Out in the Cold

What the thaw in India–Pakistan relations looks like from Kashmir

In 2020, there were over five thousand ceasefire violations along the line of control, the highest in two decades. Gurinder Osan / Hindustan Times
30 June, 2021

This February, India and Pakistan made a surprise re-affirmation of their 2003 ceasefire agreement, drawing mixed reactions across party lines. The agreement, the first formal verbal declaration by both countries to maintain peace along the Line of Control, had come four years after the Kargil War. Relations between the two countries took a nosedive in August 2019, when India revoked Article 370, which granted Jammu and Kashmir semi-autonomous status within the Indian Union. This was a body blow to the complex system of relations in the region and left the people of Kashmir seething. The Indian government enforced a communication blackout, ramped up its military presence in the valley and put Kashmir’s elected leaders under house arrest. Following this, in 2020, there were over five thousand ceasefire violations, the most in a single year  in two decades.

So when, on 25 February, the Directors General of Military Operations of both countries promised to resolve “each other’s core issues” in order to ensure peace and stability in the region, it was a rude shock for large sections of people in the valley. The joint statement said that the agreement occurred in a “free, frank and cordial atmosphere.” In a later speech at the Islamabad Security Dialogue initiative, Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, said that “it was time to bury the past and move forward.”

Kashmir has rarely had a pro-Delhi politics underpinned by conviction and commitment. This space has generally been occupied by politicians driven by personal ambition and opportunism. What support these politicians have is contingent on the day-to-day needs of Kashmir’s residents. This context has traditionally made separatists and those seeking self-determination the valley’s most authentic political voices. The hope for some kind of a geopolitical pressure to force Delhi to reverse the move on Article 370 has already been given short shrift, with the larger international community mostly choosing to overlook it. This had made Pakistan’s role important for many Kashmiris. Now even this hope is wearing thin, with Islamabad choosing to engage with India instead of demanding the reinstatement of Kashmir’s autonomy, however limited it may have been. The betrayal is also felt across the border, in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

“Ever since India’s brazen aggression on August 5, 2019, we have been hearing assurance after assurance that there would be no engagement with India until it rolls back everything it did on August 5,” the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani wrote in a letter released by his representative to the Pakistan government. “May one ask why this contradiction between the stated policy and action?”