Indo–Pakistani skirmishing along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir has escalated in the past 10 days and threatens to destroy a decade-old cease-fire between the regional rivals. A series of incidents along the LoC, including the ambush and killing of five Indian soldiers last week and the killing of a Pakistani civilian on Monday, have led to charged rhetoric on both sides and dashed hopes for an early resumption of peace talks under the new Pakistani civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif.
The level of heavy mortar shelling and automatic-weapons fire along the LoC is reminiscent of the situation in the 1990s when cross-border violence was a daily occurrence. India’s defense spokesman claims that Pakistan has committed 57 cease-fire violations since January—an 80 percent increase from a year ago.
The border incidents occur within the context of other negative Indo–Pakistani developments, including an attempted suicide attack on an Indian consulate in Afghanistan on August 3 that has been blamed on Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Indian claims that infiltration of Pakistan-based militants into Indian-controlled Kashmir is on the rise.
It is possible the Pakistani military establishment is deliberately ratcheting up the tension to demonstrate to the Sharif government that it still calls the shots regarding India–Pakistan relations. The Pakistan army may be trying to warn Sharif off from pursuing any meaningful peace initiatives like he did when he previously served as prime minister in the late 1990s. Back-channel negotiations with India over the status of Kashmir had made significant progress under Sharif’s previous tenure in 1999 until the Pakistani military took over Indian military positions in the heights of Kargil, precipitating a brief Indo–Pakistani border war.
Before the recent border skirmishes, Sharif had indicated his government’s strong interest in improving trade and people-to-people ties with India and its consideration of granting India most-favored-nation trading status to strengthen economic ties between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh until now has shown a great deal of forbearance toward Pakistan. His government reacted with tremendous restraint following the 2008 Mumbai attacks that were carried out by the LeT and that killed nearly 170. But with Indian national elections nine months away and the opposition criticizing his government for being too soft on Pakistan, Singh has little room for maneuver to broker peace with Pakistan.
The Indian prime minister’s attitude toward talks with Pakistan was evident during his Independence Day speech yesterday when he said that “for relations with Pakistan to improve, it is essential that they prevent the use of their territory and territory under their control for any anti-India activity.”
The U.S. should take the recent border flare-ups seriously and do what it can to reduce the military tensions that risk developing into broader conflict. Washington should resist any calls for mediation, however. The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was right to dismiss the idea of Washington appointing a special envoy to deal with Indo–Pakistani tensions.
The specter of a visible, high-profile U.S. role in the dispute over Kashmir would only risk exacerbating tensions by fueling unrealistic expectations in Pakistan and its support for Kashmiri militants. A more promising path to encouraging peace in the subcontinent and overall regional stability is for Washington to convince the Pakistani military to give up its policies of relying on extremist groups to achieve its foreign policy objectives.