December 2003 News

Significance Of LoC Fencing

24 December 2003
The Daily Times
Ijaz Hussain

Islamabad: The Pakistan government's contention that the unilateral cease-fire is no more than a confidence-building measure, when viewed in tandem with other steps that the latter has taken to create an atmosphere of trust, puts our diplomacy in a poor light India's decision to speed up fencing of the Line of Control (LoC) following Pakistan's announcement of unilateral cease-fire along the Line in Kashmir (quickly reciprocated by India) has evoked a flurry of protests in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. The Pakistan Foreign Office has denounced it at once as a violation of the bilateral agreements between the two countries and the UN resolutions on Kashmir. The FO also made a demarche with the Indian High Commission, expressing its serious concern over the issue. The Azad Kashmir legislative assembly, while welcoming the cease-fire, condemned fencing as being against the human rights of Kashmiris. Rejecting Pakistan's objections, India has refused to stop work on the fence, calling it an operational necessity. Who is right? Let's begin by looking at the LoC and what India is doing there. The LoC is the current appellation of the cease- fire line drawn up following the cessation of hostilities after the 1971 war. The Line begins in southern Kashmir and passing through very rough and mountainous terrain and snow-bound passes ends at the Siachen Glacier to the north. Out of the total of 760-kilometre stretch, India has been trying for the last several years to fence 460 kilometres at the cost of a billion rupees. It claims to have already fenced almost half and electrified about a quarter of it and hopes to complete fencing by June 2004. Additionally, it is putting in place, wherever necessary, ground censors, thermal imagers and night vision devices. It justifies these measures on the ground of stopping infiltration of men and material from the Pakistani side into Indian held Kashmir. But is India in violation of any bilateral agreement between the two countries and UN resolutions on Kashmir as contended by Pakistan? There are two bilateral agreements, which deal with the matter. The first one is the cease-fire agreement concluded between the two countries in 1949 in the wake of the first Kashmir war; the second is the 1972 Agreement on Delineation of the LoC. The former unambiguously prohibits 'wiring or mining' of the positions along the cease-fire line. The Simla Agreement, which India never tires of parroting as the most relevant document for conflict resolution on Kashmir, also endorses this interdiction through the stipulation that 'neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation'. The Agreement on Delineation lays down that the two sides, in accordance with the Simla Agreement, will ensure the inviolability of the LoC. As against Pakistan's charge, India accuses the latter of being the first one to violate, by infiltration of men and material across the LoC, the Simla Agreement which prohibits the parties to engage in any act detrimental to the maintenance of peaceful and harmonious relations. Pakistan denies the charge by maintaining that it gives only moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmir cause. Notwithstanding Pakistan's official stance in the matter, the facts on the ground tell a different story. However, Pakistan cannot be faulted in the matter in view of the mitigating circumstances of the lack of good faith on the part of the Indian government to resolve the Kashmir dispute for the last 50-odd years. Pakistan also objects to fencing on the ground that it is in violation of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. In other words it maintains that the Kashmiris who have been accorded the right of self- determination by these resolutions would be deprived of it by fencing since that would lead to the transformation of the LoC into a permanent border. This apprehension is justified like that of the Palestinians who fear encroachment on their land through construction of the wall on the West Bank apparently on the ground of stopping the suicide bombers from infiltrating into Israel. The Indian desire to transform the cease-fire line into a permanent border goes back to the time of Jawaharal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah who favoured such a solution. India is in the process of translating this objective into reality through fencing. If this were not the case the question of infiltration could be taken care of by a variety of ways such as the augmenting of UN observers along the LoC or the use of high-tech gadgetry to monitor the movement of men and material into the Indian held Kashmir from the Pakistan side. In light of the foregoing one can say that by fencing the LoC India is in violation of its obligations under the bilateral treaties and the UN resolutions on Kashmir. Pakistan's announcement of unilateral cease-fire can be defended by arguing that in its absence the fencing could have been delayed but not stopped as India has already completed a good part of it. However, instead of taking this line various ministers have denounced the Indian action as perfidious. Here the question arises whether the government was really caught napping in the matter as it has tried to convey the impression. Given the fact that India had been busy fencing in the absence of cease-fire it was obvious that it would take full advantage of the Pakistani offer and proceed with its completion. The flurry of protests by ministers and the Foreign Office is therefore no more than a public relations exercise meant to fool the people. The fencing is a telltale sign which signals that the Pakistan government is prepared to accept the transformation of the LoC into an international border. The latest statement by Musharraf in which he has accepted to forgo holding of plebiscite as required by the UN Kashmir resolutions and has showed willingness to deal with the matter 'halfway' attests to it. The Pakistan government's contention that the unilateral cease-fire is no more than a confidence-building measure, when viewed in tandem with other steps that the latter has taken to create an atmosphere of trust, puts our diplomacy in a poor light. For example, in addition to the unilateral cease-fire, Pakistan announced the resumption of air links without getting the quid pro quo it was seeking from India and because of which the parleys had been deadlocked for quite sometime. Similarly, it made a unilateral public declaration to forgo the UN resolutions without any reciprocity from India. As opposed to this, India has refused to suspend work on the Baglihar despite being clearly in violation of the Indus Waters Treaty. Nor has it offered cease-fire in Kashmir where its security forces continue to commit gross human rights violations. One can conclude from this that Pakistan's assumption that unilateral concessions on its part would induce India into meaningful negotiations on Kashmir is misplaced. Finally, the international community has remained completely silent to the Indian decision to speed up the fencing of the LoC. As opposed to this, it has shown strong disapproval of the building of the wall in the West Bank by Israel as is evident, for example, from the EU's reaction. This also comes out from the UN Security Council debate in the matter though the US vetoed the resolution condemning the Israeli action. Similarly, the General Assembly adopted a resolution against the Israeli move and referred the matter to the ICJ for an advisory opinion. The lack of interest by the international community in the Kashmir cause should not however surprise us. If President Musharraf is dismissive about fencing as it comes out from his statement that it is taking place five kilometres inside the Indian held Kashmir and is not visible from the Pakistani side, why blame the international community for being lukewarm about the Kashmir cause? The writer is Professor Department of International Relations, Dean of Social Sciences Quaid-e-Azam University, and author of several books


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