India and Pak should sign a formal ceasefire pact with strict protocols to check infiltration, cross-border terrorism, narco-terrorism and ceasefire violations
An unexpected announcement just 24 hours prior to the eve of the second anniversary of the Balakot air strike on February 26, 2019, that had brought two nuclear neighbours to the brink of war, brought cheers on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). The joint statement by India and Pakistan pertaining to cessation of ceasefire violations, which had peaked beyond 5,000 in the preceding year, was justifiably welcomed by dwellers on both sides of the border. However, the telephonic consensus reached between the two Director-Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) is being wrongly reported as a “Ceasefire Agreement.” It is in fact nowhere near an agreement as per international protocols, it is just an announcement as no one has signed on the dotted line.
The announcement came in the wake of the statement made by the Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on February 3. He had said, “It is time to extend a hand of peace in all directions.” His statement was hailed by Pakistan’s Foreign Office as reflective of the country’s desire for peace and security in the region. The statement surprised many because it came at a time when the diplomatic ties between the two countries were at the lowest and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced that there would be no negotiations with India till the restoration of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) by the latter.
Thus, the offer of honouring a ceasefire and cessation of ceasefire violations from the DGMO of Pakistan Army confirmed yet again that peace on the LoC and the foreign policy of Pakistan are decided not in Islamabad (the seat of political power) but in Rawalpindi (the seat of military power). It has also established the fact that among the “3M” troika of mullah, militants and military that rules Pakistan, the military yields the maximum power.
What is perplexing defence analysts is the reason for a sudden U-turn by the Pakistani military which survives at home on the basis of an anti-India bogey created through the notion that India is an existential threat and the Pak Army is the nation’s sole saviour. Has Pakistan lost the battle in J&K and realised the futility of meddling in its affairs? Was Pakistan under any obligation to China to keep the LoC active in support of the standoff in Eastern Ladakh and now that the disengagement between the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army has taken place in the most volatile Pangong Tso sector, Islamabad has also been asked by Beijing to go easy? Is the American decision under President Joe Biden to not abandon Afghanistan in a hurry upsetting Pakistani calculations? One immediate trigger which comes to mind is the valiant response of the Indian Army to Chinese belligerence in Eastern Ladakh. The professionalism and mettle displayed by the Indian Army not only surprised the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership but its all-time ally Pakistan as well. Pakistan has realised the futility of competing with India and its military might. Coupled with this is the strong international support garnered by New Delhi through its subtle diplomacy, resulting in a bitter experience for Pakistan where even the majority Muslim nations refused to side with it on the issue of Kashmir.
The latest move could also be a ruse to get the much-needed breather to improve its defences. The sudden change in the mindset of Pakistan Army is very difficult to digest, while on the Indian side other than the desire to have peaceful relations with its neighbours, there appears to be no other visible indicator.
The Indian Government has been consistent in its stand of Pakistan divorcing itself from cross-border terror and dismantling all terror-related infrastructure. No such indicators have emanated from Pakistan and launch pads are full, infiltration attempts continue, jihadi training camps are being re-established under a new organisation called the Tehreek-e-Lebek. The cosmetic actions taken by Islamabad against the established terror leadership to dodge the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) are not very significant and it has decided to keep Pakistan in the ‘grey list’ till June. All in all, Pakistan still continues with terrorism as an instrument of State policy and has not taken any serious measures to divorce itself from terrorism that could please India.
The statement of Imran Khan’s advisor on security affairs, Moeed Yusuf, coming on the heels of Gen Bajwa’s statement did give a slight indication of what was brewing in Pakistan when he said, “If you want peace, we have to move forward. If we want to move forward, everybody has to be rational and not ideological.” But his statement immediately after the announcement of the ceasefire claiming it as a “win-win” situation for Pakistan, denies all logic and puts a question mark on Islamabad’s intent. Will the current consensus be any different from similar exercises on numerous occasions in the past which after a brief lull had been violated by Pakistan with impunity? The 2003 ceasefire, which was also not an agreement, lasted the longest: For five years. The 2003 ceasefire was announced unilaterally by the then Pakistan Prime Minister on the eve of Eid-al-Fitr and was received positively by then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a great votary of peace between the two neighbours. But unfortunately, the agreement was not formalised and it could also last for five years only because it was backed by the leaders of both the nations.
Plus, it had the approval of Pakistan Army because of the humiliating defeat it suffered at Kargil and because the military was shifting the focus towards Afghanistan through Taliban insurgency. Such attempts have always remained fragile in view of the absence of a structured protocol to ensure their enforcement.
An almost identical statement was made by the two DGMOs in May 2018 as well. But it lasted only for a few months and the LoC became volatile once again after the Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent Balakot air strike by India.
Efforts made by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2015 did not find a favourable response from India on two counts. First, Islamabad wanted the ceasefire to be monitored by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, which was not acceptable to New Delhi since it violated the spirit of the Shimla Agreement. Second, India insisted on Pakistan proving its sincerity by dismantling all terror infrastructure, to which Islamabad showed no inclination.
But times have changed now. India has successfully exposed Pakistan as a fountainhead of terror and it is globally recognised as such. Islamabad’s isolation on the world stage has compelled it to act against terror on its soil. The FATF’s role in compelling Pakistan to abandon terror is also critical. The downward spiral in the country’s economy and its realisation of the need for peaceful coexistence with India are drivers of a mindset change in the Pakistani establishment.
India should now go ahead and sign a formal ceasefire agreement with strict protocols to check infiltration, cross-border terrorism, narco-terrorism, ceasefire violations including drone dropping or tunnelling, attack on civil areas and maintenance of peace and tranquillity. This agreement, if proved successful, could become the stepping stone for a lasting peace between the two neighbours. In international relations there are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent national interests. Peace in the subcontinent is in the national interest of both countries. Pakistan has to accept that the ‘non-zero sum game’ approach with India is in its best interest while New Delhi will have to mould itself to play the key role of an elder brother.
The author is a Jammu-based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. The views expressed are personal.