For Jammu and Kashmir, the Line of Control (LoC) is not only a symbol of state interference in social life, but also an emotional object representing the importance of cross-border alliances. In this sense, areas along the LoC represent a social structure where state-owned military paraphernalia is considered a symbol of authority, not protection.
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By Mazhar Iqbal
The Line of Control (LoC) is a dotted line on the map of South Asia that bisects the Jammu and Kashmir region, representing its contested status between India and Pakistan. About 800 kilometers long, the LoC, which is also known as the Ceasefire Line, originates from the river Tawi near Jammu and ends at the snow-clapped mountains in Kargil.
It’s amongst one of the most heavily-militarized separation barriers in the world. On the ground, it’s a fenced boundary entangled with several-meters-high, double-rowed barbed wire passing through valleys and hillocks, mountains and rivulets. Apart from the barbed wire, the Indian military has installed floodlights, surveillance equipment, seismic imaging devices and audio sensors to monitor any movement in the area. These gadgets are in addition to a round-the-clock patrol maintained by Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel.
In last few weeks, the inviolability of the LoC has been questioned several times. A total of nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians have reportedly been killed in a fresh escalation of tension on this border. Historically, it’s a soldier’s nightmare and a civilian’s death trap. The blotted history of mistrust and suspicion between India and Pakistan – marked by poisonous verbosity of hostile politicians and supported by jingoistic national media – has proved itself to be much stronger than the ceasefire agreements or the lofty ideal of peaceful co-existence.
Around the world, separation barriers are constructed to limit the movement of people across a region or to separate two populations. The current map of the world depicts an alarming increase in these fences, though a few of them are strategically important. Jammu and Kashmir’s split is deemed to be a nuclear flashpoint. Pakistan and India are nuclear states.
The installation of a security barricade is stimulated by a sense of protection. Yet the human implication in a conflict-ridden area is irreparable. The civilian population was there before the military barrier was installed. Though a major part of the LoC is covered by forest blocks and hilly terrain and runs through a mountainous region, some of its locations present a typical picture of division of cultivable land; a peasant’s house in India and his arable land in Pakistan.
Political impulsiveness, instability and the mercurial nature of geo-political relations amongst neighboring states in the whole South Asian region has always proved to be a catalyst for increased tension on the LoC. The temperament of forces deployed here is guided and goaded by political happenings in the region. In recent months, there has been a growing debate in Pakistan that the instability of the country’s political setup is causing disturbance along the LoC.
However, there is another explanation in Pakistan that the Indian government is working behind the scenes to implement its agenda of downsizing the role of separatist elements in electoral politics of the disputed region. Also, an atmosphere of aggressiveness can divert public outcry from administrative failure in the aftermath of a natural disaster and can prove productive to fulfil the political ambitions vis-à-vis the so-called Mission 44. Mission 44 is a stated electoral agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form the next government in Jammu & Kashmir. The BJP has never been able to independently form the government and has traditionally been considered a negligible political force.
The Indian locus on fortifying an intra-state border is in contradiction with its territorial claims. India has historically claimed a territorial right over the entire state, whereas an expenditure of millions of dollars to erect a short-term borderline within the state implies that the current Indian government is willing to withdraw its right on the other part of the state, which is under Pakistan’s administration. Pakistan’s stated position on the LoC is that the border in Jammu and Kashmir is un-demarcated and any measure to alter its status or to erect permanent obstacles is a direct violation of India’s international obligations.
Perhaps the challenge to establishing India’s authority over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is bigger than the BJP’s speculations. It is a vibrant society with an established history of resistance against coercion. Over one billion people simply can’t put barricades alongside their courtyards. Hundreds of villages and grazing areas of inhabitants of those villages have virtually been traversed by the LoC.
Despite the explosive nature of the military zone, Kashmir grazers habitually take their cattle to farmlands where they are always on mercy of rival forces. A fence can only make access of annoying elements difficult, but not impossible. Putting barricades in peoples’ pastures, without asking them, can never be a welcome move.
For Kashmiris, the LoC is not only a symbol of state interference in social life, but also an emotional object representing the importance of cross-border alliances. In this sense, the areas along the LoC represent a social structure where state-owned military paraphernalia is considered a symbol of authority, not protection.
The LoC iconizes the state as an indeterminate sovereign power that has a merciless business of showing power to its neighbor upon the bodies and souls of its subjects. The very notion of showing strength to neighbours has characteristically shaped the underlying fabric of India-Pakistan relations. A neighbourhood is no longer a place where charity begins; it’s an abandoned farmland, a deserted house or a dwelling of devils and demons.
Mazhar Iqbal is a peace and human rights activist and member of Press for Peace.