Pakistan's Strategic Cease-Fire
November 25, 2003 1528 GMT
Pakistan has offered India a cease-fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir and India has welcomed it cautiously. The cease-fire will be temporary because shooting along the disputed border has been the norm since the end of the 1971 war. This particular offer, however, might lead to further confidence-building measures between the two rivals.
In a nationally televised address on Nov. 23, Pakistani Prime Minister Mir
Zafarullah Khan Jamali announced a unilateral cease-fire along the Line of Control,
which divides Kashmir between rival nuclear neighbors India and Pakistan. The
cessation of hostilities began on the Nov. 25 holiday marking Eid al-Fitr, the
end of Ramadan. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna welcomed the
announcement but cautioned that an enduring cease-fire could be established
only if militant infiltration across the LoC was halted
A number of explanations for Islamabad's move are possible:
1) Given that militant traffic across the LoC naturally declines during the winter months, Islamabad saw this as an opportune time to declare a cease-fire.
2) This is Islamabad's response to India's Oct. 23 offer of 12 confidence-building measures and recent U.S. demands that Pakistan do more to curb militant traffic into both Afghanistan and India.
3) A cease-fire could provide a much-needed respite for Pakistani troops.
4) A cessation aids Islamabad in creating a positive atmosphere for a possible visit by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Islamabad.
5.) It provides Pakistan an opportunity to earn points in Washington.
Regardless of the reasons behind the declaration, the cease-fire will be temporary. The situation will return to business as usual; the two sides likely will trade fire along the LoC irrespective of official relations.
The announcement is a non-issue -- in that it might not be strategically significant -- but it is valuable in terms of tactical feedback: The bid aids the advancement of a potential normalization of relations between the two nations and opens the possibility for further confidence-building measures to be discussed in the days ahead.
Shooting along the LoC has been routine since the end of the 1971 war, yet has not led to an escalation of hostilities. Both sides know their limits and are used to this type of exchange. It will not take much for forces on either side to revert to violence if they feel it is necessary. India long has maintained that Pakistan resorts to back-and-forth firing to provide cover for the infiltration of militants. With winter setting in, infiltration levels usually drop -- so Pakistan sees this as a convenient time to accumulate some political mileage.
The ball has been in Pakistan's court since Oct. 23, when India produced a set of "12 confidence-building measures." By announcing a unilateral cease-fire, Pakistan has volleyed the serve back to New Delhi.
Moreover, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Nancy Powell recently urged Islamabad to do more to rein in Kashmiri and other militant Islamist groups that resurfaced under different names after they were banned in 2001. Islamabad reacted to Powell's statements by banning the groups in question and announcing this cease-fire.
The announcement also should be viewed as a gesture to ensure that Vajpayee will come to Islamabad for the January summit of the seven-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Pakistan has been working hard and using diplomatic channels to convince Vajpayee to attend -- likely because the government believes this will pave the way for dialogue over Kashmir, something that India thus far has avoided.
India welcomed the cease-fire announcement because it will allow both Indian and Pakistani troops some respite from their around-the-clock high-alert status. At New Delhi's insistence, the cease-fire was extended to the Siachin Glacier, a high-altitude area where troops battle not only each other, but also the bitter cold.
Both sides understand that as long as the issue of Kashmir stands between them,
cease-fires concerning the LoC do not represent a strategic shift in real military
terms. Such announcements, however, do offer a window of opportunity for the
rivals to engage one another bilaterally about nonmilitary matters. More confidence-building
measures, a trip by Vajpayee to Islamabad early next year and a break for Islamabad
from the criticism that it is not doing enough to curb militancy likely will
result from this move.