The agreement on India-Pakistan DGMOs meeting is a breakthrough
The recent summit meeting between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif in New York has resulted in a major breakthrough. On Pakistan’s suggestion, the two director generals of military operations (DGMOs) for the first time ever will now meet one another to discuss violations of ceasefire and the need for peace on the Line of Control (LC). This has opened a parallel channel for bilateral talks between the two armies on Kashmir as stability on the LC depends on bilateral progress on Kashmir talks. India should make the most of this opportunity to resolve the Kashmir issue.
This could not have been possible without the Pakistan chief of army staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Kayani entering into an unprecedented arrangement for success-sharing on Kashmir resolution with his government. This marks an important shift in civil-military relations in Pakistan. To recall, Nawaz Sharif in his earlier tenure as head of the government in 1998 had brusquely dismissed his COAS, General Jehangir Karamat’s call for the army to have a formal role in governance. This had led to Karamat’s resignation and subsequently to Sharif’s exile.
A wiser Sharif has done his calculations: With Pakistan’s nuclear weapons firmly under the control of the Pakistan Army, Sharif cannot wrest Pakistan’s Kashmir policy from General Headquarters, Rawalpindi. Moreover, the people of Pakistan want democracy and not military rule. Thus, mutual accommodation was the only sensible way forward for both. It is only logical for Sharif to now ask Kayani, who retires in November, to be on extension to oversee results on Kashmir.
When the two DGMOs meet face to face, they would inject a new meaning to the present arrangement of talking with one another once a week on hotline. The hotline communication between the two DGMOs was established on US’ urging subsequent to the 1990 Robert Gates’ mission, when India had inducted massive troops in Kashmir to quell the sudden insurgency, and chances of a war between India and Pakistan were real. The hotline talks were agreed for every Wednesday with each side calling the other on alternate week. Unfortunately, this practice is being followed with increased irregularity, as both sides consider making the first contact as a sign of military weakness, and it is usually related to the state of bilateral relations.
While the two DGMOs have same status, their statures are wide apart. This derives from the fact that the Pakistan Army not only controls its nation’s Kashmir policy, but is the only army in the world which has perfected the art of undertaking simultaneous regular and irregular wars; this started with the 1999 Kargil conflict. While the regular war is the responsibility of the DGMO, the ISI chief runs the irregular war, with the COAS as the ultimate boss. Neither does anything without the full knowledge of the COAS. For example, pushing of terrorists across the LC into Kashmir is done in two synchronised steps. First, the regular army trains them, and provides them with weapons and intelligence about when and where to cross. Once inside Kashmir, the ISI takes over and guides terrorists to their destination.
Recent times have witnessed two unusual patterns on the LC. First there were regular ceasefire violations by the Pakistan Army. Care was taken by the Pakistan Army to ensure that ceasefire violations did not translate into the end of the ceasefire, holding since 26 November 2003. What this means is that small arms and mortars were fired freely, but artillery guns were not used. Employment of artillery, which is the fiercest land-based firepower, would have blown up the ceasefire into smoke, with the next step being use of air-based firepower, which would be war with the two air forces in action. Kayani obviously did not want war but wanted to send the firm message to his government and India that talks on Kashmir, which Pakistan calls its core concern, cannot show results without his consent.
The other unusual thing was the assertiveness by Pakistan’s Special Forces across the LC. In three separate gruesome incidents on Indian side of the LC starting January when Indian soldiers were beheaded, then five Indian soldiers were killed in August, and finally the recent one where terrorists created mayhem in 16 cavalry unit in Jammu, signs of DGMO directing these operations are unmistakable. This clinched the matter. If Nawaz Sharif had to move meaningfully with India on Kashmir, his army had to be on board directly. Moreover, having failed to draw India in 2009 to hold parallel talks with him, Kayani has found the way forward with an accommodative Sharif.
What should India do now? When the two DGMOs meet, there should be no blame game from the Indian side. If this happens, the Pakistani DGMO will go defensive and aggressive. The need is to create a non-hostile ambience where the Indian DGMO should watch for signs from his counterpart for usefulness of similar army-to-army meetings in future. If this happens, both sides could take on a multitude of issues connected with the LC, the most important being how to minimise chances of a war. This will be in consonance with Nawaz Sharif’s agenda who had repeatedly desired to take up bilateral relations’ thread from the 1999 Lahore Declaration. The declaration’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) deals with reducing bilateral military threat.