February 25, 2021, marked a rare moment in India-Pakistan relations when the Director Generals of military operations (DGMOs) from both countries decided to recommit themselves to the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC), vowing to peacefully resolve all mutual issues to usher in an era of lasting peace and stability. Such a move on the part of both countries can prove to be a steppingstone for the initiation of reconciliatory talks and political dialogue over core issues bedevilling their ties. It seems that now is the right time for both sides to understand the significance of this ceasefire and revisit its predecessor so that politically robust dialogues continue to occur between them without the urge to score points domestically.
Although it does not guarantee a resolution to the larger India-Pakistan conflict, such a temporary cessation of violence across the LoC can still be considered a step in the right direction geared towards restarting the much-needed peace process between the two antagonistic neighbours. Besides, during times of hostilities, it is extremely difficult to alter the political landscape so that the violent conflict could be settled or transformed. This is where ceasefires come into play. They not only provide a cooling-off period for the establishment of communication links to conduct negotiations but also discourage the pursuance of unilateral strategies in the hopes of destroying the other. In this case, the resumption of the DGMOs’ communication via the hotline, established back in 1971 as the leading military confidence-building measure, is a positive development. The initiative had earlier remained irregular in the face of turbulent bilateral relations.
Moreover, ceasefires are usually accompanied by peacekeepers who provide a buffer zone between opponents, thereby playing a larger role in alleviating anxieties and the potential for new conflicts. For example, in this case, the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), consisting of unarmed military observers, is already in the mission area from January 1949 to supervise the ceasefire and report any violations to the UN Secretary-General. Although Pakistan has repeatedly lodged alleged ceasefire violations complaints with the group, India, based on its policy of non-recognition of third parties in its bilateral relations with Pakistan, has not done so since January 1972, thereby limiting the group’s activities on its side of the LoC.
For now, both countries seem to have climbed down from their initial positions of not resuming dialogue until Islamabad stops all kinds of terror financing and New Delhi reinstates Article 370.
At the same time, the frailty of such agreements cannot be overlooked. It is important to be cautiously optimistic about the envisioned peaceful end, as described earlier. Lack of political commitment and an absence of concerted leadership can lead to an eventual breakdown of such agreements, which has been witnessed in the Indo-Pakistan case. Besides, the recent ceasefire between India and Pakistan remains tenuous as tensions and scepticism on both ends remain high considering India’s brutal machinations in occupied Kashmir, frequent false flag operations, the aerial skirmish of 2019, and events like the Pulwama and Uri attacks. Ceasefires can also be manipulated by the concerned parties to further their political and strategic motives, like reconstituting their fighting capacities or undertaking other provocative actions that can undermine the other’s position, compelling them to break the agreement.
Moreover, it is important to formalise a new written agreement over the LoC, based on international best practices, to ensure that history does not repeat itself. The agreement would define what a ceasefire violation is and the proper consequences for its violation and delineate clear rules and regulations that both the countries will have to abide by strictly with no room for creative ambiguity, gaps, or omissions. Any such agreements should also set up precise geographical markers keeping in mind the LoC, working boundary and the Actual Ground Position Line, specify the dates and times on which the obligations imposed by the ceasefire fall, outline the parameters of permissible activities, identify all affected parties, and put in place other monitoring, enforcement, verification, and complaint mechanisms.
In addition, Pakistan’s role in bringing down hostilities with its neighbour should be highlighted, such as the peaceful return of the Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, positive messaging against the draconian annexation of Occupied Kashmir and the subsequent human rights violations in the area. Sidestepping the Indian warmongering narrative and the ensuing blame game, Pakistan has made conscious efforts to counter terror financing by incorporating vast anti-money laundering policies. Similarly, it has played an extremely constructive role in the ongoing Afghan Peace Process, thereby firmly countering all Indian allegations of sponsoring terrorism within its boundaries.
In light of such events, the recent recommitment to the 2003 Agreement is another positive development on the part of both India and Pakistan, which needs to be sustained with the help of political will from both sides. For now, both countries seem to have climbed down from their initial positions of not resuming dialogue until Islamabad stops all kinds of terror financing and New Delhi reinstates Article 370. Similar compromises could be made to ensure that the newly wrought peace agreement is not jeopardised so that the larger peace process is not derailed.