After a tumultuous year, top Indian and Pakistani military officials held a rare meeting to round out 2013. The Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of both India and Pakistan met on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border – the first such meeting in 14 years, since the end of the Kargil War – to “discuss ways to ensure peace along Kashmir’s de facto border.” The meeting was somewhat surprising given the marked decline in relations between India and Pakistan against the backdrop of several ceasefire violations by both sides on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.
The joint statement (affixed below) was relatively curt and full of predictable platitudes. It noted who led each delegation, that the meeting was held in a “cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere,” and finally offered a few vague guarantees that the LoC and the thus far ineffective hotline between New Delhi and Islamabad would be rendered more “effective and result oriented.”
The third point in the joint statement is perhaps the sole concrete outcome of the meeting: “two flag meetings between Brigade Commanders will be held on the Line of Control in the near future, to ensure maintenance of peace and tranquility along the Line of Control.” Of course, it’s easy to read this assurance with a cynical eye, particularly given the political response in India to the ever-increasing number of ceasefire violations along the LoC. Ceasefire violations in 2013 more than doubled in number compared to the total number in 2012. It remains to be seen if a consultation between the DGMOs will have any actual perceivable impact on the state of matters on the LoC.
It is almost certain that the meeting allowed both sides to broach more sensitive matters in a rare setting for Indian and Pakistani military officials – we’ll perhaps never know the extent of those conversations since they couldn’t be neatly wrapped up in the rhetorical package of the joint statement. The joint statement seems to ring hollow on certain points – surely a decision had been made prior to the December 2013 meeting that each side would inform the other should a civilian “inadvertently” cross the LoC?
The meeting between the DGMOs drew attention because it occurred face-to-face – not because of the content of the joint statement. The face-to-face meeting symbolizes a particular deterioration in the situation on the LoC. Indian and Pakistani DGMOs are in regular touch over a hotline – that they met in person after 14 years indicates that the late-2013 LoC situation had become serious enough to warrant this sort of symbolic meeting.
It’s also worth noting that the DGMO channel is politically astute for both the UPA-led Indian government and Nawaz Sharif. Any serious attempts to revise the status quo with Pakistan prior to a general election could prove disastrously polarizing for the Congress Party, which is already contesting elections amid a strong anti-incumbency political climate. The DGMO channel is safe, apolitical, and low-profile enough to fly under the political radar.
The DGMO meeting could also defuse tensions ahead of the 5th SAARC Business Leaders Conclave which is slated to take place in New Delhi on January 17th and will be attended by a Pakistani delegation. The Nation reports that Pakistan’s Minister for State Commerce Khurram Dastagir will broach bilateral trade issues with India’s Union Cabinet Minister in charge of Commerce, Industry and Textiles Anand Sharma.
While ultimately somewhat hollow and disappointing, the DGMO meeting represents a positive bookend for what had been a troubling year for India and Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif has now had a good 8 months in power as Prime Minister and his pledge to pursue peace with India looked to stand on shaky ground given the continued tension on the border. That the DGMOs met face-to-face, shook hands, and issued a joint statement should be read more as a “reset” ahead of 2014 than as a serious attempt at revising the status quo in a bilateral setting.
Text of India-Pakistan DGMOs Meeting Joint Statement:
1. The DGsMO level meeting between Pakistan Army and Indian Army on the issues related to Line of Control was held at Wagah on 24 December 2013. The Pakistan delegation was headed by Major General Aamer Riaz, Director General Military Operations, Pakistan Army. The Indian delegation was headed by Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia, Director General Military Operations, Indian Army.
2. The meeting was held in a cordial, positive and constructive atmosphere. Both DGsMO showed their commitment to maintain the sanctity and ceasefire on the Line of Control and agreed to re-energize the existing mechanisms. Consensus was developed to make Hotline Contact between the two DGsMO more effective and result oriented. It was also decided to inform each other if any innocent civilian inadvertently crosses Line of Control, in order to ensure his / her early return.
3. To carry forward the positive spirit of DGsMOs meeting, two flag meetings between Brigade Commanders will be held on the Line of Control in the near future, to ensure maintenance of peace and tranquility along the Line of Control.
4. Both sides reiterated resolve and commitment to continue efforts for ensuring ceasefire, peace and tranquility on the Line of Control.