Saturday, August 29, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 30, 2015

Cross-border firing In the bloodiest escalation since cross-border firing across the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary started months ago, eight Pakistani civilians were killed and 40 wounded in Sialkot and other villages in the area. India on the other hand claimed three civilians were killed in Indian-held Kashmir by Pakistani fire. Both sides claimed the other opened fire first. The context of this latest bloody exchange is the high state of tensions after the cancellation of the National Security Advisors’ talks. Within this context, some reports are inclined to ascribe the timing of the incident to the 50th anniversary of Operation Gibraltar in 1965 that led to the war between Pakistan and India that year. The actual incident was triggered by what Pakistan claims was the use of an excavator on the Working Boundary by India without following the standard operating procedures. Whichever of these explanations comes closer to the truth, the fact remains that the cross-border firing from both sides has targeted civilians, which is tragic. As has become routine of late, the Indian High Commissioner was summoned to the Foreign Office and a strong protest against the incident lodged. The details available of what may have triggered the exchange of fire points to a yawning gap in the arrangements for the commanders of either side on the ground to be in communication precisely to prevent such outbreaks of violence. While the Pakistan Rangers and Indian Border Security Force commanders are expected to meet in New Delhi on September 9, and the increasingly frequent exchange of firing will top the agenda, the meeting would be well advised to address any gaps or lacunae in the ‘hot line’ the local border security forces are supposed to maintain between themselves. Concerns have been expressed at this development by many actors and concerned friends. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has instructed the Foreign Office and Defence authorities to talk to their Indian counterparts on the issue with a view to defusing the tensions. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, in a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London expressed regret over what he saw as India’s unwillingness to reciprocate Pakistan’s desire for peace and good neighbourly relations. The British Foreign Secretary expressed his concern over the suspension of the Pakistan-India dialogue process, hoping it would restart soon. The US too has expressed its disappointment and disapproval of the collapse of the process and urged the re-engagement of the two sides. UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has also added his voice to the demand for a resumption of the dialogue. Analysts and commentators are pointing to the familiar pattern into which Pakistan-India interactions have fallen over many years. They are broadly critical of the lack of spadework before or after the Ufa, Russia, agreement between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi for the NSAs’ meeting. The result of this lapse was the falling out and eventual cancellation of the talks over the issue of Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz meeting the Kashmiri Hurriyet Conference leaders in New Delhi and India’s refusal to include Kashmir in the agenda. As a result of this debacle, neither side has come out smelling of roses. Critics point to the domestic political compulsions of both sides not to appear weak or compromising at a time when neither government can be accused of good governance and appears to lurch from one controversy to the next at home. This produces negative pressures to go for grandstanding in the media rather than serious preparation and discreet diplomacy between interlocutors locked in conflict and tension over the decades. Ironically, and despite all the hostile rhetoric that follows such incidents as the cross-border firing, both sides seem compelled by the logic of geography, history and the international environment to gravitate again and again back to the negotiating table. Perhaps the post-Ufa debacle can teach both sides to explore better more discreet interaction that avoids media hype before and falling out after such interaction is planned.

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