With tensions running high in Pakistan following the recent Peshawar killings, and India on high-alert for jihadist attacks emanating from Pakistan, Indian and Pakistan forces have again traded cross-border fire in the restive and disputed Jammu and Kashmir regions for two consecutive days over December 24-25. An exchange of fire took place between Indian and Pakistani forces along the Sialkot boundary with Jammu and Kashmir on December 24. Both sides, as expected, accuse the other of breaking the calm. Pakistani sources report the Abdal Dogar post in Sialkot’s Bara Bhai sector came under fire from Indian forces. However, Indian sources claim Pakistani Rangers fired upon the Pansar border outpost in the Kathu district of Jammu. Regardless, small arms fire and mortar shelling was exchanged for two hours from approximately 01:30 until 03:30 (local time) on December 24. A day later, India’s Border Security Force (BSF) once again exchanged small arms fire with Pakistani Rangers at the Pansar border outpost in Kathua district. There were no reported casualties from either incident. However, clashes on the border of Jammu and Kashmir persisted throughout August and for 15 consecutive days in October, which left 11 dead and over 100 wounded. Thousands of people were displaced by the fighting.
Periodic clashes between both sides are nothing new. The regions are a primary source of contention between the two nuclear armed states. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 established the rough boundary of modern Kashmir. A second war was fought there in 1965, which resulted in a stalemate and a UN negotiated ceasefire. Pakistan rejects India’s control over the regions and tensions have remained ever since. This has spawned numerous escalations and several small wars.
However, as mentioned above, this latest round of fighting comes amidst increased concerns over stability in the subcontinent. It also follows announced election results in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir on December 23. The elections saw impressive gains for India’s ruling party, the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The elections were widely publicized in India, with the BJP viewing the results as a positive referendum on Indian rule in the region. In that context, it is possible that India will perceive this latest violence as an attempt by Pakistan to overshadow the election results. Also, it should not be ruled out that Pakistan, or its well-known intelligence apparatus, could be aiming to escalate tensions with India in Jammu and Kashmir for its own internal national security interests. Certain elements within Pakistan are pressing the government to take a more hard-line stance against Islamist militants within the country after the Peshawar school killings. The attack left over 140 people dead, mostly children. But Pakistan’s dubious relationship with Pashtun militants, mainly the Taliban, complicates any campaign to fully tackle the problem of militancy within the country. For Pakistan, the militants play an important role in Islamabad’s strategic objectives with both India and Afghanistan. Therefore, increased attention towards the issue of jihadist militancy within Pakistan could spawn increased focus on India, mainly as a diversion.
For years, India has claimed that alleged Pakistani aggression on their disputed border was used, tactically, to allow Pakistani jihadist or separatist militants to infiltrate India. High-trajectory fire from Pakistan keeps India’s troops pinned down, reducing their ability to detect or thwart entry. To that point, India has already heightened security throughout the country, specifically within the capital, in light of several high-level warnings from the US indicating pending attacks. President Obama is scheduled to visit India next month. Pakistan, a long-time ally of the US, may be concerned with a strengthening of the strategic relationship between Washington and New Delhi. In this context, it is possible that India is concerned that militants crossed the border during the December 24-25 skirmishes under the cover of Pakistani fire. As a result, there may be a further bolstering of Indian security forces in northern India, mainly along the border with Pakistan, over the coming days. Further clashes, with the risk of another escalation, should not be ruled out.