By the first half of 2020, ceasefire violations across the Line of Control between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir had reached a record-high since the Ceasefire Agreement of 2003. Even as both countries continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, ceasefire violations have claimed lives of or injured over a hundred civilians and armed personnel. What makes the India-Pakistan border so volatile? How have the violations intensified over the last few years?
Unlike an international boundary, which clearly defines the territorial jurisdiction of sovereign states, the LoC is the mutually-accepted line between India and Pakistan that maintains a status-quo on the ground until both sides agree upon a final settlement of the territorial dispute in Kashmir.
What is the LoC?
The Line of Control (LoC) is the border that separates India-administered Kashmir from Pakistan-administered Kashmir in South Asia. Unlike an international boundary, which clearly defines the territorial jurisdiction of sovereign states, the LoC is the mutually-accepted line between India and Pakistan that maintains a status-quo on the ground until both sides agree upon a final settlement of the territorial dispute in Kashmir.
The Indo-Pak border in the territory of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), as it stands today, is divided into three sections: the International Boundary (IB)/Working Boundary (WB), the LoC, and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL). The IB extends for 201 kilometers (km) in the Jammu-Sialkot sector (from India’s Punjab-Jammu border to Jammu’s Akhnoor sector). Pakistan calls it the WB to indicate the disputed status of J&K. The LoC measures 740 km from Akhnoor to Point NJ 9842 in the Siachen region. Finally, the AGPL extends for 110 km from Point NJ 9842 to Indiracol, separating the posts held by the Indian and Pakistani militaries in the Siachen area. Of these three sections, the IB/WB is both delineated on the map and demarcated on the ground with border pillars. It is managed by the Border Security Forces (BSF) on the Indian side and the Rangers on the Pakistani side. The LoC is delineated on the map but not demarcated on the ground. It is managed by the Indian and Pakistani armies on either side.
The Simla Agreement of 1972 replaced the earlier Ceasefire Line (CFL) of 1949 with the LoC in J&K. Although the LoC bears similarities to the CFL, it is the result of several minor territorial readjustments between India and Pakistan resulting from the war of 1971. Unlike the CFL, which was monitored de jure by the United National Observers Group (UNMOGIP) as an international third party, the sanctity of the LoC is maintained de facto by Indian and Pakistani troops on either side of the border. Along the stretch of the IB/WB and the LoC in J&K, a fence was constructed by India at distances varying between 50 to 500 yards from the delineated border (zero line) at different places. Moreover, the terrain of the region interrupts the fence in some places at the riverine gaps.
What are ceasefire violations?
The LoC is one of the most militarized and volatile borders in the world, with Indian and Pakistani troops holding positions at a very close distance in some places. Although the LoC is clearly denoted on the map, it is only a notional line on the ground and has been subject to violations and tactical exploits since 1971. Ceasefire violations (CFVs) include both physical transgressions and firings across the border. Both sides deploy small arms and heavy weapons like artillery guns and mortars to fire on the other side. Loss of property and life – both troops and civilians – are a regular fallout of the CFVs. Additionally, instances of cross-border terrorism and infiltration from the Pakistani side into the Indian side contribute to breaches of the LoC. The fence constructed by India after the 2001-02 Twin Peaks crisis is meant to protect against these intrusions into the Indian side of J&K.
CFVs are recorded and reported separately by the security agencies in India and Pakistan, and the latter continues to report CFVs to the UNMOGIP. Periodic and yearly consolidated records of CFVs in J&K are publicly released by the governments of India and Pakistan through press releases, parliamentary records, and annual reports. However, there is no systematic official repository that indicates the locations or reasons for specific violations.
After the delineation of the LoC in 1972, the border remained peaceful for almost a decade, with only occasional violations. CFVs increased toward the end of the 1980s and heightened in the 1990s, as the Kashmir insurgency peaked. Cross-LoC firing intensified after India began constructing the fence on its side in 2001. As per the data recorded by the Indian side, Pakistan violated the ceasefire 4,134 times in 2001, 5,765 times in 2002 and 2,841 times in till 2003 November.
