Next Steps Across the LoC: The DGMO Meeting

19 Dec, 2013    ·   4219

D Suba Chandran comments on the meeting scheduled for the end of December 2013

After a series of violent incidences across the Line of Control (LoC) in 2013, undermining the substantial success stories of the ceasefire since 2003-04, there are reports today that both India and Pakistan have agreed to hold a meeting of the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) during next week. According to news reports, Pakistan’s DGMO has invited his Indian counterpart through diplomatic channels, which has been accepted by the Indian side. The meeting is scheduled on 24 December 2013.

Undoubtedly, this is great news, not only for India and Pakistan, but also for both parts of J&K, and most importantly, the Cross-LoC interactions which stand stalled, or exist more in paper, than in real terms.

The fact that this invitation had come from Pakistani side, after the new Chief of Army Staff – Gen Raheel Sharif taking over, is an important development. Unfortunately, during the final months of Gen Kayani’s tenure the LoC flared up, affecting the positive developments of the ceasefire during the last ten years.

Is Gen Sharif attempting a new course of action along the LoC? The DGMO from the other side would not have invited without a larger understanding within Pakistan’s Establishment and a plan of action. Military establishments do not change their larger objectives and the dependent strategies that easily and that often. Perhaps, what happened during this year across the LoC was an aberration when viewed from what has been the strategy since 2003-04. Or, it was a localized affair, which went out of proportion. How else one cold interpret what happened during this year along the LoC?

More than interpreting or attempting to find answers to what happened during this year, and the reasons behind them, what is even more important is to plan a strategy and get back into the ceasefire process along the LoC, and expand it further. True, there is so much to be achieved, but to be fair; so much has also been achieved during the last ten years.

The border communities, especially the villages were returning to a normal way of livelihood away from regular shelling and living under the fear of bullets. For the first time in the last three decades, the young generation living along the LoC was witnessing a normal life, and perhaps experiencing the regular hardship and opportunities away from cross-border firing, patrolling and frisking. Schools were being rebuilt and farming has started taking place. Perhaps after the 1971 War, there was a long period of lull and a landmine free land in the border regions, when 2013 came as a rude shock in the form of cross-LoC firing and killings.

It is important that the ceasefire continues, for it is important to the border communities. Second, the ceasefire is also equally important for the cross-LoC interactions – movement of divided families and goods. While the DGMO meeting will be important to continue the ceasefire and thereby ensuring peace across the LoC facilitating the return of normalcy to the border communities, for cross-LoC interactions, much more needs to be done.

In fact, much before the violence across the LoC this year, the cross-LoC interactions have started declining. Both the political leadership and the respective bureaucracies should take the blame for this decline. When Vajpayee and Musharraf and later Manmohan Singh decided to pursue cross-LoC interactions, it was a political initiative. There was a larger Indo-Pak spirit behind this CBM, when it came into existence in 2003-04.

The ceasefire across the LoC followed up with two important extensions – a bus service for the divided families and later the movement of trucks across both parts of Kashmir. It was a political CBM between the two countries with a larger positive spirit. Unfortunately the bureaucracies across the LoC on both sides of Kashmir and in both countries failed to understand the larger spirit behind the CBM and looked narrowly through the letter of agreement. Such an approach is bound to kill the spirit; and that is exactly what happened.

The idea of movement of divided families across the LoC was not the ultimate objective and target of the original spirit. It was supposed to be a starting point for India and Pakistan in J&K. This movement was supposed to follow up with even a larger CBM across the LoC involving even families that are not divided. Ideally, following the opening of LoC for divided families, there should have been a movement of people for the purpose of tourism, followed by movement of students, professionals and civil society activists.

Similarly, the second CBM on cross-LoC trade was supposed to a be a first step, followed by a larger movement of goods after establishing communication and financial institutions to deal with, and later to be followed by expansion of goods that could be traded. Certainly, Manmohan Singh, being an economist should have been well aware that trade could not be conducted without communication and financial institutions.

Unfortunately, the civilian bureaucracies across the LoC and in both countries did not understand the spirit. Perhaps, they did not agree to this spirit. Given the past experience in South Asia in terms of how the bureaucracies have worked in ensuring a regional trade under the SAARC, one could easily conclude that our bureaucracies are inward looking.

If the bureaucracies are defensive, it is all the more important that the political leadership intervene and inform them the larger objective and spirit. Unfortunately, this is where the second disaster took place; political leadership in India and Pakistan, under Zardari and Manmohan Singh lost the original plot and allow the cross-LoC interactions to die a natural death.

Much before the violence took place in 2013 along the LoC, led by both the militaries, the cross-LoC interactions were in a state of decay, thanks to the bureaucratic apathy and political inertia.

The DGMOs meeting next week should be interpreted from the above perspective. While a section blames the security forces for the violation of ceasefire, the hard reality was, it was already broken because the political leadership in India and Pakistan got embroiled with domestic issues and let the original spirit wean away.

The DGMOs meeting only could secure peace across the LoC; the real responsibility is with the bureaucracy and political leadership in restoring the original plot. What was the larger objective of the cross-LoC interactions, when it was started? Perhaps, this time, we should plan ahead, have a master design, prioritize and execute. Of course, a section will always be critical and negative; they will question the motives and the ability of India and Pakistan to take this process forward. They have every right to be critical, for both countries have given enough reasons for them to remain so.

On the other hand, just because it has not happened so far, should we give up? What would such an approach achieve? There is an opportunity, yet again. Let this meeting be a beginning.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir