Cease fire: On India-Pakistan border tensions

The latest exchange of long-range artillery fire between the Indian and Pakistani armies in Poonch and Kupwara’s Rawthpora, Panzgam, Malikpora, Hafrada and Ferkiyan areas is yet another unhappy reminder that both countries have not been able to uphold a ceasefire along the border areas and the Line of Control.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh claimed just two months ago that “all violations of ceasefire are taken up with Pakistan authorities at the appropriate level through the established mechanism of hotlines, flag meetings as well as weekly talks between the Directorate Generals of Military Operations of the two countries”.

But here are the figures revealed by him this February: 3,479 violations for 2019, which works out to almost 10 every day. Shripad Naik, Minister of State for Defence, provided the figures from January 1 to February 23; for 54 days, it was 646, which means an average of almost 12. If anything, there has been an upward tick since Article 370 was hollowed out on August 5 last year, and statehood taken away from Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistan also has similar and competing figures for Indian ceasefire violations while prefacing explanations for its own firing with the stock phrases: “retaliatory, effective, befitting”. What utility do these mechanisms have if the violations continue unchecked?

Those who bear the brunt — the loss of lives, livelihood, infrastructure, and the displacement — unfortunately live along the LoC on both sides, some 740 km, and the 221 km of the IB in J&K. In the latest instance, scores scrambled out of the range of the heavy artillery guns to seek refuge, not in government quarantine shelters, but with relatives in the district headquarters and elsewhere.

Thrown to the wind in the process were protocols to protect against COVID-19. In this instance, the Army blames Pakistan for initiating the shelling in Kupwara’s Keran sector to facilitate infiltration which seems to have picked up pace as have operations against terrorists. Indeed, last week saw a chase through heavy snow drifts, leading to a macabre hand-to-hand combat with terrorists who had infiltrated through the remote, nearly unpopulated, snowed-in mountainous region.

That as many as five highly trained para commmandos should have lost their lives in exchange for the lives of five infiltrators is unfortunate and unacceptable. Infiltrations at this time and in such remote areas are regular enough to be predictable.

Wherever possible, exercising the option of precise, surgical, preventive action against such infiltration, to minimise collateral damage, through better use of technology, such as drones, might be preferable.

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