On 25 February, the militaries of India and Pakistan released a statement, agreeing to observe a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), a dividing line between Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. The announcement was somewhat of a surprise, particularly considering the deteriorating relations between India and Pakistan in recent years, and the upsurge in ceasefire violations along the LoC.
It’s hard to know what led to the announcement, but domestic pressure in both countries, magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, means a ceasefire in Kashmir is in both India and Pakistan’s strategic interests.
Ever since the division of the sub-continent in 1947, the foundations were laid for the long-standing conflict in and around the regions of Jammu and Kashmir that persists today. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over territory there, and each state continues to assert claims over its entire area.
The LoC split many families, with people stuck on either side of the divide unable to visit relatives and friends. Over the years of violent conflict the diverse populations of Jammu and Kashmir on either side of the LoC have become disconnected and mistrustful of each other.
The immediate benefits of the ceasefire are clear. The people living along the LoC have a much needed reprieve from the specter of war, and the very real violence and destruction they experience – violence killed 74 people last year alone. But the long-term impact of this ceasefire is more difficult to predict. India and Pakistan have been down this path before, with numerous ceasefires being struck and then broken. Friends and colleagues in the region are understandably apprehensive about how this will play out.
So what needs to happen to ensure a more positive outcome this time around?
Amongst others, I’ve learnt two important lessons in my time as a peacebuilder working in this region, and from colleagues that have been involved in peace processes around the world. In a highly complex environment such as Kashmir, change has to be incremental, and it has to be inclusive of the people who are most affected by violence. This inclusion allows diverse perspectives to inform the peace process, helps address the root causes of conflict, and ensures public support for a future vision.
For the past decade, Conciliation Resources has been working with a network of committed Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC who are striving for a more peaceful future. They are teachers, journalists, academics, civil society leaders and business people, all with a shared aim to lay the foundations for peace. They work with different sections of Kashmiri society, to hear people’s views on what is needed for a peaceful Kashmir, and they connect people across the LoC to build confidence and trust in one another.
These initiatives not only build confidence but are mutually beneficial. Last year, the network worked with technology and health experts to begin developing a platform for sharing information about the COVID-19 pandemic, and their initiatives to support trade across the LoC provide economic opportunities for people across the region. Their work celebrates the rich cultural diversity of the region, whilst respecting the interests of India and Pakistan. Without forcing people to submit to a singular political aspiration, this work has enabled people to visualise realistic and interdependent possibilities of a shared future.
My hope is that this ceasefire provides opportunities for Kashmiris to continue to develop these collaborative initiatives, breaking down barriers and building bridges between divided communities. Such networks and platforms which have credibility within their own communities, and combined with a commitment to genuinely reaching out across divides, can continue to transform relationships that have begun to be nurtured in different spheres. Connections on trade relations, in education, disaster risk management and tourism have already been made and can be advanced.
There is a deep and long history of division and anger in Kashmir, and we know that this can’t and won’t be solved through ceasefires alone. Transforming relationships requires time, patience and commitment. It’s an incremental, step-by-step process, but the latest break in hostilities could be a springboard for further progress.
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Ever since the division of the sub-continent in 1947, the foundations were laid for the long-standing conflict in and around the regions of Jammu and Kashmir that persists today.