On the intervening night between November 25 and 26, 2003, Pakistan announced a unilateral cessation to the ongoing hostilities on the LoC and IB/WB in J&K. This decision was communicated via the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) of both sides and became known as the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). The CFA of 2003 is an unwritten mutual commitment which seeks to uphold the legitimacy of the LoC and reinstate various mechanisms put in place since the 1949 and 1972 agreements, such as hotlines and flag meetings, for the peaceful maintenance of the Indo-Pak borders in J&K.
What have been the trends in CFVs since 2003?
After the CFA of 2003, both sides reported negligible CFVs for five years, indicating that the Composite Dialogue between the two countries yielded encouraging results on the border. However, in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the peace process dwindled and CFVs on the border in J&K began to rise gradually. The violations on the IB/WB and the LoC spiked in 2013 as India reported 347 Pakistani violations and Pakistan reported 464 Indian violations. Since then CFVs have increased every year. In 2017, Pakistan accused India of 1,970 violations and in 2018 India recorded 2,936 CFVs by Pakistan on the J&K borders – an all-time high in the 15 years since the signing of the CFA.
Besides institutional mechanisms (e.g. protest notes, flag meetings between local commanders, hotlines and DGMO-level talks), India and Pakistan have also tried to address CFVs through political and diplomatic outreach and backchannel talks. In May 2018, India announced a Non-Initiation of Combat Operations in J&K – called the Ramzan ceasefire – followed by the reinstatement of the 2003 CFA. However, hostilities soon broke out and CFVs escalated in 2019 and 2020.
In his book on CFVs and escalation dynamics on the Indo-Pak border, Dr. Happymon Jacob observes that the violations on the border in J&K are mainly a result of three factors: first, localized operational factors like defense constructions, inadvertent crossings, fencing activities arising from either the lack of clarity or the lack of institutional mechanisms to manage the border; second, autonomous military factors like opportunistic land grabs or testing new troops on the other side of the border; third, political factors like local elections or political visits to J&K. This challenges the popular narrative in India that CFVs are usually a cover for infiltration by Pakistan, and the Pakistani rhetoric that India initiates unprovoked violations on the border. While CFVs can be a way in which the two countries let off steam until a politico-diplomatic resolution is found, Jacob has also argued that CFVs on the J&K borders have the potential to heighten political and military tensions between India and Pakistan. This may happen for a host of reasons, including tit-for-tat measures, domestic political pressure to respond, inadvertent escalation, etc., which may intensify an ongoing crisis or worsen broader bilateral conflicts. The state of bilateral political relations is also a determinant of the magnitude of CFVs – for instance, violations were minimal during the phase of the Composite Dialogue (2004-2007). Again, of the 3,289 violations reported by India in 2019, 1,586 violations took place after the Indian government abrogated Article 370 related to the state of J&K on 5 August 2019.
The escalating number of CFVs established what has been acknowledged tacitly for a while by both countries – the CFA of 2003 is now obsolete.
What is the current situation on the LoC?
Since 2018, ceasefire violations on the J&K borders have reached a record-high spike every year. By the first half of 2020 itself, India reported over 2,400 Pakistani violations and Pakistan has reported over 1,600 Indian violations. The escalating number of CFVs established what has been acknowledged tacitly for a while by both countries – the CFA of 2003 is now obsolete. An indication of this is that the CFA is now being referred to as the “Ceasefire Understanding” in mainstream journalistic reporting in both countries. This new reference underscores that the 2003 CFA, unlike the 1949 and 1972 agreements, does not have the legal status to oblige India and Pakistan to sustain the ceasefire.
The current state of political relations between India and Pakistan can be described as poor at best. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the continuous aggressions across the LoC and the IB/WB have claimed the lives of or resulted in injuries to hundreds of civilians and armed personnel, destroyed property and driven civilians out of their homes to take shelter, either in bunkers or in distant camps. Given the absence of a serious political initiative to dampen the tensions, firing across the LoC and IB/WB in J&K is expected to continue into the near future. Moreover, the simultaneous build-up of troops by both Pakistan and China along the LoC and Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the line separating the Indian and Chinese-controlled territories –, respectively, since the summer of 2020, has raised New Delhi’s concerns about a two-front confrontation in the Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh regions. Therefore, the Indo-Pak border in J&K will be important to watch amid increasing violations and deteriorating Indo-Pak political relations.
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Image 1: Usman Malik via Flickr
Image 2: Usman Malik via Flickr