THE Line of Control separating Azad Kashmir and India-held Kashmir once again was the scene of an unfortunate military exchange on Sunday, with a Pakistani soldier dying in what the Foreign Office has termed an unprovoked incursion into the Pakistani side by Indian forces and what the Indians have termed as a response to cross-LoC infiltration. The death of a soldier is a serious issue as is the allegation that Indian forces crossed the LoC and Pakistan has rightly protested the use of force. As yet, however, it does not appear that Sunday’s incident is the opening salvo in renewed conflict across the LoC, which has by and large remained quiet since the 2003 ceasefire. That neither side appears to be seeking an escalation is welcome but the incident itself points to the unhappy reality that military escalations are only an accident or two away, if both India and Pakistan’s calculations change.
Could those calculations of both countries change in the months ahead? On the Pakistani side, it is difficult to find any official who publicly is in favour of an escalation in Kashmir or a severe downturn in overall relations with India. Even in private, officials maintain the hand of peace is extended and it is the Indian side that is baulking.
However, hawks continue to exist on both sides and in Pakistan there is an unspoken fear that the movement on trade, liberalisation of the visa regime and resumption of cricketing ties may have drawn the displeasure of forces behind the scenes who are resistant to the idea of conceding anything while the core issue of Kashmir remains unresolved. Even the slowdown in trade liberalisation with India, in which election-year calculations of politicians certainly play a big role, is stalked by an unanswered question: could the civilian government be delaying granting of MFN status and other trade-related measures because they are unsure if the army-led security establishment will ultimately allow a deal to go through?
On the Indian side, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government besieged by flagging ratings and the opposition BJP seemingly in the ascendant, the room for the Indian government to seem to be conceding anything to Pakistan is disappearing. In addition, for every hawk here there is one, or more, on the Indian side and perhaps some in the Indian establishment are looking at improving ties between the US and Pakistan with suspicion and wondering if it means the space for India in Afghanistan will be squeezed. None of these calculations on either side are new. The answer remains bold political leadership, which neither side appears to have at the moment.