Thursday, February 25, 2021

India and Pakistan - Ceasefire and Counterinsurgency

On February 25th, 2021 India and Pakistan announced a joint statement agreeing to a ceasefire along the de facto border of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region. This development comes on the tail of de-escalation measures agreed to by India and China along their respective disputed border in northeast Kashmir earlier in the month. 

        The last such agreement, made in 2003, began to visibly deteriorate around 2008 when Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based militant group, committed a series of deadly terrorist bombings in Mumbai. Escalation of tension between India and Pakistan as terrorist attacks occur has led to increases in skirmishes along the disputed Kashmir border, known as the Line of Control: a hotbed of low-grade conflict since the United Kingdom divested itself of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. In 2019, tensions culminated in the first aerial dogfight in 48 years between Indian and Pakistani forces after India bombed Pakistani territory in response to another terrorist attack. Pakistan’s capture of an Indian pilot following this incident brought the two countries to the brink of open warfare--an untenable option for two nuclear powers. Pakistan released the pilot in a bid to de-escalate tensions just days afterward, but diplomatic relations between the two nations remained antagonistic with 5,133 ceasefire violations in Kashmir in 2020 alone.

        The importance of this recent agreement as a signal of mutual willingness to avoid perpetuating the catastrophic tit-for-tat spiral of recent years is hard to understate, but likely does not indicate a shift in India’s defense posture toward Pakistan or vice-versa. Both countries will retain conventional forces in situ and Indian officials maintain the "right to respond” to terrorist attacks, alluding to past operations involving Pakistani territory. India remains suspicious of state-sponsored terrorism from Pakistan, and cooperation on counterterrorism efforts between the two are precluded by the presence of pro-Pakistan insurgencies in Jammu and Kashmir, which are often connected to terrorist attacks in India. 

         Past experience suggests that, while promising, any drastic changes in Indian-Pakistani relations remain unlikely. This newest ceasefire will, at best, modestly reduce the number of ceasefire violations from the previous year, but will also struggle to be effectively implemented. India's aggressive counterinsurgency strategy risks spillover into Pakistani territory on top of recent domestic policies that will further alienate Muslim and minority representation in Jammu and Kashmir according to UN human rights experts. Despite rebuffs from the Indian government questioning the criticism and citing India's sovereignty over the region, the ramifications of these actions may further intensify support for separatist groups and negatively impact prospects for de-escalation between India and Pakistan.

        It remains to be seen how successful enforcement of the new ceasefire with Pakistan will be despite the history of India and Pakistan’s dispute over Kashmir. The alternative of open conflict presents unacceptable costs to both parties. What is clear is that, although the appetite of both nations for conflict is on the wane, Pakistan and India's choice of action on Jammu and Kashmir has troubling implications for achieving lasting peace.

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