On Monday, India said it killed seven Pakistani soldiers in “retaliatory action” at Jaglote area along the Line of Control in Mendhar sector of Poonch. One of the soldiers is believed to be a Major. Pakistan confirmed four of the deaths in a tweet, claiming that its soldiers tasked with maintenance duties died in the mortar attack. Four militants were also killed along the LoC in Uri.
The killings are a part of the ever-escalating cycle of the hostilities along the LoC. Over the past several weeks the cross-LoC exchanges have only grown more ferocious, resulting in loss of lives on both sides. In the recent past, several Indian soldiers have lost their lives in firing exchanges along the border. According to some media reports, the Indian army has killed 138 Pakistani army personnel in 2017 in tactical operations and retaliatory cross-border firings along the LoC. At the same time, the Indian army has lost 28 soldiers during the same period along the LoC. The figures from Pakistani side, however, differ.
Blurring the line
Obviously, the two countries have now given a go-ahead to their troops to retaliate when there is attack or provocation from the other side. But such an approach invariably leads to an escalation which along the way blurs the difference between aggressor and the defender. What is more, it sets off a chain reaction of these incidents which are difficult to control.
We should not forget the recurrent cross-border exchanges of the nineties along the LoC which resulted in the loss of hundreds of troops on both sides. According to an estimate, around 400-600 Indian troops used to die in these exchanges with an equivalent or more loss on the other side. But the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two countries substantially brought down the number of fatalities. Since the agreement, far fewer Indian soldiers died in the skirmishes. But the resumption of clashes over the past some years and their escalating pattern has unravelled the long-holding ceasefire. And this is a tragedy.
The calm borders had become an important factor in the normalisation of the relations between the two countries, enabling New Delhi and Islamabad to start one of the most promising dialogue process through 2003-2007 which by accounts of the senior leaders of the two countries was close to a breakthrough on Kashmir
But with return of the border eruptions with a vengeance, the situation has gone back to square one. And if left unattended, it is likely to worsen in the days to come. Hence the need for the two countries to reach out to each other and pull the situation back from the brink. With dialogue long suspended and tensions rising high, India and Pakistan can ill-afford to let the border skirmishes go on unchecked and escalate into a major conflict.
This article first appeared on the Kashmir Observer.