The India-Pakistan Ceasefire Agreement: Progress for Peace in Kashmir?
The announcement of an India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement comes with welcome relief to a conflict-prone Kashmir after years of tensions and small-scale skirmishes. The deal announced on the 25th February – reportedly brokered during months-long talks mediated by the United Arab Emirates – was as surprising as it was significant. However, great scepticism remains on all sides as to whether the ceasefire can last or will fizzle out as with previous agreements. The answer to that question is likely somewhere in between.
A Return to Ceasefire
The ceasefire agreement in the Kashmir region has so far lasted for over a month without an incident, an encouraging development during a particularly tense time in this decades-old conflict. As it stands, both India and Pakistan claim the disputed territory of Kashmir in full, but administer separate portions of it divided by the Line of Control (LoC). Described by analysts as “a war by other means”, Indian and Pakistani troops have persisted in a low-grade conflict around the LoC since 2006, regularly exchanging artillery and small arms fire even when tensions are not running high.
The latest agreement between the two nuclear-armed nations has halted hostilities along the LoC at a time of increased violence. However, it may not go far enough, since it only has both sides recommitting to a previous agreement signed in 2003 which has been violated more than it has been observed. The 2003 ceasefire was never formalised and there is an absence of any enforcement mechanism. Consequently, there is nothing to hold both parties accountable to their commitments, leaving the agreement susceptible to political pressures at the domestic level. These failings resulted in its collapse in 2006 and the numerous ceasefire violations (CFVs) since. These CFVs have for various reasons greatly increased in recent times, resulting in a precarious situation at serious risk of further escalation. 2020 had the most CFVs on record, with the two armies skirmishing nearly 5,000 times and killing at least 74 people. This represents a 48 per cent increase in CFVs from 2019 and showcases the rapidly deteriorating situation along the LoC.
The sudden return to the ceasefire agreement is likely a result of larger strategic imperatives. Asfandyar Mir, a specialist in South Asian security affairs, argues that India wants to free up military attention to devote to its border stand-off with China, and therefore sees the need to bring down the temperature with Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan is looking at an opportunistic reset of relations with the new administration in the United States, which has welcomed the ceasefire. High-ranking officials in both countries also seem to have an understanding that prolonged instability is not in either party’s interest and that a move is needed to de-escalate the violence.
Conciliatory behaviour is also being driven by economic concerns, with both countries hit hard by COVID-19. Pakistan’s annual economic growth rate has shrunk to 0.98 per cent and could decline further, while India’s GDP contracted by 23.9 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 and only now appears to be on the mend. It seems that a combination of the above factors has resulted in the surprise ceasefire announcement. However, analysts are still divided on the prospects of longevity for this agreement and if peace in Kashmir can even be achieved.
The Prospects of Peace?
While some analysts argue that the new agreement, if effective, would be “pathbreaking”, others are highly skeptical and significant obstacles still remain. Firstly, it only stipulates the re-adherence by both parties to the 2003 ceasefire agreement, which as mentioned, is not a formal agreement and lacks enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, there are reasons to be pessimistic about the prospects of this latest cessation. We have been here before. In December 2013, officials from both sides reached an agreement to maintain the ceasefire on the LoC, but hostilities only continued. India and Pakistan decided to reinforce the same agreement in 2018. Once again, it survived for only a couple of months.
Certain fault lines are already evident. The Indian army has stated that there will be “no let-up in counter-terror operations” in Kashmir and that they “retained the right to respond in case there is a terror attack in the future”. Similarly, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan recently tweeted that future progress was India’s responsibility and that it must take steps to give the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination. In short, the conflicting stances of both nations remain unchanged.
Despite this, there are some positive indicators. Both sides have communicated a need for dialogue and a cautious optimism that the level of violence and tension, at least momentarily, will go down. It is also noteworthy that both neighbours have several other strategic imperatives which make a temporary peace in Kashmir enticing. Pakistan is currently involved in counter insurgency operations against the Taliban on its border with Afghanistan and will be looking at expanding its military deployment on this front. Similarly, India could meet the challenge of China at the contested Himalayan border with greater force. These competing imperatives will, at least for now, foster the desire for a more peaceful situation at the LoC. However, analysts – while viewing the ceasefire as “a welcome development” – express a note of caution over its sustainability.
Thus, while the agreement might have lessened the risks of needless escalation and sabre-rattling, the prospects for genuine progress are still faint. There has been no change to the deeply entrenched positions on both sides and no measures to alter the nature of the rivalry or streamline a genuine peace dialogue. According to one senior official, this may come later as relations gradually thaw, but for now it is still too early to tell whether the ceasefire may trigger more productive engagement. Tirumallai Raghavan, a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, argues that “one has to be mindful and not be excessively optimistic or excessively pessimistic.” In short, it is too early to tell but we may get indicators, one way or the other, in the coming months.
Cameron Smith is a recent Bachelor of Arts History (Hons) and International Relations graduate from the University of Wollongong. His interests include American global affairs, international security and Australian foreign policy.