New Delhi, Sept. 30: The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan have decreed that each others’ directors general of military operations (DGMO) should meet for peace on the Line of Control where skirmishes have escalated this year.
But in the Indian military establishment, at least, there is little clarity on what the DGMOs — who talk every week in any case — are expected to achieve that could not already have been explored.
The last time the military establishments of India and Pakistan met through their respective DGMOs for talks to establish tranquillity on the LoC was more than 14 years ago on July 11, 1999 — towards the end of the Kargil hostilities.
Then, as now, Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan (he was overthrown by Pervez Musharraf days later) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was heading the NDA government. After being prodded by their political masters — who in turn were prodded repeatedly to end the firing by then US President Bill Clinton — the DGMOs, Lt Gen. Tauqir Zia of Pakistan and Lt Gen. N.C. Vij, met at the Attari-Wagah border.
After the meeting, then national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, announced that the DGMOs had worked out modalities to de-escalate “sector by sector”. Essentially, that India had agreed to hold fire to facilitate safe passage to Pakistani intruders (described then as the mujahideen) who had occupied the heights in Kargil and directed fire on NH1A. By then India had lost nearly 500 soldiers in the hostilities.
This time, the Indian DGMO, Lt Gen. Vinod Bhatia, would be expected to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Major Gen. Ashfaq Nadeem, to explore how to put an end to the firing on the western stretch of the LoC right up to the Kargil sector in the north.
The firing is certainly far less intense than it was in 1999. But the killings and exchanges are the most intense this year since the two sides agreed to a ceasefire in 2003, 10 years ago.
In the interim, India and Pakistan decided to institutionalise the mechanism of weekly DGMO-level talks. Each side calls up the other every Tuesday and whenever they deem it necessary. In more peaceful times, the talks have even been held by the deputies in each office. The conversations are always recorded.
Till last year, the DGMO talks had rarely gone beyond a formal exchange of pleasantries, save during accidents at the Siachen glacier caused by the weather in the icy heights when each side need to give access to the other to retrieve bodies.
Since the beheadings of Indian soldiers in January this year, however, the talks have been more of a blame game, each side accusing the other of violating the ceasefire. The Indian Army today counts — and even last afternoon there was an exchange of fire — about 150 ceasefire violations by Pakistani troops.
The Indian Army believes that Pakistani troops give “covering fire” to militants sneaking into Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has regularly accused Indian troops of opening fire without provocation. But the fire and counter-fire have so far been limited to infantry weapons, unlike in the years before 2003 — and particularly in 1999 — when the thunder of hundreds of 155mm, 130mm and 105mm howitzers routinely shook the Himalayas.