On Tuesday, after weeks of lull, India and Pakistan traded heavy fire along the Line of Control (LoC), this time in north Kashmir’s Karnah. This triggered panic in the area. People were seen rushing towards safer areas. The skirmishes followed after a soldier Naik Krishan Lal was killed in a fierce exchange of fire on the LoC in Rajouri. An infant also died in Poonch. India’s response has led to the killing of two civilians and injury to at least 19 others, including six women and a police constable on Pakistani side. If the two countries were expected to go back to dialogue following the re-election of the BJP to power, the intermittent border eruptions are a reminder that this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
That is despite the opening of the Kartarpur corridor or the travel to Pakistan by Indian players later this year to play Davis Cup. The bitterness between the neighbours now runs deeper than before. The leaders of the two countries have now even given up the pretense of showing interest in the engagement thus abdicating their responsibility towards peace in the region. This has let the violence take the centre stage again. This is deeply troubling and doesn’t bode well for the near future. The escalating trend of the violent border exchanges over the recent years have already unravelled the 2003 ceasefire agreement which had held strong for close to a decade. The calm borders had become an important factor in the normalization of the relations between the neighbours, enabling them to start one of the most promising dialogue processes through 2003-2007 which by accounts of the top leaders of the two countries who were at the helm of it was close to a breakthrough on Kashmir. But with return of the border eruptions with a vengeance alongside the continuing break in engagement, there is little hope that the situation will improve. And if left unaddressed, things can only go from bad to worse and possibly lead to dangerous consequences. Hence the need for the two countries to reach out to each other and pull the situation back from the brink.
With dialogue already suspended and tensions rising high, India and Pakistan can ill-afford to let the border skirmishes go on unchecked and escalate into a major conflict. True, the BJP has invariably contended that even 70 years of the talks with Pakistan have not achieved any desired result, so there is no merit in the argument that the engagement would help. While the argument does appear true, it is specious. A dialogue will only succeed when the two sides engage in it meaningfully with an intention to resolve the lingering issues. But in case of India and Pakistan, the issues are so complex and the positions of both the countries are so rigid that each wants a solution on the maximalist terms possible. Result is the continuing hostility between the neighbours. The frequent exchange of firing along the borders in Kashmir and the consequent loss of lives is one of the most visible facets of it. And it is a tragedy.