On December 18, 2020, the public relations wing of the Pakistan Army shared that a vehicle of the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) had been hit across the Line of Control (LOC), the ceasefire line that separates Indian-administered Kashmir from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, in the Chirikot Sector of Pakistan-administered Kashmir by Indian Border Forces in Rawalakot sector of Indian-administered Kashmir. The UNMOGIP officers were on their way to meet the victims of ceasefire violations (CFV) in Pakistan when they were hit. The Foreign Office of Pakistan termed it a ‘new low’ in the conduct of the Indian Army. The Indian authorities termed these reports false and later on, the deputy spokesman to the UN Secretary-General, Farhan Haq, confirmed that their vehicle was damaged after being hit by an ‘unidentified object’ and that the Mission is investigating the incident.
The ceasefire line was created in the aftermath of the 1949 Indo-Pak war over Kashmir. Since then, three additional wars have been fought in the region but ambiguity over territorial boundary remains—although the Indo-Pak Simla Agreement of 1971 attempted to concretize Kashmir’s borders by renaming the border LOC, these changes were not demarcated on the ground but only described on maps.
Reports about CFVs often make the headlines on mainstream media, reporting the number of casualties and injuries of people residing across the LOC. However, the scars and trauma of those affected cannot be quantified. The impact of CFVs on civilians is largely absent from popular debates on cross-border violence. This piece intends to highlight the human security aspect of CFVs by taking into consideration the life of civilians on the LOC and the human cost of cross-border skirmishes.
UNMOGIP and CFVs. The UNMOGIP was set up on the recommendations of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP). It was mandated to supervise the ceasefire in Kashmir. Its primary function is to observe and investigate incidents of ceasefire violations and report its findings to India, Pakistan, and the UN Secretary-General. The back and forth on ceasefire agreements cause further distress to the civilians on LoC. After 1971, there was no solid mechanism to control violence across the border. As a result, firing incidents and minor intrusions into each other’s territory were rampant in the 1980s and 1990s.
CFVs occur due to multiple, sometimes unknown or neglected, causes. India and Pakistan have wrongly diagnosed these causes and the linkage between CFVs and escalation dynamics has led them to adopt misleading policies to deal with the recurrent violations of the ceasefire and the consequent strengthening of bilateral tensions.
The Civilians who bear the brunt of CFVs. The civilian population on the Pakistan side of the LoC is on the zero lines and sometimes ahead of that. There are socio-economic implications of CFVs on the local population. There is a psychological and economic toll. Many people have been killed, displaced, and socially and economically affected. Educational and other infrastructure has been destroyed. Many schools remain closed for a long time, trade across the LoC suspends. Basic human rights and digital rights are violated. Anam Zakaria’s study on LoC indicated that displacement and migration due to the CFVs causes economic and psychological pressure on the people living on the LoC. Women have had faced sexual harassment and the displaced families become indebted to money lenders for life. Most of this goes unreported in mainstream media. Even when the plight of Kashmiris makes headlines, they do not capture the sufferings and miseries an average Kashmiri living close to the border goes through. The media reduces it to several casualties, how many people got injured and the amount of infrastructure destroyed. But the scars on the life of civilians are more than just numbers. The locals get to the bunkers when CFVs happen, but most of the time they get killed. Once 28 children were killed when a mortar hit a school in Neelum valley in the 1990s. This situation has made people psychologically, physically, and financially impaired. They have to remain in a situation of fear, their houses get damaged and their livelihood gets affected. On 16 November 2020 deadly shelling hit the villages in Neelam Valley, at least 15 people including soldiers got killed, many wounded, and homes destroyed. The wailing civilians questioned continue to be collateral damage in a war they have no say in.
It is pertinent to talk about state narratives on the human impacts of border and framing of media messages on Kashmir. A trend of framing messages on Kashmir has been observed on the Pakistani as well as Indian side. Pakistani State and media report CFVs by showing strong determination to protect the homeland and reiterating commitment to the Kashmir Cause. While on the Indian side the CFVs are reported by showing an upper hand of BSF. These patterns indicated that human sufferings are used by media to further the agenda of the nation rather than fairly covering the human cost.
Conclusion. India and Pakistan need to institute joint mechanisms to avoid escalation scenarios. There is a dire need for dialogue on contentious issues for which many an agreement between the two states already exist. It is important to respect and review border management agreements to ensure the safety of border communities. These agreements are about deescalating the situation and ensuring the safety of the civilians. Hospital facilities for the affected people should be increased and there must be a mechanism to spare the ambulances carrying the injured during the firing. Media can surely play a role by representing the plights of affected civilians instead of fanning brinkmanship, war-mongering, and nationalistic narratives. Kashmiri’s perspective can be represented by promoting the local newspapers by the mainstream media houses of India and Pakistan. Finally, it is the responsibility of the governments of Pakistan and India to help the civilians and look for avenues to broker peace in the nuclear environment.