A report by the parliamentary panel on home affairs, led by former home minister and Congress leader P. Chidambaram, has concluded that “after the 1971 war, the present is the most vulnerable period for the borders of the country.” The report cited “a large number of cease fire violations” —more than 100 in the space of two months in 2016—to back the statement. It has called for stepping up diplomatic efforts to reduce ceasefire violations in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which it says has turned people living in border areas into “internal refugees”. How true are such dramatic claims?
Except for the line of control (LoC) and the international border in J&K, India’s frontiers have not seen any sustained military hostility since 1971. This was true even during the Kargil war. So, we will keep our analysis confined to J&K. Even in J&K, such a long-period comparison is not practical due to a qualitative change in the situation after 2003, when India and Pakistan agreed on a ceasefire along the LoC and the international border.
Mint has collected ceasefire violation statistics from Lok Sabha replies to check the claims made in the parliamentary committee’s report. In terms of ceasefire violations, the trend started deteriorating in the early years of this decade, with 2014 recording the highest number of violations. Despite having fewer ceasefire violations, 2015 and 2016 have recorded greater casualties in these incidents. For this analysis, we have used data from 2012 as this was the latest available data and was confirmed through multiple answers provided in the Lok Sabha. For the period prior to 2012, data is not available in comparable format. Interestingly, the committee itself notes that the number of ceasefire violations in 2015 (405) and 2016 (437 till 30 November) was less than the number in 2014 (583).
While there is no doubt that the situation in Kashmir has worsened in the last few years, it is nowhere close to what it was during the 1990s, when militancy was at its peak. This is borne out by the sharp fall in the number of terrorist incidents and persons killed over the years. As can be seen from the chart, terrorist incident-related deaths registered a sharp fall after the ceasefire agreement came into place in 2003.
Srinath Raghavan, a former Indian army officer and currently a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, pointed to the fact that the ceasefire was successful in reducing terror attacks in Kashmir as Pakistan was no longer able to use shelling to provide cover for militants to infiltrate into Kashmir. While agreeing that ceasefire violations have increased in the recent past, Raghavan underlined the fact that the 2003 ceasefire agreement has not come under question till now. At the same time, Raghavan also stressed the importance of understanding qualitative change in the nature of separatist violence in Kashmir. “In the 1990s, the army was in direct confrontation with insurgents. Civilian deaths were largely collateral damage. Today though, ordinary Kashmiris are voicing their disaffection through direct confrontations with the Indian army. This is much more difficult to deal with for the army,” Raghavan said. Pakistan’s attempts to further precipitate matters through ceasefire violations “can be seen as an acceleration of attempts by Pakistan to draw international attention to the disaffection in Kashmir”, he added.
Recent events of mass protests and the abysmal polling percentage in the Srinagar Lok Sabha bypoll can be better explained by Raghavan’s thesis than putting the blame on Pakistan or inadequate diplomatic efforts by India. Better diplomacy and counter-insurgency measures can be useful in dealing with the situation, but much more is required to be done to close the trust deficit in Kashmir.