As if on a cue, the routine of peaceful vigil on the Line of Control (LoC), separating the Indian and Pakistani forces in the disputed Kashmir region, has undergone a wakeup jolt without a warning.

The guns in Kashmir are silent due to a ceasefire being in effect since 2003. It is worthwhile to remember that even when the largest ever mobilisation of Indian armed forces (Operation Parakram) against Pakistan, following the attack on Indian Parliament in December 2001, had been rolled back in October 2002, the exchanges had continued across the LoC.

The ceasefire in Kashmir that came into effect in November 2003 provided the much needed balm; making possible the Islamabad Summit in January 2004 that set the ball rolling for Indo-Pak engagement under the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP). The cross-LoC assault on a Pakistani post by Indian troops and their accusations of a Pakistani retaliation, has reignited the tensions as a potential flashpoint where the troops remain in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation.

With both countries blaming one another for initiating aggression, the spotlight has come to rest, once again, on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) mandated United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), who are stationed in the disputed region to oversee the ceasefire violations in Kashmir since 1949.

Once India landed its forces in Srinagar on October 27, 1947, and occupied the predominantly Muslim princely state, fighting broke out between India and Pakistan. In January 1948, the Security Council adopted Resolution 39, establishing the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to investigate and mediate the dispute.

In April, through Resolution 47, the Council decided to send UN observers to enforce a ceasefire. The UNMOGIP owes its existence to Paragraph 17 of this resolution which stated: “The Commission should establish in Jammu and Kashmir such observers as it may require of any of proceedings in pursuance of the measures indicated…....”

The UN sponsored ceasefire came into effect on January 1, 1949, and the Commander-in-Chiefs of the two armies met on January 15; agreeing to facilitate the UNCIP to set up the UNMOGIP.

In July 1949, India and Pakistan signed the Karachi Agreement establishing a Ceasefire Line (CFL) to be supervised by the UNMOGIP. Consequently, the group was deployed along the CFL with a UN mandate to observe, report and investigate complaints of ceasefire violations and submit finding to each party and to the UN Secretary General.

The East Pakistan debacle in 1971 provided a chance to India to exploit Pakistan’s weakened position to attempt changing the nature of CFL through self-serving interpretations of the provisions of the Simla Agreement, which entered into force on August 4, 1972, and stated that the two countries resolved “to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed by them.” Regarding the CFL, it said: “In Jammu and Kashmir, the LoC resulting from the ceasefire of December 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side.”

Employing an obviously convoluted logic, the Indians claimed that since the CFL had been renamed as LoC in the agreement, the UN mandate for the UNMOGIP had become outdated. The fact remained that the CFL, with small deviations, had remained same on ground, as established by the Karachi Agreement in 1949 and through Simla Agreement.

Pakistan had made no change to its position on the CFL or the UN linkages to the Kashmir issue. Nor the people of Kashmir had forsaken their inalienable right to a UN mandated plebiscite. To get rid of the UNMOGIP, India prevented the UN observers from patrolling the CFL even as the talks between the two countries were going on.

It is instructive to note that the Simla Agreement does not circumscribe a UN role in the resolution of Kashmir, or the deployment or functioning of the UNMOGIP, yet the Indians - given to their unilateral partisan interpretations - have ever since made concerted efforts to have the UNMOGIP withdrawn from Kashmir.

India’s Foreign Minister Swaran Singh as back as July 7, 1972, met the UN Secretary General and repeated his government’s view that since the CFL no longer existed (only according to Indian interpretations), therefore, the UNMOGIP had no function to perform. He maintained that his government would appreciate if the UNMOGIP would “fade out”.

The UN, however, made it clear that under Security Council Resolutions, particularly Resolution 307, as well as Karachi Agreement, the Secretary General was obliged to maintain the UNMOGIP until both parties agreed to request a change, and the Security Council formally decided to accept such a request.

Ever since its failure to have the UNMOGIP withdrawn from Kashmir, the Indians have brazenly curtailed the liberty of actions of UN observers posted on their side of the LoC. The Indian media, in a conspiracy of silence, maintains a very low profile on the UNMOGIP in an attempt to fade out its presence from public conscience.

The evident result is that most people in India have never heard of this potent and present UN linkage to the Kashmir issue. It is victory of sorts for Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir that India has not been able, despite its best possible endeavours, to unilaterally remove the UNMOGIP from Kashmir. This Indian failure serves to emphatically underscore the fact that despite passage of considerable time the UN resolutions on Kashmir have not become obsolete; as India is wont to make the world believe.

The current clashes on the LoC, and the conflicting statements emerging from India and Pakistan, have served to again focus attention on the importance of UNMOGIP and the active role it can play in preventing tension and hostilities in the disputed Kashmir region going out of hand. It is heartening to note that despite the Indian intransigence to acknowledge the UNSC validated UNMOGIP role in maintaining peace along the LoC, the UN has not stepped back from endorsing group’s designated role.

“The UNMOGIP is aware of the alleged incidents and will conduct investigations as soon as possible in accordance with its mandate,” said the spokesman for the Secretary General. With India’s stonewalling the Kashmir issue through the subterfuge of bilateralism, this is a reassuring gesture from New York.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.