This piece is discussed further in The Dynamics of Violence along the Kashmir Divide, 2003-2015.
Events may be leading toward a crisis between India and Pakistan. On July 27, militants – allegedly with links to Lashkar-e-Taiba – launched an attack on a police station in Gurdaspur, Punjab. On August 5, extremists – again with alleged links to Pakistan – killed two Indian Border Security Force personnel in an attack on a convoy in Udhampur district. Firing along the Line of Control and the International Border – which Pakistan terms the Working Boundary – has spiked even more since the Gurdaspur attack. Three Pakistanis and one Indian were killed on August 4 by cross-border firing. Since late 2012, firing has occurred on more than one in every five days.
India and Pakistan agreed to the November 2003 ceasefire in the wake of the harrowing 2001-2002 “Twin Peaks” crisis, which was sparked by at attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. The Parliament attack was itself preceded by smaller acts of extremist violence in Jammu and Kashmir and firing along the Line of Control. This crisis saw nearly one million soldiers mobilize for a war which they didn’t fight. Recent events recall this pattern.
Firing along the Line of Control dividing Kashmir does not occur in a vacuum. It reflects the state of India-Pakistan relations. As firing has increased since late 2012, diplomatic relations have remained stalled. Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif have made a series of diplomatic overtures, but little has come of them. Sharif attended Modi’s inauguration and they met again in July on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit at Ufa. This approach, along with “saree-shawl” diplomacy, has provided photo opportunities but not substantive progress. Bilateral talks have yet to become institutionalized and have been limited to multilateral settings. In this tense environment, conditions are ripe for a crisis. Another high-profile terrorist attack in India by Pakistan-based extremists could serve as a triggering event. Violence along the Line of Control could complicate crisis management and increase the risk of a conflict with nuclear dimensions.
From 2008 through mid-2012, there were occasional spikes in firing across the Line of Control. This situation changed in late 2012, at a time when India began to build new bunkers. Violence escalated further in January 2013, with reports that two Indian soldiers were killed, their bodies mutilated, and one beheaded. While the situation along the Line of Control calmed somewhat in the following months, violence surged from late summer through November 2013. The year 2013 was the most violent along the Line of Control since the 2001-2002 “Twin Peaks” crisis, when nearly one million soldiers mobilized along the border and the Line of Control.
Prime Minister Modi’s government has taken a hardline stance on firing across the Kashmir divide, both before and since his election. While campaigning, Modi criticized his predecessor’s “weak stand” on national security. Government officials have threatened to respond forcefully to ceasefire violations. For example, in October 2014, then-Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said India would inflict “unaffordable” costs on Pakistan. In December 2014, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said that if attacked, Indian forces would “react with double the force.” These deterrent threats, however, have not reduced the level of violence along the Line of Control.
There is no comprehensive database of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control. Indian and Pakistani sources – both government and non-government – report contradictory figures. I built a comprehensive database of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control, pulling records from Pakistani and Indian media sources; from the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which maintains a timeline of violence in “Jammu and Kashmir;” and from the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, which maintains a database of border incidents in “Azad Kashmir.”
The findings offer precise data about the timing and duration of upticks in volatility from 2005 through March 2015. Chart 1 shows the rate of ceasefire violations in a two-week period (the percentage of days in a two-week period where at least one ceasefire violation occurred). The data show that the frequency of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control has been increasing steadily since 2005, but has accelerated even more since late 2012.
Ceasefire violations were reported on only seven percent of days in 2011 and ten percent of days in 2012. In 2013, this rate more than doubled to 21 percent. Firing has continued at a high level despite the Indian government’s threat of disproportionate response: in 2014, 20 percent of days saw firing, and 23 percent of days in January through March 2015 had ceasefire violations.
The findings also find the “spoiler” hypothesis wanting. This theory hypothesizes that ceasefire violations are planned provocations that signal displeasure that a meeting has been scheduled, or are meant to slow diplomatic progress. News reports often highlight the proximity of firing along the Line of Control to diplomatic progress. For example, Dawn noted that July 2015 firing along the Line of Control came “after a thaw in relations with India was observed after the meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at Ufa.”
However, my regression analysis – available in greater detail here – does not support a hypothesis of a link between high-level meetings and ceasefire violations. Over the past decade, ceasefire violations along the Line of Control have occurred with or without diplomatic initiatives.
The notable increase in ceasefire violations along the Line of Control is concerning. It comes at a time when India and Pakistan have been unable to establish effective and substantive diplomatic channels. Bilateral efforts to improve trade relations are proceeding slowly, and India and Pakistan have not agreed to new confidence-building or nuclear-risk reduction measures since 2007.
Violence along the Line of Control calls attention to nuclear risks associated with any India-Pakistan crisis and the importance of improving bilateral relations. The Line of Control is the only place in the world where nuclear-armed rivals regularly exchange fire. Even while the rate of these exchanges is growing, India and Pakistan are doing little to address international concerns regarding this violence that could magnify tensions.
Under these circumstances, continued and increasing violence along the Line of Control makes positive diplomatic movement between India and Pakistan less likely. It also makes crisis resolution more difficult and the risks of escalation greater. Terrorist attacks in India by Pakistani extremists sparked two recent crises: the crisis following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, and the 2001-2002 “Twin Peaks” crisis. While last Monday’s attack on a police station in Gurdaspur, Punjab, has not led to a “knee-jerk” reaction, Modi may not show the restraint of his predecessors should a larger incident occur. In the event of another crisis, conditions along the Line of Control will complicate crisis management. One means of stabilizing India-Pakistan relations would be to reestablish a ceasefire.