In a hotline conversation on Tuesday, 30 May, the scheduled day for talks each week, the India-Pakistan Director Generals of Military Operations, “agreed to fully implement the ceasefire understanding of 2003 in letter and spirit forthwith.”
A near-identical statement was issued by both sides, which stated that they “agreed to ensure that henceforth the ceasefire will not be violated. In case of any issue, restraint will be exercised and the matter will be resolved through utilisation of existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border flag meetings.”
Why Did Pakistan Request a Ceasefire?
No joint statement was issued as both sides adopt different terminologies for the border. While India terms the Jammu border as the IB, Pakistan terms it as the ‘working boundary’. As per Indian details, in 2017 there were 860 ceasefire violations, and this year there have been 908 to date. Pakistan’s figures are 1,813 ceasefire violations in 2017 and 1,321 this year.
Both sides normally blame the other for the violations. However, for once in January 2018, the Indian Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat stated that ceasefire violations are being initiated by the Indian Army along the LoC as part of counter-terrorism actions, targeting those Pakistan posts which abet infiltration.
Two questions arise. Firstly, why did Pakistan choose this time to request a ceasefire? Secondly, will it hold or is this only a means to gain time?
This aspect is all the more surprising as Pakistan has not succeeded in large-scale infiltration in Kashmir, wherein it could sit back and let the infiltrated militants continue to burn the Valley while it watched.
It is slowly losing its hold in the Valley as the movement is now being run by locals, rather than Pakistan-exported militants. And the image of the Hurriyat has been dented by the revelations of ex-Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief Assad Durrani, claiming it was established, guided, funded and supported by the ISI.
A Ceasefire In View of Pakistan’s Polls?
While Indian retaliation has been stronger than Pakistan’s, and damages to their side have been immense, including to the local population, this is not the first time such a situation has occurred. While the initial ceasefire in 2003 lasted for a few years, its deterioration has been evident since 2016. Hence, the reasons may be different.
31 May will witness the Pakistan government handing over of the reins to an interim government for the elections to be conducted. This sets in motion the election process.
Elections in Pakistan are scheduled for July, the conduct and ‘manipulation’ of which remains the responsibility of the Deep State. In all probability, the next prime minister would already have been decided by the Pakistan Army Chief. He can only choose between Zardari and Imran, with the former emerging as the dark horse.
Elections imply movement of troops from multiple locations to the interiors, and could therefore lead to a reduction in force levels, which calls for a ceasefire.
In June, a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will determine whether Pakistan will be placed in the ‘Grey’ or ‘Black’ list for supporting terror groups. Unless it indicates a change in its approach to its neighbours, Pakistan is certainly headed for the ‘Black’ list. It certainly needs to display a commitment to reducing support to militant groups to avoid being blacklisted.
So what better way than reduced infiltration due to a ceasefire?
Pakistan Army Open to Talks?
The Monsoons are approaching. Pakistan posts would have been damaged immensely by strong retaliation. It would need to rebuild them, which it cannot do unless peace reins. While it may have militants ready to cross over, it can afford to delay this till it is ready to re-commence firing. For India, a peaceful LoC implies easier monitoring for infiltration, while an active LoC divides the attention of troops.
China too has been prodding Pakistan to improve relations with India. After all, its investments in Pakistan are immense, and unless relations are normal, they will always remain under threat. The pressure seems to be more on the Pakistan Army than on the civilian government, as the date announced by Pakistan seems to imply.
With no credible civil government in Pakistan in situ from 31 May, the only available element for talks is the Pakistan Army, which will continue to dominate the scene even after a ‘puppet’ prime minister steps in. Therefore, Pakistan could be conveying the message that General Bajwa, their Army Chief, is open to dialogue to resolve Indo-Pak tension. India is unlikely to take the bait for multiple reasons.
Dialogue Now Makes No Sense For India
First, it is against the Indian government’s policy to talk to the Pakistan Army, as it is unwilling to give similar importance to its own forces. Its High Commissioner in Islamabad is possibly the only one who has not called on the Army Chief, while every other nation’s representative has. The mention by AS Dulat, the former Indian head of RAW and co-author of the book The Spy Chronicles, that India must invite the Pakistan Army Chief to India, has merit.
Secondly, India would also be moving into 2019 election mode, hence, the government would be unwilling to risk dialogue, fearing failure. India would never consider a meeting between the army chiefs of India and Pakistan in a neutral venue as it has always kept the Indian Army well away from diplomacy.
Finally, based on past experiences, the Indian government has never trusted the Pakistani Deep State.
The declared ceasefire has a rider – “In case of any issues, restraint will be exercised” – which needs to be considered.
In an emergency, to push militants through, Pakistan may act suddenly. Is India then supposed to exercise restraint and employ communication lines to open dialogue? This it may not want to do, as opening fire is an indicator of infiltration.
No Safe Options
The other issue emerging is whether the ceasefire will hold. Logically, it will hold for the moment, because of the reasons listed above. Probably it will hold till end July, as by then the new government should be in place and the Army will return to its normal routine.
The FATF decision would also have been implemented either way. Pakistan may be hoping that in the meanwhile, India takes the bait and suggests a forward-looking move in talks involving their Army Chief. China too may now quietly prod Delhi to take advantage and seek a lasting solution.
Will the Government of India read the signs and take advantage of the scenario? Fear of failure and talking to a uniformed entity will impact the government’s decision. If it ignores the signs, then it may miss yet another opportunity. However, either decision is fraught with political risk.
(The author is a retired army officer based in Lucknow. He can be reached @kakar_harsha. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)