On the ground, there is no commonly-agreed rule among the Indian and Pakistani armies and the BSF and Pakistan Rangers for counting ceasefire violations

by Happymon Jacob

The border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has been the scene of unrelenting firing for more than a year now — in the first two months of this year alone, India has reported 633 ceasefire violations (CFVs) and Pakistan around 400. This follows the trend of violence set in 2017 which was the bloodiest year since the ceasefire agreement (CFA) came into effect in 2003.

Ceasefire violations along the India-Pakistan border in J&K have been a major cause of political, military and diplomatic escalation between the two rivals over the past several years. And yet research on what triggers CFVs is extremely limited, and consequently ill-informed propaganda is often passed off as reasoned analysis.

Official and non-official reports published in India and Pakistan routinely blame each other for initiating and sustaining CFVs that violate the 2003 CFA between the two armies. A closer look at the causes of CFVs, when and where they take place, however, offers a much more nuanced and often counter-intuitive understanding of the causes of CFVs. Data available on Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor, a recently-launched online archive, which analyses official and non-official CFV data from India and Pakistan for the past 16 years, help demythify several deeply-entrenched popular notions around ceasefire violations and their causes.

Understanding CFVs

It is important to understand certain basic facts in order to appreciate the complexity involved in explaining ceasefire violations. First of all, the ceasefire agreement of 2003 was not a written down agreement signed by the two countries. Unlike the previous ceasefires of 1948, 1965 and 1972, all of which were also war-termination agreements, the 2003 CFA came at the end of a particularly tense period between India and Pakistan. Negotiated through the back channel by the RAW and ISI chiefs in mid-2003, the telephone conversation between the two DGMOs on 23 November became the basis of a ceasefire. Note that there were no agreed principles or norms associated with the agreement as it was a mere phone conversation that ended the firing. For reference, India in 2002 had reported 4,134 ceasefire violations which came down to just four in 2004, thanks to the ceasefire agreement.

Secondly, there is no clarity with regard to how CFVs are counted. On the ground, there is no commonly-agreed rule among the Indian and Pakistani armies and the BSF and Pakistan Rangers for counting CFVs. In general, a violation usually does not consist of one shot. One CFV might be thousands of shots fired by a range of weapons from personal firearms to heavy artillery across multiple areas within a period of 24 hours in reaction to an initial violation. Speculative firing that soldiers undertake for a variety of reasons is not counted as a violation. Firing on one’s own side is also not counted as a CFV. Moreover, stray firing without effect often doesn’t get counted.

We must also note that not all CFVs are reported to the top rungs of the government on either side or, sometimes, even up the chain of command of the force manning the border. Reporting depends on a variety of factors, including whether it might be advantageous to those patrolling the border — whether Pakistani or Indian — to play up or play down violations in a particular area. Lot of subjectivity goes into counting CFVs — local level decision on what should be counted as a CFV. What then emerges is a complicated picture on what constitutes a CFV.

The Perfect Symmetry of CFVs

Contrary to popular perceptions in either country, both the Indian and Pakistani sides violate the ceasefire agreement. As a matter of fact, the sequence of violations over the past 16 odd years indicates precisely that. More importantly, CFVs initiated by one side are usually responded to by the other side using roughly the same calibre, creating a near perfect symmetry of violations between the two sides (see graph). During 2017, however, there was a clear increase in the firing from the Indian side indicating a strategy of disproportionate bombardment from the Indian side. Data for the past two months indicate that Pakistan has fired more than the Indian side. Moreover, in the past fortnight since the 19 March, Indian forces have desisted from firing back in response to Pakistani firing.

Demythifying CFVs

What causes ceasefire violations? Indian side offers a uni-causal explanation: ceasefire is violated by the Pakistani side to provide covering fire to terrorists infiltrating into the Indian side of J&K. Pakistan, on the other hand, blames India of engaging in unprovoked firing targeted at the former’s civilian population.

However, an analysis of the CFV data for the past 16 years shows that such violations have multiple causes which are not understood properly. These include: construction, repair or enhancement of defence works on either side of the dividing line by the respective forces; lack of proper mechanisms to regulate the crossing of civilians from one side to the other; occasional lack of territorial clarity as to which piece of land falls on whose side which arises due to an absence of proper territorial demarcation of the LoC, and; reaction to political and diplomatic developments on either side.

In short, what this means is that several little-known local level military factors often trigger CFVs that could last for days. Such tension on the LoC in Kashmir and IB in Jammu may not have been sanctioned by the military or political higher-ups in India or Pakistan.

Data gathered by the monitor also tells us the locations where most CVFs take place. The areas most affected by ceasefire violations on the Indian side are Poonch and Jammu, followed by Samba and Rajouri. On the Pakistani side, Sialkot, Rawalakot, and Kotli have reported high incidence of CFVs. These locations essentially face each other across the international border and LoC.

How To Limit CFVs?

Several measures can be taken by the two sides to control CFVs. For one, the 2003 CFA should be written down clarifying the principles, norms, dos and don’ts that are required to sustain the CFA. Second, the two sides should consider finalising the ground rules agreement of 1961 to manage the International Border in the Jammu sector. Third, provide for regular biannual meetings of DGMOs. Frequency of structured flag meetings between local commanders should also be increased. Finally, it would be useful to jointly identify sensitive sectors so that the specific related issues can be understood and resolved at senior levels.

Happymon Jacob is an associate professor of disarmament studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and curates an online archive on the India-Pakistan conflict