A paramilitary soldier keeps a vigil from inside a building under construction in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir, in April. Photo: AP
Ameya Kilara
Ameya Kilara

How India and Pakistan can make a ceasefire agreement stick

  • Domestic political pressures and a deep mistrust between security establishments have long impeded India and Pakistan’s ability to maintain a ceasefire
  • But it is possible for both sides to take a series of mutually reinforcing steps that would help make one that lasts, says Ameya Kilara
When India and Pakistan released a joint statement in February renewing their commitment to a ceasefire along the Line of Control in Kashmir, it appeared to push pause on the pair’s rapidly deteriorating bilateral relationship. The fragility of such ceasefire agreements was brought home barely two months later, however, when reports emerged of troops engaging in cross-border gunfire on May 3.

India and Pakistan’s ability to arrive at and maintain a ceasefire is impeded by domestic political pressures on the leaders of both countries, as well as a deep mistrust between their security establishments, and concerns among Kashmiri people of being overlooked. But it is possible for both sides to take a series of mutually reinforcing steps that would help make a ceasefire last.

First, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his advisers will need to frame a domestic public narrative to accompany the ceasefire. This should link the image of strong leadership with the courage to pursue peace, and portray terrorists as enemies of that peace. Doing so will involve a subtle shift away from portraying Pakistan as the enemy, towards assigning blame to particular groups alone.

After terror attacks take place, government statements should declare that India will not allow its peace efforts with Pakistan to be deterred by groups that are antithetical to peace in the region.

There are lessons to be drawn from how India’s political leadership has justified keeping diplomatic and military negotiations open with China, even after the military confrontations that have taken place along their disputed border since June 2020.
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Second, in the event of a crisis such as an escalation at the Line of Control or a terror attack in India, backchannel interlocutors, delegated by both countries, should agree in advance on a series of steps to de-escalate and keep talks going. These steps could include joint statements by the two governments immediately condemning any attack; activation of bilateral channels of communication; efforts to moderate hostile rhetoric by government officials; and perhaps bolder measures such as a joint investigation team to identify perpetrators.

Third, the Indian security establishment’s concerns that a “soft approach” will create perverse incentives for Pakistan to ramp up its support for terrorism need to be allayed. This is where international allies trusted by both countries can play a role. A mechanism can be evolved whereby specific costs and consequences are brought to bear on those responsible for terror attacks. A judicious mix of carrot and stick will need to be deployed, including conditions-based military aid; trade and economic incentives; membership of international groupings such as the G7 and UN Security Council; and sanctions on government members, as well as individuals and institutions, held responsible for terror attacks. Such a mechanism would need to win the confidence of both sides by demonstrating objectivity, taking serious actions on terrorism without scapegoating Pakistan, and avoiding any impression that India has permitted external intervention on Kashmir.

Fourth, to help the Pakistani leadership overcome domestic impressions that the ceasefire was a unilateral concession on its claim to Kashmir, India will need to make a visible and timely reciprocal gesture. This could be in the form of a visit by Modi for a planned South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Islamabad or an announcement of positive political steps, such as restoring statehood to the current union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

Fifth, people living on either side of the Line of Control should be consulted early on and brought into a parallel track of dialogue. Consultations can begin with issues relating to the practical implementation of the ceasefire, such as the positioning of bunkers to accommodate local concerns, clearing of landmines from priority areas where there are schools and homes, and aid for victims of cross-border shelling.

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The India-Pakistan conflict has adversely affected the populace of the entire Kashmir region for decades and is directly related to the Kashmiri separatist movement. As confidence in a ceasefire grows, both governments will need to take Kashmir’s political stakeholders into account. This can be achieved by designing an inclusive dialogue that accommodates the Kashmiri people’s core concerns: fear of losing their identity, anger at past atrocities, and the desire for a dignified settlement. This is crucial to ultimately addressing the continuous threat of violence from insurgent groups. If handled sensitively and early on, people affected by the conflict could become helpful partners in the bilateral dialogue.

Finally, governments should carefully sequence confidence building measures to incrementally build trust. Previous measures such as trade across the Line of Control, suspended since 2019, can be revived. New ones could also be crafted to respond to current challenges, such as the coronavirus pandemic – allowing the virtual exchange of information and resources between civil society, universities, doctors, technical experts, and bureaucrats in both Pakistan- and Indian-administered Kashmir, for example.

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Confidence building measures related to the wider India-Pakistan relationship, such as cross-border religious tourism, environmental cooperation, and the resumption of border trade, can then be slowly pursued.

Sustaining the February ceasefire will require a carefully planned and sophisticated political and technical architecture, comprising the elements outlined above, to overcome domestic political compulsions in both countries and the concerns of the affected populations in Kashmir on both sides of the de facto border.

Ameya Kilara is Director of the South Asian Leadership Initiative at Inter Mediate in London. She is a lawyer and conflict resolution expert who has also received multiple awards for her work on India-Pakistan dialogue and peace-building initiatives in Kashmir.

This essay was first published by the Asian Peace Programme, part of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.