Killing fields on the borders

Increasing bloodshed on the borders should inspire India and Pakistan to sit up and put an end to violence by promoting dialogue and friendship.The killings of 5 civilians in Mendhar on the borders and injuries to 7 persons including 5 soldiers cannot be seen as mere aberrations but need to be seen as part of the landscape of increasing spate of violence on the borders, due to which civilians living on the borders are becoming a major casualty.

Sadly, they are not even counted and their tragedies go down unnoticed or reduced to simple footnotes in the larger military games played by the armies of India and Pakistan. In the last several months, the killings of civilians on both sides of the borders have reached a crescendo and an all time high since the 2003 ceasefire. 93 civilians have been killed at the borders between 2015 and 2017. This figure is likely to be on a higher side this year. By end of February, ceasefire has been violated about 600 times this year by both sides. This spurt in firing and shelling at the India-Pakistan international border and the Line of Control has been going on endlessly without any let up and without either of the sides showing signs of breaking this phenomenon. Besides burdening the two sides with heavy losses of soldiers and defence funds, it is making lives of millions of people living along the borders on either side vulnerable. It is leading to loss of livelihoods and triggering displacements in a massive way. Needless to point out that the perpetual uncertainties the people living on the borders are faced with since the last 70 years have made their lives miserable and completely marginalised. Neither the soldiers, nor the civilians can be treated as cannon fodder to satiate the egos of the establishments on the two sides, who instead of taking up responsibility are resorting to childish and mindless games of tit for tat.

The present rise in border hostilities cannot be seen in isolation from the extremely hawkish political discourse emanating from the highest corridors of power. The bellicose rhetoric is matched with a new low in the diplomatic engagement and the allegations of harassment to the mission staffs of both India and Pakistan in each other’s countries. Such incidents and hawkish statements of the leaders and officials from both sides has a direct bearing on the level of military engagement between the armies on the two sides. Reckless politics fuels military action on the borders and this military action can go on endlessly, playing havoc with lives of the people. That such hostilities have become a norm on the border demonstrates that military action, in its muted or heightened form, alone cannot be the solution to dealing with the crisis emerging in the border lands. India and Pakistan have battled in three major wars which further highlights the limitations of military options in resolving their differences, which can only be done through dialogue and diplomacy. This must begin with a sense of immediacy, starting from cessation of hostilities on the border. One way of breaking the ice is to begin military level engagement and working towards a systemic way of communication for officials manning the borders on the two sides.

Another is to initiate confidence building measures which are people centric to change the discourse. Occasional signs of this are seen in the visas granted to select people on medical grounds or in the few cases of prisoner exchanges. Recently both sides agreed to free their mentally ill, aged, infirm and minor prisoners. Such goodwill gestures need to be strengthened and the ceasefire agreement, which was a major confidence building measure in the 2000s needs to be formalized and respected so that a concrete dialogue process can be built on the solid foundations of such CBMs.