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Prospects Of The 2021 India-Pakistan Cease Fire – OpEd

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s guns fall silent along the Line of Control [LoC] in Jammu and Kashmir [J&K], the question on everybody’s mind is -will this cease fire agreement [CFA] between Indian and Pakistan armies hold? On the face of it, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, because killing merely to satiate the puerile belief that the person across the LoC is an ‘enemy’ and hence should be exterminated, makes just no sense! On the other hand, if past experience is any indicator, then the prospects of current cease fire enduring aren’t very encouraging. After all, didn’t the 2003 CFA, announced with much fanfare collapse within a few years? So, it appears that despite humungous loss of lives and limbs, there’s something that still spurs the unending cycle of death and destruction along LoC.  

Who benefits from cease fire violations?  

Cease fire violations [CVF] invite immediate retribution from the other side, and so to suggest that someone could actually be benefiting from this may sound outlandish. In addition to heavy cost in terms of human life, recurring CFVs create a warlike situation along LoC, heightening dangers of things spiraling out of control, which keeps both governments and armies on tenterhooks. Such a tense situation along the LoC doesn’t benefit either New Delhi or Indian army as they have nothing to prove nor any narrative to sell. Au contraire, the government continues to face flak from opposition parties for its inability to protect the lives and property of people living in border areas that continue to be destroyed by Pakistan’s cease fire violations.

However, such a hostile environment on LoC actually suits Islamabad’s pet narrative of New Delhi orchestrating a “false flag” operation and gives Rawalpindi the chance to tilt windmills by periodically talking about an imminent military “misadventure” by Indian army. It also helps Rawalpindi in justifying the extraconstitutional authority that it exercises over the country’s legislature and other organs of the state. Hence, initiating CFVs on a daily basis and blaming Indian army for the same creates the illusion of an ever-looming existential threat to Pakistan from a ‘Hindu’ India determined to pursue its “hegemonistic’ ambitions.” It also helps Pakistan army in preserving its painstakingly created image of being the country’s ultimate bulwark against what it portrays to its people as a ubiquitous threat of Indian aggression. 

Some may argue that since no CFV goes ‘unpunished’, why should Pakistan army unnecessarily expose its soldiers to punitive action by Indian army, especially when it is both qualitatively and quantitively much better-off than Pakistan army in terms of armament and precision delivery munitions? This view does have merit because due to Indian army’s preponderance of firepower, the probability of Pakistan army ending up suffering comparatively higher casualties vis-à-vis Indian army is axiomatic and hence, it could be argued that initiating CFVs isn’t in Rawalpindi’s interests. However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that an army that didn’t have any qualms in disowning its dead soldiers during the 1999 Kargil conflict, can’t be expected to introspect on the senseless idea of exposing their troops to grave danger merely to strengthen its motivated narrative! 

Casualty data ‘Management’ 

Surprisingly, despite Indian army’s preponderance of firepower, casualty data released by Pakistan army’s media wing Inter Services Public Relations [ISPR], indicates that its fatalities are just fraction of those suffered by Indian army. Infact, the figures are so incredibly low that they defy logic and it’s only when information collated by netizens using ‘open-source intelligence’ [OSINT] is examined that one realises that ISPR has been grossly underreporting its fatalities. For example, a list of 276 fatalities suffered by Pakistan army from January upto August 11, 2020 compiled through OSINT has been posted on twitter by Nexoft Alam @Nexoft034. Surprisingly, the otherwise highly proactive ISPR hasn’t refuted this data.

However, in an article titled “Pakistan Army lost 64 soldiers in last 5 Weeks, Over 60 % Buried Silently,” published in Indian Defence Research Wing on September 6, 2019 [https://idrw.org/pakistan-army-lost-64-soldiers-in-last-5-weeks-over-60-buried-silently/] another twitter handle [@Nexoft117] that put out a list of 64 Pakistan army soldiers killed during a five-week period [27 July to 31 August 2019], has been suspended, and there’re no prizes for guessing who is responsible for this! 

Even many Pakistanis agree that ISPR is extremely economical with the truth while reporting LoC fatalities. On August 14, 2019, Emmy Award-nominated Pakistani multimedia journalist Wajahat Saeed Khan tweeted: “Here’s something the ISPR won’t tell you. 5 – 7 Pak Army soldiers are being lost / week on the Western ‘front’. 10 – 12 PA [Pakistan army] troops are KIA [Killed in Action]/ week due to engagements in the Eastern theatre / LoC. [Emphasis added]. However, concerns of Pakistan army concealing actual extent of its losses on LoC isn’t restricted to netzines and scribes only- even Government of Pakistan [GoP] has taken official cognisance of this malady.

In 2017, while speaking on behalf of Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Water and Power, Mr Abid Sher Ali informed the Senate that “We have written to the GHQ for the details of our soldiers who have lost their lives serving along the LoC. However, the military authorities refused to share the details citing security concerns.” [Emphasis added]. Rawalpindi’s indifferent response raises three questions- one, don’t those who sacrifice their lives in line of duty on LoC, deserve recognition? Two, how does disclosing details of casualties become a “security concern”? Lastly, in a democracy, can the army refuse to comply with the government’s directive on details of fatalities suffered by its soldiers? 

So, isn’t Rawalpindi’s flimsy “security concern” excuse for not releasing complete details of army fatalities on LoC an unambiguous admission that Pakistan army is suffering far more casualties than what it is declaring?

