Srinagar India, April 2: The machine guns peeking over parapets of small, sandbagged concrete bunkers and the heavy artillery cannons dug deep into Himalayan Kashmir’s rugged terrain have fallen silent. At least for now.
The Line of Control, a highly militarized de facto border that divides the disputed region between the two nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, and a site of hundreds of deaths, is unusually quiet after the two South Asian neighbors last month agreed to reaffirm their 2003 cease-fire accord.
The somewhat surprising decision prompted a thaw in the otherwise turbulent relations between the countries but also raised questions about the longevity of the fragile peace, in part due to earlier failures. The crackdown by Indian forces and attacks by rebels have continued inside Indian-held Kashmir.
The cease-fire, experts say, could stabilize the lingering conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Kashmiris say the rare move should lead to resolution of the dispute.
It was unclear what prompted the two militaries to adhere to the accord they had largely ignored for years. But experts point to a climbdown by both from their earlier stance following a decision by India to strip Kashmir of its semi-autonomy and take direct control over the region in 2019, and its monthslong bitter border standoff with China.
Paul Staniland, associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said the ongoing costs of clashes along the Line of Control, the economic effects of the pandemic, and other foreign policy challenges facing both countries might have combined to create incentives to pursue a cease-fire.
Since 2003, the cease-fire has largely held despite regular skirmishes. Both India and Pakistan claim the region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it, and in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, militants have fought against Indian rule since 1989.
Each country has accused the other of heightening tensions by significantly ratcheting up border attacks in the last four years, leading to the deaths of soldiers and villagers.
The cease-fire announcement came shortly after China and India agreed to a military disengagement from a portion of their disputed border after a monthslong deadly military standoff. It had led to fears of a two-front war between India and China, with the latter assisted by its closest ally, Pakistan.
Beijing wants Pakistan to focus on securing its investments as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, a massive, cross-continental infrastructure development project aimed at expanding China’s commercial connections globally. Islamabad is a key partner and some Chinese-built highways snake through Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The U.S., on the other hand, is courting India to focus its energies on countering China.