wishes to publicly manage future bilateral arrangements by publicly becoming part of the bilateral engagements, more so as the Imran Khan government lacks credibility within Pakistan.
Be that as it may, it is best to have them on board, as the Pakistan army calls the shots on Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, the nuclear issue and its engagements with neighbours and the US. The Indo-Pak arrangements that have stood the test of time, like the agreements on the ceasefire line and later the LoC, have had the Pakistan Army as a signatory. While the Pakistani DGMO will be able to offer deliverables, his Indian counterpart could at best give a commitment to show limited restraint when provoked on the LoC.
It would thus be good to revive the previous idea of the Directors Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) meeting up along with the diplomats, as was done in the Sino-Indian talks, to discuss and find ways to possibly stop firing on the LoC. Hotlines have their advantages, but nothing works like personal engagements. In fact, we should go beyond having just the DGMO level phone ‘hotlines’. These could be extended to telephone lines at the levels of brigade, division and corps commanders on both sides, to immediately address any incident that could possibly escalate on the LoC.
The Litmus test will be if Pakistan were to resort to again push trained militants and terrorists through the LOC, by giving them covering fire with machine guns, mortars and artillery. If so, there would be no let-up in India’s responses on the LOC and this ceasefire in any case doesn’t mean that counter-insurgency operations in J&K will stop. Neither would India hold back in targeting terrorist camps across the LOC if need be, as was made known by India’s representative at the UN.