LoC: A line that is the problem, not the solution

Two weeks of intense engagement in Keran sector mark the obvious that LoC-a temporary arrangement is not working. India and Pakistan continue to have a different take of any engagement on LoC.

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Accusations fly across the divide like volleys across the net, with an obvious difference…the engagement is far from sporting. While Indian army takes the latest engagement as infiltration plus BAT-implying the support factor provided by Pakistan regulars to infiltration bid, Pakistan army chief-Parvez Kayani dismisses Indian charges, calling such charges-unfounded and provocative. While scores die on this unfortunate line that runs through the heart of people of J&K state, while casualties mount, in moral terms the most marked casualty remains the TRUTH!

Truth being the casualty is marked by 30 to 40 persons reportedly making the infiltration bid. The initial reports, as the bid started a few days before Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers met about two weeks back coincided with a fidayeen attack in Akhnoor sector, not far from the junction of LoC and international border between Indian and Pakistani Punjab. Added to twelve or thirteen combatants losing their lives in Akhnoor sector, twelve militants were reported killed in Keran. The ones killed were not accounted for, with Indian army claiming that given the armed engagement, finding dead bodies is not a priority. As the reports mounted on a daily basis with infiltration bids reported from various points in Keran sector, it was subsequently reported that 30 to 40 militants have been killed. However, apart from some seven bodies being accounted for, the rest were speculated to be dragged across to the other side.

Indian army’s take or Parvez Kyani’s stating it as unfounded is what is the staple, people of subcontinent are being fed with. In this exchange, it is difficult to make out, where the truth lies, however the only standing truth is that LoC is the problem, and could never be counted as a solution. Yet, it is often heard that providing a temporary arrangement-the very name LoC entails it, a permanency of sorts would solve the ‘K’ issue. Decades back in Simla, 1972 to be precise, India tried to put it down the throat of Pakistan. Presumption was that the country being virtually on the mat, Pakistan would be in no position to refuse it. Far from that, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto pressed hard preferred to pack and go home rather than submit to Indira Gandhi’s dictate. Indira was riding the high horse after Pakistan’s eastern wing had assumed new name-Bangladesh. Vajpayee in his oratorical fluency called her Durga.

Bhutto had decided the limits he could go to. He had an inkling that he has to accommodate Indian wishes, his daughter-the assassinated Benazir picks up the tale. As her father, the maverick, the mercurial, and the magnetic—Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto took off for the Indian tourist resort–Simla in 1972 to meet Indira Gandhi, teenaged Benazir was with him. Benazir was on apprenticeship in the art of politics. Her father’s adversary on the diplomatic turf-Indira Gandhi had her apprenticeship much earlier. Asked on succession by Congress President—Kamraj, Nehru on hearing Indira’s name, said “Indu, perhaps later” [Kuldip Nayar: Between the Lines]. Kamraj took the cue, thus Indu followed Shastri. She had taken her political lessons as a young girl, marshalling her dolls against mighty English Empire.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hardly got the chance to name his dynastic successor, a South Asian staple. However, as his plane took off on the short trip with Benazir on his side, the political pundits were left in no doubt on Bhutto’s preference. He had two sons. The feudal hierarchy to which he belonged has had the tradition of a male heir, however Zulfiqar, sharp and agile saw the potential and promoted it. Benazir was his choice. What would you do if Indira offered the choice of either return of land or POWs? Zulfiqar asked Benazir and provided the answer—she cannot retain POWs for long, so we may opt for return of land. Benazir was getting her early lessons; the apprenticeship had started in right earnest in a critical phase of Pakistan’s short history as a nation.

