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Strike on Balakot, abrogation of 370 led to Pakistan’s compromises on Kashmir

India’s unprecedented military strike was a consequence of the terror strike in which 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed at Lethapora, Pulwama, on Srinagar-Jammu highway, on 14 February 2019

Wednesday’s agreement between the Directors General of Military Operations of India and Pakistan on ceasefire on the LoC and the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir seems to be the result of Islamabad’s reverses on the military as well as the diplomatic front in the last two years. It is for the first time in the last many years that Islamabad has not pressed much on what it used to call ‘the core issue of Kashmir’.

The agreed text of the joint declaration has come at a time when the separatist and the pro-Pakistan sections of the population in the valley were not expecting any compromise from Pakistan on abrogation of Article 370 and other interventions made by the Indian Parliament and the President in August 2018 and thereafter.

This is a coincidence that the Narendra Modi government’s first agreement with Pakistan has happened on the eve of the second anniversary of the Indian Air Force’s ‘Operation Bandar’. On 26 February 2019, the IAF jets had crossed the LoC for the first time after 1971 and dropped bombs on a formation used as a terrorist training and indoctrination camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad at Balakot, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

India’s unprecedented military strike was a consequence of the terror strike in which 40 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force were killed at Lethapora, Pulwama, on Srinagar-Jammu highway, on 14 February 2019. It was in 10 days of the Prime Minister Modi’s visit and inauguration of several developmental projects in Leh, Srinagar and Jammu.

The terrorist strike, deadliest ever since the eruption of insurgency in 1989, obviously escalated the level of confrontation between India and Pakistan. Seemingly a part of a series of the suicide strikes, including the two sneak attacks on an Army formation at Uri in Kashmir and an IAF base at Pathankot, the car bomb explosion brought the two countries on the verge of a war—for the first time after a suicide attack on the Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001.

Through ‘Operation Bandar’ on 26 February 2019, India conveyed to Islamabad all the possible consequences of a repeat attack in Kashmir or elsewhere. The reaction didn’t end there. Much like the kidnapping and the murder of an Indian diplomat in Birmingham in 1984, which led to the imprisoned JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat’s execution in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, the car bomb attack forced New Delhi to dismantle the ecosystem of the ‘many Pakistans within’.

Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government had already crumbled in June 2018. The car bomb attack led to transfer of all the ‘VIP prisoners’ from Srinagar to different jails in Jammu and outside. The JKLF and the Jamaat-e-Islami were banned. Hundreds of the separatist leaders, activists and stone-pelters were arrested and detained under Public Safety Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Finally, in August 2019, the Government of India withdrew J&K’s special constitutional status and Statehood and broke it into the Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. Almost all the Central laws were extended to J&K. It was something that Islamabad and the Western countries from Europe to America, not even the neighbouring superpower China, had imagined. It was unambiguously brought home to Pakistan that such an attack in future would straightaway lead to a war.

In the last 19 months, New Delhi has made it clear, politically at home and diplomatically outside, that abrogation of Article 370 was fait accompli and there would be no compromise on it. There has been a one-odd statement from Turkey and Malaysia but Pakistan has failed on the diplomatic front to build any pressure that could force India to withdraw its actions taken in August 2019 or thereafter. Contrarily, Pakistan has been badly reeling under the Damocles Sword of FATF which has placed that country in ‘Grey’ list.

In the last 14 months, there have been 7 terror attacks and 10 encounters in Srinagar. But the Police and security forces have eliminated over 220 militants in different encounters. More than 20 militants have surrendered during the encounters. On the LoC, Pakistan has resorted to shelling on the Indian territories and taken some casualties of the security forces and the civilians. But the reaction thereto has been devastating to the extent that Islamabad raised this issue at several international forums, albeit without a desired response from any country.

All these developments have not only demoralised the already shrinking rank and file in Kashmir but also forced Pakistan to enter the back channel of talks with the Indian NSA Ajit Doval, reportedly in a third country, and finally sign a declaration that makes no mention of Pakistan’s stated position on Kashmir.

“The two sides reviewed the situation along the Line of Control and all other sectors in a free, frank and cordial atmosphere. In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGsMO agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence. Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 Feb 2021”, reads the joint declaration.

It brings Pakistan back to the ceasefire agreement of November 2003 which was fully honoured for five years but violated frequently after 2008, causing a new bloodshed. After two unilateral Ramzan ceasefire declarations in 2000 and 2001, then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s NDA government communicated to the back channels that it would accept the next ceasefire only if it was initiated and announced by Pakistan. The devastation caused by the Pakistani forces’ shelling could be gauged from the fact that as many 71 civilians died only in one village of Churunda in Uri from 1990 to 2003.

In 2008, Pakistan resorted to the first violations of the ceasefire which peaked in 2013-15. According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, as many 57 security forces personnel and 54 civilians got killed in 824 ceasefire violations from 2009 to 2019. It was only after February 2019 that Pakistan began to feel the heat of the Indian retaliation and turning amenable to secret negotiations. Quite often the firing was for the purpose of providing cover to the infiltrating militants.

The ceasefire would reduce infiltration of the Pak-trained militants into the valley. With the border issues being resolved with China, the fresh agreement between India and Pakistan will definitely have a remarkably positive impact on the situation in Kashmir.