Step Back and Rethink

Though by no means calm earlier, the Line of Control and International Border in Jammu has once flared up. On Saturday alone, around eleven civilians, eight of them on Pakistani side were killed in one of the heaviest exchanges of fire between the two sides. The pattern has now become so enduring and familiar that even for the neighbours focussed on their other crises, the LoC exchanges have reduced to a background music. Same is the case at the international level. World is now become so inured to Indo-Pak violence that despite an abiding threat of the nuclear escalation, no major power, including the United States seem to be losing sleep over the worsening state of affairs. US is content with an occasional formal statement seeking a return to dialogue, something that has more often than not fallen on deaf ears. This unconcern is perhaps bred by a sense of frustration with the now familiar pattern of the Indo-Pak brinkmanship and also by the past record of the two countries to ultimately get back to dialogue 

of course, only to return to mutual recriminations and the blame game.  And this pattern is attested by the sixty eight years of the bitter and violent history, littered with three wars. 

But following the failure of the two countries to hold the recently scheduled NSA level dialogue after India’s redlines on Hurriyat and the discussion of Kashmir, the world can hardly afford not to take note. The escalation on the LoC and the mounting loss of lives on both sides is a warning that the current state of affairs cannot be allowed to linger. More so when the neighbours lack the bilateral mechanisms and the crisis instruments to tackle either a big flare-up on the border or a terrorist incident on the scale of Mumbai attack. So, the two countries need to be egged on to get back to dialogue and persuaded to continue it undistracted by the violence geared to disrupt it. 

But the big question is not the willingness of the international community but whether enforcing a dialogue would help. In past, the two countries have often engaged in talks on the instance of the major powers but all have met a by now familiar fate. The dialogue goes mechanically through a few rounds but lands soon at a dead-end. Now the situation has come to a pass where the talks refuse to start and in fact are aborted at the time they are scheduled to take place. Earlier the two countries couldn’t make any headway on their long-standing differences, then they couldn’t sustain an engagement and now they can’t agree to a common agenda and even worse, they can’t start their talks. Far from moving an inch towards redressing their troubled relationship, the neighbours are inventing the new grounds of hostility. They are now talking about talks. 

Meanwhile, the borders are once again on fire. And the civilians dying on both sides of the border are the residents of J&K, something that hardly causes an outrage in the either country. If the past seven decades are any guide, the people of J&K have become a fair game for both sides. This vicious cycle need to end. But  this won’t unless two countries liberate themselves from their old mindsets and chart a new path and new rules of engagement. 

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