A Unique Agreement

Two things make the current cease fire unique. One, it was not announced by India’s External Affairs/Defence Ministry or Pakistan’s Foreign Office but in a joint statement issued by the Indian and Pakistan armies. Two, going beyond ceasing aggressive actions, both armies “agreed to address each other’s core issues/concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” [Emphasis added]. Whereas there’s nothing unusual in Pakistan army taking the driver’s seat in brokering the CFA, but unquestionably, this agreement would never have had seen light of day without New Delhi’s active [albeit unpublicised] involvement. Accordingly, its decision to remain in the background is obviously in response to such a request by Islamabad.

What’s really surprising is that at a time when 11 opposition parties are jointly demanding Khan’s ouster for having been “selected” by army and not elected by the people, why is he buttressing this allegation by projecting Rawalpindi as real decision-makers in Pakistan? The only plausible reason for this is that since Khan has boxed himself into a corner by declaring that “No talks [are] possible with India until they restore the autonomous status [of J&K]” and “We don’t have adversarial relations with any country except India which is trying to destabilise Pakistan,” he doesn’t want to be accused by the opposition of ‘sleeping with the enemy’!

Hurdles

Whereas it’s too early to comment, but two issues render this CFA vulnerable. Firstly, since Islamabad isn’t a party to this agreement, technically speaking, GoP can’t be accused of reneging on the CFA in case Rawalpindi decides to resume hostilities along LoC. Secondly, both Indian and Pakistan armies agreeing “to address each other’s core issues/concerns, which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” makes the CFA an ‘open-ended’ arrangement and hence prone to conflicting inclusions and interpretations. 

Whereas Islamabad and New Delhi have articulated their “core issues/concerns” as Kashmir and cross-border terrorism respectively, Indian and Pakistan armies have not given any indication as to what exactly comprises “core issues /concerns” at military level, thereby creating a ‘grey area’. Rudimentary interpretation suggests that these could refer to provocative military actions that go against the letter and spirit of maintaining peace along the IB and LoC. However, things aren’t as simple as they seem, because these provisions in the CFA cannot be taken in isolation.

In this context, it would be pertinent to recall Gen Bajwa’s 2019 declaration that “Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations in this regard.” So, isn’t it evident that even though Kashmir is a political matter for New Delhi and Islamabad to mutually resolve, yet Rawalpindi has made it very much a ‘core issue/concern’?  

Prognosis

There’s no doubt that Rawalpindi agreeing to a cease fire is an act of desperation- an attempt to wriggle out of an awkward situation that the Khan-Bajwa duo has created for Pakistan by beating war drums, and most certainly not out of a newly found love for peace and tranquillity along LoC. Therefore, while one sincerely hopes that this cease fire endures, but one has to be wary because when it comes to normalising relations with Pakistan, there have been far too ‘many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.’ 

There’s nothing wrong in Islamabad extending political, diplomatic and moral support to separatists in J&K but Pakistan army’s rationale for supporting a secessionist movement in a neighbouring country is both disconcerting and inexplicable as it doesn’t have any precedent or parallel in today’s world. Yet, it doesn’t require rocket science to comprehend what Gen Bajwa is hinting at while declaring that Pakistan army “firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end” and the same holds good for his pledge that Rawalpindi “is prepared and shall go to any extent” for the sake of secessionists in J&K. Lastly, isn’t it amply clear that when Gen Bajwa talks about “obligations” of Pakistan army towards the so called “struggle” in Kashmir, isn’t he openly pledging continued military assistance to terrorist activities in J&K, which Pakistan euphemistically refers to as “freedom struggle”?

Now that the cease fire is in place, there’s talk regarding resumption of commercial activities between India and Pakistan, which is indeed a very welcome development. Unfortunately, normalcy in Indo-Pak relations beyond a point is something that goes against the army’s self-serving interests since a continuing harmonious relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad would debunk Rawalpindi’s contrived narrative about India being hellbent on destroying Pakistan and that it’s just waiting for an opportune moment to execute its nefarious designs. So, even if the cease fire is well intentioned and both New Delhi and Islamabad propose its indefinite continuation, but in the end it’s Pakistan army that will dispose- it happened in 2003, and since Rawalpindi has shown no positive attitudinal changes towards India, it’s quite likely that history may once again repeat itself! 

Epilogue

Since Pakistan is presently in dire straits due to a deluge of internal and external reasons, it wouldn’t be a gross exaggeration to infer that Islamabad had no other option but to enter into a working relationship with New Delhi for its own good- be it for procuring raw material like cotton to boost production of its ailing textile industry, revive cross-border trade or for that matter even getting covid19 vaccine. It could also be buying time for recuperating its armament and munition stocks that must have been greatly depleted due to continuing CFVs and gun duels along the LoC. 

So, since the current CFA has plainly been ‘thrust’ upon Pakistan by adverse compulsions, while hoping for the best, it would also be prudent to prepare for the worst, because come what may, Pakistan army will ensure that ‘spoilers’ like enduring cordial neighbourly relations with India that could place Rawalpindi’s extra-constitutional powers to question are nipped right at the bud!

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Nilesh Kunwar

Nilesh Kunwar is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a ‘Kashmir-Watcher,’ and now after retirement is pursuing his favorite hobby of writing for newspapers, journals and think tanks.

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