Deception has always been part of the diplomatic toolkit, used more frequently during war and hostilities among nations rather than in peacetime. For those who don’t play cricket, a googly is a ball bowled by a right-arm bowler with a leg-spin action but on landing, it goes the other way. This genre of bowling is also a part of deception and entirely legal in cricket.
The recent India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement along the LoC may or may not be a googly but it has certainly raised the expectation of some movement in bilateral ties, which have been locked into a higher threshold of hostility since the reading down of Articles 370 and 35, relating to Jammu and Kashmir and its territorial reorganisation. The ceasefire agreement also envisages pullback of specialised forces that are stationed for trans-LoC offensive manoeuvres and operations by snipers.
The announcement by the DGMOs of the two nations has put into effect the ceasefire along the LoC and other sectors, with effect from February 25. The agreement is reported to be a result of back-channel discussions away from the public eye, according to government sources. The joint statement is a boilerplate one and sheds no light on these back-channel contacts. The official data records the number of ceasefire violations and lives lost: 5,133 violations and 46 fatalities in 2019 and 299 violations and one fatality till February, in 2021, as per figures provided by the Centre in Parliament. Coming on the heels of the disengagement along the India-China LAC at Pangong Tso in Ladakh, it has raised questions about its timing and reasons behind the move. There were some prior indicators from the Pakistan side in public statements made by the Army Chief and PM Imran Khan in the last few weeks. The agreement will certainly lower the temperature along the LoC and make lives easier for people living in villages along it.
There have been ceasefire agreements before with limited longevity. The proof of the pudding, as always, will be in the eating. Is the Pakistan army making a strategic move towards sustainable peace? Most people in India will be inclined to believe that a leopard cannot change its spots. In Pakistan, the official adviser to the PM on national security has been celebrating the agreement as a big win for his country. He is, no doubt, playing to the public gallery and the Army’s constituency to show that Pakistan has achieved a “victory” over India. Imran has announced that the onus is on India now to take further steps and create an enabling environment for peace. Before that happens, there are some basic steps to be taken like positioning High Commissioners in respective capitals, and opening up trade and travel. Another terror attack will scuttle this ceasefire agreement, like the one reached in 2003 between the governments of PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Gen Pervez Musharraf.
India had hardened its approach to Pakistan with cross-border surgical strikes after the Uri terror attack and upped the ante further with the Balakot air strikes two years ago following the Pulwama terror attack. India’s red line was made clear: talks and terror cannot go hand in hand. Balakot had introduced a new and higher threshold in India’s approach to Pakistani terrorist attacks on India—assured retaliation not just on land but also by air. India also hinted that it would not shy away from a pre-emptive strike if a potential terror threat is in the offing. This had caused quite a flutter in Pakistan, which had got used to India cancelling bilateral dialogue after a terrorist attack and resuming it after some time. Pakistan had become used to India absorbing terror attacks and not retaliating. PM Modi has successfully shifted the goalposts. This change did not come about overnight. It happened after several failed outreach attempts by PM Modi to the then Pakistan’s government led by Nawaz Sharif. Each such attempt was thwarted by Pakistan’s army that eventually drove out Sharif into exile, from where he has lamented that his country’s army is a “state above a state”.
The global response to the ceasefire agreement has been positive. But that is par for the course. That a ceasefire gives an opening for further peace initiatives cannot be contested. But caution should be the lodestar in proceeding further. To expect that the Pakistan army has changed its fundamental strategic orientation will be a grave mistake. Imran’s belligerent and abusive language against India and PM Modi cannot be forgotten. Islamabad’s continued attempt to resurrect the Khalistan movement and create new terror groups with different names has not stopped. The terror factories in Pakistan are not on indefinite strike but switched on and off.
Any India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement that is not a written document cannot be taken as binding commitment by a country like Pakistan, which has violated even written agreements, beginning with the 1949 Karachi Ceasefire Agreement to the 1972 Shimla Agreement. It must remain part of India’s calculus that at the first available opportunity, Pakistan will renege on its commitment, as it has done repeatedly in the past. It must be said that the 2003 agreement did reduce firing incidents across the LoC considerably. This understanding endured till 2007 and broke down from 2008. It is also correct to correlate rising ceasefire violations to domestic political compulsions in Pakistan and to, some extent, in India too.
The timing of the agreement is significant since the summer months normally witness a rise in infiltration and attempts at terror strikes. Any slowdown in these will indicate whether the agreement has succeeded. If it succeeds, it will again prove that the Pakistan army controls the tap for calibrating terrorism. Have global developments, India-China ties and economic distress led to Pakistan seeking respite from the LoC firings that have inflicted far more damage on it than ever before? Its economy is tottering, not just due to the pandemic, the freedom struggle in Baluchistan and the drying up of international funding. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, reliable sources of emergency funding and easy credit terms for imports of oil, are no longer forthcoming.
Pakistan’s international campaign over J&K to vilify India and seek international intervention has gone into a cul-de-sac. The FATF grey-listing has put impediments on the flow of international financing and the IMF is only lending under stringent conditions. Pakistan’s main patron China is relatively distracted, and the CPEC is in some financial distress and buffeted by attacks from Baluch freedom fighters. The new American administration, under President Joe Biden, is still in the process of course correction of its foreign policy. The Afghan situation is not improving and if the Americans walk out, the country will implode with adverse consequences for Pakistan. Hence, it would be logical to presume that China, India and Pakistan are hedging their options and taking steps towards lowering tensions. Only time will tell whether this hedging is tactical or a move towards a sustainable peace.
Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty
India’s last Consul-General in Karachi & currently a Visiting Fellow at ORF, Delhi