On Tuesday, Dec. 24, at 1100 hours, the directors-general of military operations of Pakistan and India will meet at Wagah’s Rangers Officers Mess to sort out the situation along the Line of Control in Kashmir that has been fraught since Jan. 6 this year.
Maj. Gen. Amir Riaz will represent Pakistan; Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia, India.
Riaz was recently promoted and belongs to 1st Battalion The Frontier Force Regiment (nicknamed “Garbar Unath” because of its operations in World War I on the western front and because it was then 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force)). Raised in 1843 as the Scinde Camel Corps, the battalion has gone through six incarnations before becoming 1st Battalion (Scinde) The Frontier Force Regiment, in 1956.
Bhatia, the senior of the two, belongs to India’s celebrated Parachute Regiment, Special Forces (Airborne) battalions that trace their lineage to 50 Independent Parachute Brigade raised on Oct. 29, 1941, with three battalions and support elements and which took part in the Burma operations in World War II. The regiment was regrouped in 1952. It is a close parallel to Pakistan’s Special Service Group. Bhatia is the Colonel of the Regiment.
The meeting was requested by Pakistan and is being hosted by Pakistan Army.
Expectations are high. High expectations in complex conflictual models are generally as flawed as expectations that spouses will remain romantic after 15 years of living together. The DGMOs meeting will focus on the theater, though a sensible outcome could help improve the politico-strategic environment.
Much is being made in the Pakistani media about a greater role for the U.N. Military Observers Group for India and Pakistan or UNMOGIP, formed in 1949 under U.N. Resolutions after the Kashmir War. While Pakistan continues to give full support to UNMOGIP monitoring of the Line of Control in Azad Kashmir, India has long, in pursuance of its rejection of any third-party mediation on the dispute, stopped facilitating UNMOGIP. That decision is politico-strategic. Nothing will change it.
Pakistan’s invitation is grounded in one basic national decision: to dispel the impression that finds its way in analyses coming out of India, and also occasionally Pakistan, that relations between India and Pakistan remain tense because the Pakistan Army doesn’t want peace. The present government, as also the previous government, and all political parties in Pakistan are agreed on the need to normalize relations with India. There is a consensus on the issue; equally, there is a consensus that such consensus is absent in India. For the former as well as the latter, there is much evidence.
It is the job of the army to deal with threats and to ensure, while supporting the civilian government’s efforts toward peace, that the asymmetry of power does not translate into strategies of coercion. This year’s events at the Line of Control, starting Jan. 6, are evidence that the Indian Army, in collaboration with elements from what I once described as the Studio Corps of the Indian Army, have tried to exploit the situation and communicate stories that were either half true or were plain untrue. These stories were swallowed by a large part of the Indian media hook, line, and sinker. However, some journalists did manage to do their job to unveil the truth. For that they must be commended. In an op-ed on Jan. 23 this year, I gave the reasons for why the Indian military was acting hawkish.
Pakistan Army, on the other hand, had a measured response and the former Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, in fact gave a conciliatory statement on Siachen, a dispute on which India’s position has hardened because of the Indian Army’s insistence that the Line of Control be extended north of NJ9842 to include and validate the Actual Ground Position Line in that sector.
The maximum, therefore, which can be expected at the meeting, is for the two sides to reiterate their commitment to the 2004 Ceasefire Agreement, which held until India began to unilaterally start constructing observation towers on its side in violation of the agreement. Incidentally, reports in the Indian media acknowledge this fact as also the fact that the Indian Army has no plausible response to the breach except the operational argument that these towers are important to monitor certain parts of the Line of Control.
Be that as it may, they still violate the agreement. This will hopefully be on the agenda. Moreover, it must be understood that tensions along the Line of Control are an effect of a much bigger cause: the Kashmir dispute. It is a known and accepted fact, within and without India that the Kashmiri population in Occupied Kashmir wants self-determination. Since the 2004 Agreement, India cannot mount its usual excuse of foreign fighters entering Kashmir to deny Kashmiris their basic rights and dignity. So far, every attempt by Kashmiris and Kashmiri politicians to get rid of laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been thwarted by the Indian Army. This indicates the influence the Army wields apropos of security policies.
The DGMOs will surely talk about taking measures on the ground and between their two offices to ensure that tension can be brought down—this will be in addition to the hotline that exists between them. Pakistan had earlier proposed investigations into the incidents by a third party but India showed no interest in that. This is problematic because without a third party any incident boils down to a “he said, she said.” There is the tradition of flag meetings between sector commanders but the measure has yielded little, especially when tempers are running high. The Line of Control culture, developed over decades and given the geography of the area, means the two sides will jockey for tactical advantage. That adds fuel when the fire has been lit.
The only sensible way to avoid such incidents is to let UNMOGIP do its work. It will be instructive if Major General Riaz could make the case for third-party monitoring without prejudice to India’s overall position in that regard. But that presupposes that India is entering into the meeting in good faith.
Finally, to reiterate the basic point: the meeting is being held many notches below the politico-strategic overhang that informs relations between the two sides. The irony is that while the theater is affected by the overhang, it also begins to affect the larger picture when bullets start flying. Let’s see if the managers of violence on both sides can work up some innovative formula that can have a salutary impact on the larger questions.