Thousands have fled their homes in the disputed region of Kashmir as Indian and Pakistani troops keep up their cross-border firing. The rising tensions stem in part from a recent breakdown in talks, says Sumit Ganguly.
Indian and Pakistani troops continued to exchange heavy fire over their border in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir on Wednesday, October 8, leading to the death of five more civilians. The area, claimed in its entirety by the nuclear-armed neighbors, has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting between the two countries in years, with both sides trading accusations of targeting civilians and violating a border truce. A total of nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians have been killed since fighting erupted more than week ago, according to media reports.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the territory which is currently divided along a disputed border, known as the Line of Control (LoC). The latest outbreak of hostilities comes after New Delhi called off peace talks with Islamabad last month following Pakistan’s consultation with Indian Kashmiri separatist leaders.
Sumit Ganguly, India expert and professor of Political Science at the Indiana University Bloomington says in a DW interview that while the current escalation is a reflection of the current state of bilateral ties, it is unlikely that the cross-border shelling will escalate into a major conflict as both sides seem aware of the enormous human and material cost this would have.
DW: Who do you believe is responsible for the latest flare-up of violence along the border?
Sumit Ganguly: It is hard to apportion blame. However, I suspect that it stems from the recent breakdown in talks between the two countries.
Pakistani and Indian troops are said to regularly exchange fire along the disputed border. What are the main reasons behind this?
Simply stated because a cease-fire agreement has long expired, Pakistan’s military is probably ramping up for renewed hostilities as it turns its gaze eastwards given the impending withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. It is also, in all likelihood, testing the resolve of the Modi government.
What impact will the latest ceasefire violations have on the ties between the two countries?
Not much. Relations are already at fairly low ebb. There were hopes of a thawing in ties following Modi’s invitation to Sharif to attend his inauguration as prime minister in May.
But after that the peace talks between the two countries were canceled as Abdul Basit, the Pakistani ambassador to India, chose to invite Kashmiri separatists on the eve of the talks despite a clear injunction from New Delhi not to do so.
What are the chances of such violations escalating into a major conflict?
I doubt that it will escalate as both sides are well aware of the costs thereof. The costs would be both human and material and would be worse for Pakistan given the dire state of its economy, its internal disorder and its lack of substantial external supporters barring China and Saudi Arabia. Even the Chinese may have second thoughtsabout supporting Islamabad.
How do these flare-ups affect the lives of people living along the border?
It all depends on how close their villages are located near the Line of Control. Newspaperreports from both sides of the border indicate that civilian lives have been lost in these recent skirmishes. Sadly, periodic flare ups have become part of their lives.
What measures should be taken by the two South Asian nations to avoid such ceasefire violations?
Frankly, any such process would not be symmetric. In India, the military cannot take initiatives along the border of its own accord. The same is, however, not true in Pakistan. Despite the presence of a democratically elected, civilian government in Pakistan, the military remains first amongst equals. It has in the past and still continues to enjoy considerable leeway in determining Pakistan’s foreign and security policies and especially as they apply to India.In the absence of external pressure on Pakistan or a robust Indian response, these provocations are likely to continue.