THE recent border skirmishes between Pakistan and India along the Line of Control have claimed the lives of many civilians. Firing along the LoC is routine and often indicative of a dip in ties between the two countries. But what is the LoC’s significance? Is it a de facto border, immutable and inviolable? What level of political or legal significance does it hold for Pakistan?
The LoC started off as the “ceasefire line” created under the 1949 Karachi Agreement. Its terminus was defined to extend up till “Khor, thence north to the glaciers”. India unilaterally annexed the Siachen glacier in 1984, and attempted to alter the LoC eastward beyond NJ9842 through force, in violation of the Karachi Agreement and the 1972 Simla accord.
Pakistan’s position, reflected in the majority of official world maps, interprets “north to the glacier” to follow its natural north-westerly course extending the LoC up to the Karakoram Pass.
Under the Karachi Agreement, the ceasefire line was to be monitored and violations reported by the United Nations Military Observers, a role inherited in 1951 by the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Under the Simla Agreement, the ceasefire line was converted into the LoC and with minor alterations retained its previous shape.
The Karachi and Simla treaties should be read together.
The Simla pact mandates both countries to respect the LoC and “refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this line”. It prohibits any attempt to unilaterally alter the LoC’s course. After the accord, India argued that the UNMOGIP mandate had lapsed because the Karachi Agreement stood terminated — a position rejected by the UN secretary general.
Under international law, both the Karachi and Simla treaties have to be read together to supplement each other. Two treaties on the same subject matter are interpreted this way unless they are in conflict or a contrary intent is expressed in the treaty that follows later. While Pakistan continues to report violations of the LoC to the UNMOGIP, India stopped doing so in 1972. A few months ago, India asked UNMOGIP to vacate its Delhi office on the premise that it “has outlived its relevance”. UNMOGIP agreed to look for alternative accommodation, but stressed they would continue to operate under their mandate.
Under international law, an objectively and professionally produced map is strong evidence of a precise boundary line. It is now well recognised that maps are evidence of the intentions of a state, and a state’s acquiescence in and recognition of a boundary.
Maps can be determinative of a dispute over a boundary if they are annexed, or otherwise integrated as part of a legal instrument such as a treaty. Maps and other cartographic material such as surveys produced by government officials, while not conclusive, are accorded probative value by international tribunals. This was reaffirmed in the decision (2002) of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission working under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.
Today, official Indian maps include entire Jammu and Kashmir as Indian territory. However, official Pakistani administrative maps including those produced by the Survey of Pakistan designate J&K as ‘disputed territory’.
Historically, Pakistan has been hesitant to demarcate the LoC on official maps. Perhaps it fears that such action might condone the permanency of this transient boundary and adversely impact the right of self-determination of the Kashmiris. The fear is that marking the line on its maps could translate into accepting that India has perfected title over territory west of the LoC.
However, Pakistan should aggressively acknowledge the authority it exercises over territory under its control west of the LoC, including through the delimitation of the LoC on official maps. This is because in the unlikely event that India somehow in the future manages to forcefully annex J&K territory under Pakistan, its claim to title to such territory would be much harder to justify under international law.
While the decision to mark the LoC on official maps is politically sensitive, Pakistan should start delimiting the LoC on official maps to safeguard its legal position. The LoC should clearly extend up till the Karakoram Pass so that the whole of the Siachen Glacier appears west of it.
It, however, should qualify the LoC through clear textual annotations on maps acknowledging that it is a temporary ceasefire line agreed to between India and Pakistan under the Karachi Agreement read in conjunction with the Simla Agreement; that the LoC is monitored by the UNMOGIP under Security Council Resolution 91 (1951); and that it serves as a de facto border — without prejudice to the inherent right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people as guaranteed to them through a plebiscite under numerous Council resolutions — till a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute materialises.