On May 29, a special hotline contact was established between senior military officials of Pakistan and India. A few hours later, an official announcement was made simultaneously both in New Delhi and Islamabad that the two militaries agree to end hostilities along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir between the two neighbours. The two sides also decided to restore the 2003 ceasefire accord. The announcement brought immediate relief to the civilians living on both sides of the disputed territory. At least 150 people, including dozens of civilians, have died on both sides in the last year and a half because of the LoC violence.
The development was unexpected in the absence of any structured dialogue between Pakistan and India. Also, it was not possible for the deal to be struck by the directors general military operations (DGMOs) in just one telephonic conversation. Incidentally, it was a hotline contact between the DGMOs that produced the landmark ceasefire accord in November 2003. However, the real agreement was struck through backchannels and brokered by the then Bush administration, which wanted Pakistan to focus on the western border to deal with the fallout of the invasion of Afghanistan.
Against this backdrop, the current agreement regarding the restoration of 2003 truce was not possible without backchannel diplomacy. The two national security advisers are thought to have played a key role in defusing tensions. The proposal for the restoration of the 2003 agreement was mooted by the Pakistan Army. The question is: why has India agreed to Pakistan’s proposal now given the fact that under PM Narendra Modi, Delhi repeatedly spurned Islamabad’s peace overtures? There are multiple factors. First, India failed to control the insurgency in the disputed Kashmir region despite massive use of force. Opposition parties in India as well as coalition partners of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Indian-held Kashmir concluded that Modi’s Pakistan and Kashmir policy has failed to achieve anything except more violence. That is why chief minister of India-held Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti was quick to welcome the ceasefire agreement between Pakistan and India. Another factor that may have brought a policy shift in Indian policy towards Pakistan is the positive signals recently sent by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for normalising ties with India.
The ceasefire was not the only development signalling a thaw. Days before the ceasefire agreement, India sent its delegation to Pakistan to attend a counterterrorism conference under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The two countries also held maritime dialogue in New Delhi last week. Moreover, the two countries are set to participate in joint military exercises for the first time along with other SCO members in Russia later this year.
These developments are not happening in isolation. The recent visit of Modi to China helped break the ice between the two countries. Improved Sino-Indian ties will certainly have a positive impact on relationship between Islamabad and New Delhi. The US is thought to have been also now backing the rapprochement between Pakistan and India. The reason is Afghanistan endgame. Despite tensions, the US is still relying on Pakistan for brokering a deal. Recently, the Taliban held secret meetings with Afghan officials to discuss a ceasefire. The US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Nicholson, said the talks also involved foreign governments and international organisations. Those talks would not have been possible without Pakistan’s help. But to take those negotiations to a logical conclusion, there has to be a broader regional arrangement. Continued hostilities between Pakistan and India will certainly be a distraction. Hence, de-escalation of tensions between the two neighbours is inevitable. But will this lead to a sustained dialogue?
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2018.