When it came to the crunch, a take it or leave it situation on ceasefire line becoming a permanent border, and as Bhutto started packing, cool heads like PN Haksar on the India side, A. Aziz on Pakistani side got to work. They put it to their principals-Indira Gandhi and Bhutto that an accommodations of sorts has to be worked out. While Indira’s team had some ethnic Kashmiris like DP Dhar and TN Koul, Pakistan too was not lacking in local advice. Bhutto’s secretary-Yusuf Bucch-a Kashmiri, pushed back to Pakistan administered Kashmir [PaK] in 1947; a level headed diplomat was a part of the delegation. Yusuf Bucch-now a nonagenarian was a revenue official in 1947, he rose to become an international civil servant in UN headquarters. Line of Control [LoC] turned to be the compromise worked out. ‘K’ issue until then multi-lateral was sought to be bi-lateralized. However here too, Bhutto escaped with a rider-bilateral affair, yet under UN auspices, it turned out to be an agreement both could sell to their constituents.

The Line of Control (LoC) whatever it might mean to Indians and Pakistanis, for the overwhelming majority of people of Jammu & Kashmiris on both sides of the divide, the line runs through their hearts. With recent flare-ups between the two countries, the millstone is getting heavier, the strangulating effect of noose tighter. Give the line any name, it makes little difference. The dividing line is unacceptable and unpalatable; call it ceasefire line-a pre-1972 Simla Agreement nomenclature or LoC–the name prescribed in Simla.

Indira Gandhi made it out to be an agreement whereby India and Pakistan would administer the parts retained by either, on a permanent basis. Multi-lateral ‘K’ issue with UN resolutions was projected as bi-lateral by Indian side following Simla–an Indian diplomatic staple. This was an old mantra worked out by Indian establishment, first applied to water sharing between India and Pakistan, immediately after partition. Eugene R Black, the then World Bank president had to go in circles pretending that he is not mediating, while exactly doing that. Facilitator is grudgingly acceptable in crunch situations, while mediator remains a diplomatic anathema. Indira Gandhi’s father and predecessor in Prime Ministerial office–Jawaharlal Nehru had been much criticized for taking ‘K’ issue to UN. Once India had pocketed the accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh, there was no need to take the case to UN, argue his critics. Post Simla, Indira thought she had helped erase the indecisive Indian dealing in Kashmir, her father stood accused of. Rider on bi-lateralization, which entailed under UN auspices, retained it as an issue on international agenda of unsolved disputes, whatever the pretensions to contrary. Even the much touted Indira-Abdullah 1975 accord, which had discord inherent in it could not accord permanency to Indian take on Jammu and Kashmir state.

The overwhelmingly dominant sentiment in Kashmir has never been affected by what New Delhi proposes or Islamabad disposes. In the paradigm of dominant sentiment, LoC is the problem rather than the solution. And state of Jammu & Kashmir craves to be a part of solution, rather than be a part of the problem. The craving had Kashmir erupt violently in 1989-90, changing the dynamics of how the prevailing situation is viewed. The resistance refuses to die down, in spite of what is attempted to counter it. Kashmir craves for room to breathe freely in the almost relentless Indo-Pak conflict and LoC symbolizes the conflict. The changed nomenclature has hardly had the desired impact. For years following Simla, frequent exchanges of fire and mines planted on either side led to innocent people dying on both sides. With initiation of militancy, pressures of other sort developed. Movement of men and arms across LoC grew. Militants in search of sanctuaries and the Indian Army bent upon drying up safe houses put additional strain on the residents staying in areas close to LoC, it did not end there. As militancy spread to other areas in the vale of Kashmir as well as the Chenab valley and Pir Panchal, the traumatized segments of the population grew in number, violations of human rights multiplied.

There was hope as decade long ceasefire worked out in 2003 more or less held, however the relative peace with dwindling scale of militancy could not be utilized for conflict resolution. It is back to square one with mounting pressures. People of J&K state on either side of LoC have to bear the brunt and pay the ultimate price, if the existent ugly situation turns uglier. As the situation stands, the noose that is LoC might be getting a bit tighter, the millstone that this line has become might be getting heavier.

Written by: Dr. Javid Iqbal

Published by: Kashmir Times