As CPEC projects continue to progress in Pakistan, tensions with India seem to only be increasing. Thursday, the latest climax of these tensions resulted in the death of a school van driver in Azad Jammu Kashmir near the Line of Control (LoC). The school van driver and accompanying children were said to be traveling between Daramsal to Battal in Pakistan administered Kashmir.
According to Pakistani authorities, Indian forces violated the Line of Control, deliberately attacking a van full of school children. Although the children were physically unharmed, the school van driver died immediately. Pakistani authorities believe this was an attack deliberately targeting children in violation of the Geneva Convention, which contains provisions to protect civilians, especially children during armed conflicts.
Comments on the School Van Driver Attack
Major General Asif Ghafoor, official spokesperson for the Pakistani Army, tweeted a statement highlighting that the attack was a violation of the Geneva Convention:
Indian unethical and unprofessional approach across LOC continues terrorising civilians. Targetted [sic] van carrying school children in Battal sector in violation of Geneva Convention & ceasefire understanding. Van driver embraced shahadat.
In Islamic law and religion, shahadat is the act of martyrdom. Pakistani authorities are calling the school van driver a martyr and asking for prayers for his family.
Maj. Gen. Ghafoor also tweeted a video of a young school girl who was in the van discussing the attack.
Indian terror described by a girl student inside school van targetted today in Battal Sector. pic.twitter.com/TeC4iNT4X6
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 15, 2018
A college student on board explained:
There was firing while we were on the way and I thought the vehicle had been hit. When we looked, the driver had been hit and was bleeding profusely. The students panicked and started screaming while people gathered at the spot of the attack after some time.
Spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Office, Dr. Mohammad Faisal, has called for the Indian Deputy High Commissioner, JP Singh, to issue a condemnation of the event, as well as what Dr. Faisal calls repeated violations of the cease fire agreement.
The Conflict in Kashmir
The LoC divides Pakistani and Indian administered regions of Kashmir, a deeply contested territory since the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, following the end of British colonial rule. While the region was largely divided based on religion, in many regions, the divisions were not so clear. This was the case in Kashmir, leaving the stunningly beautiful region rocked by near constant conflict for decades.
During the split in 1947, provinces under princely rule could decide whether to join India or Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir faced a difficult decision, considering that most of the residents of Kashmir were Muslim, while he himself was Hindu. The ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, unsuccessfully attempted to maintain neutrality.
Pakistan attempted to gain control of the Muslim majority Kashmir, which led the Maharaja to seek military aid from India, eventually agreeing to join India. This lead to a war between Pakistan and India in 1947-1948, which officially ended when the UN became involved, ordering India and Pakistan to withdraw their troops and allow the people of Kashmir to decide for themselves.
Pakistan ultimately rejected the agreement; the fighting continued until 1949, when a temporary ceasefire was signed. Afterwards, violent conflict re-emerged nearly every decade. Since the late 1990’s the two nuclear capable countries have managed to avoid an all out war, but tensions, terror attacks, and skirmishes continue to escalate.
The Ceasefire Agreement
The current ceasefire agreement was originally signed in 2003. The ceasefire agreement has since been violated time and time again by military forces as well as terrorist groups. Each time India or Pakistan violates the agreement, they claim that they do so in “retaliation” to unprovoked attacks by the other side, or by terrorist groups. Reports indicate that violations have been increased since 2008.
Pakistani and Indian people who live near the LoC and International Border (IB) continue to live lives of near constant terror as they can never predict when the next violation will come and from which side. The mountainous region is often rocked by mortar attacks that kill civilians, destroy homes, and kill livestock. Although no children were killed in the school van driver attack Thursday, there is no saying how trauma and PTSD might affect the children in the future.
Although ceasefire violations are becoming more common, experts do not anticipate that India or Pakistan will end the ceasefire agreement, fearing bad international press. Critics claim that each fresh violation and attack is then leveraged by either party to demonstrate their innocence in the international arena.
The Diplomat points out that 2003 ceasefire agreement came from a phone conversation between military leaders from the two countries. That means that there is no concrete written agreement between the two nations detailing rules and punishments for violations, evoking the old adage, “An oral agreement is worth the paper it’s written on.”
Figures on both sides have called for a concrete and detailed agreement to be signed.
Pakistani media has stated that his is hardly the first ceasefire violation of the year committed by India. There have allegedly been 150 ceasefire violations this year, injuring 40 and killing nine civilians. In 2017, there were 1900 reported ceasefire violations by India. Many in Pakistan believe that the violations have increased since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in India.
Although some of the violations are said to have been in response to provocation or even attacks coming from the Pakistani side of the LoC, Pakistani authorities believe the attack on the school van driver and children was unprovoked. Whether these attacks came in response to Pakistani provocation, the result has been the death of many civilians, including women and children.
While Pakistan points fingers at the Indian government, India alleges that Pakistan aids terrorists and grants them safe haven, accusations recently echoed by US authorities including President Donald Trump. Pakistani authorities rebut by pointing out that thousands of their own citizens have perished in terror attacks, while thousands more soldiers have died in the fight against terror.