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The unfulfilled role of UNMOGIP in Pak-India conflict

The authors focus on the role of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to assess if it has the ability to play a constructive role with reference to its mandate of observing ceasefire violations across the Line of Control.

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|Zahid Shahab Ahmed and Stuti Bhatnagar

A long-running territorial dispute between India and Pakistan that has its origins in the partition of British India, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has created significant tension and continues to be a major cause of contention between the two neighbors. Amidst conflicting territorial claims, the issue of J&K has also been significantly internationalized, since the beginning of the dispute in 1947.

As early as January 1948, India reported Pakistani aggression in the disputed territory of Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and in recognition of India’s claims, through Resolution 39, the UN created the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan.

Comprised of unarmed observers, the Commission was tasked with investigating the conflict and providing assistance for the peaceful settlement of the dispute. As hostilities increased on the disputed border, the functioning of the commission was modified through Resolution 47 in 1948 through the promulgation of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).

Read more: UN concerned over rights violations in Kashmir

A novel initiative for the UN and one of the earliest UN peacekeeping missions, UNMOGIP was tasked with observing and reporting Cease Fire Violations (CFVs) at the border, then referred to as the Ceasefire Line (CFL). While it played an important role in the initial years, the role of the UNMOGIP has been significantly diminished over the years, reflecting the contestations in India-Pakistan relations as well as the continuing problems with UN peacekeeping.

The UNMOGIP mandate

Formally established in January 1949, UNMOGIP’s mandate provided that it should ensure, observe, report, and investigate complaints of ceasefire breaches, submit the findings to each party and the UN Secretary-General, and preserve the demarcation of the CFL.

In keeping with its mandate, UNMOGIP established its administrative offices in New Delhi and Islamabad in addition to several field stations alongside the CFL for relay and communication purposes. In the case of a ceasefire violation, a UNMOGIP team would be deployed to investigate.

Read more: “You will always get a befitting response”, DG ISPR Slams Indian Ceasefire violations

Throughout its mandate, the UNMOGIP was notable for its role in improving and interpreting, for operational purposes, the Karachi Agreement in consultation with India and Pakistan in 1949; offering suggestions that were incorporated into field regulations manuals that included procedures for defining and clarifying the CFL; as a forum for information on military exercises and meetings between the two militaries.

It also played an important role in observing ceasefire violations during the 1965 India-Pakistan war and contributed to the signing of the Tashkent Agreement in January 1966 successfully, securing the withdrawal of Pakistani forces and the bulk of Indian Forces back to their own side of the CFL and in reinstating the status quo.

Read more: Indo-Pakistani 1965 War: Battle of Chawinda

The India-Pakistan war in 1971 was a significant watershed moment, both for the bilateral relationship as well as for the status of the UNMOGIP. The signing of the Simla agreement in July 1972 led to the renaming of the former CFL to the Line of Control (LoC).

At the broader level, the agreement stipulated that, ‘the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations or by any other peaceful means mutually agreed upon between them’. The inclusion of this clause in the agreement set the tone for future Indian engagement with Pakistan over the conflict.

India has since then resisted any third-party intervention in the Kashmir conflict and has placed bilateralism at the core of its engagement with Pakistan.

Read more: India tells UN powers Pakistan behind plot for Kashmir attack

Contemporary challenges

UMMOGIP’s ability to act as per its mandate has been severely affected by New Delhi’s non-cooperation following the Simla Agreement. While Pakistan continues to engage with UNMOGIP, for India, the change in the border into the LoC means that the previous provision of UNMOGIP’s presence had lapsed, as it applied to the previously defined CFL.

From 1972 therefore, India has disallowed the movement of UNMOGIP to forward areas and Indian authorities have refused to accept any communication from UNMOGIP’s field teams. India has placed restrictions on UNMOGIP observers visiting operational areas in J&K without the permission and supervision of the Indian army.

In 2014, the Indian government asked UNMOGIP to vacate its office in New Delhi. The situation became much worse when Indian troops allegedly attacked a UNMOGIP vehicle on the Pakistani side of the LoC.

Read more: India’s attack on the UN vehicle: a mistake or planned?

While a reflection of continually deteriorating India-Pakistan relations, the current state of the UNMOGIP also points to larger problems within UN peacekeeping, particularly in protracted conflicts. Essential to any UN mission is the continuing consent and cooperation of parties involved. The dissolution of a mission is also not possible without the approval of the UN Security Council.

While the Indian government resists UNMOGIP it is also noteworthy that it has so far not asked for its formal termination. UNMOGIP maintains a modest presence with 45 military observers to monitor a large territory and this also limits its ability to do justice to its mandate considering the size of the LoC and the area that UNMOGIP is expected to be observing.

It also faces a declining budget reduced from US$22.29 million in 2016–17 to US$19.75 million in 2018–19. A decreasing budget is also a manifestation of the lack of interest in UNMOGIP at the international level in addition to a lack of interest in the conflict in J&K in general.

Read more: Turkey gives more to UN budget than many in Europe, Middle East

The escalation of conflict in J&K in the current period has brought the focus back onto the dispute and its various elements. There has been a rise in violations of the ceasefire along the border with India and Pakistan collectively reporting over 6,000 CFVs in 2019. The Indian government’s recent decision to remove Article 370 of the Indian constitution and to bifurcate the state of J&K has created further tensions.

A need for re-evaluation

UNMOGIP’s mandate is questioned by the biggest stakeholder, i.e. India, and this is reflected in New Delhi’s opposition to the very existence of the observer mission. While India has been unwilling to cooperate since the Simla Agreement, the severity of tensions between India and Pakistan warrants a re-evaluation of the UNMOGIP’s status to make it more effective.

A key limitation of UN peacekeeping is the dependence on consent and cooperation from stakeholders. India’s resistance to third-party intervention is a significant roadblock towards this.

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As ceasefire violations continue along the LoC and Kashmir remains a contentious subject amid a lack of dialogue between India and Pakistan, there are indications from the UN to strengthen UNMOGIP’s capacity with a call for India to rethink its position. Until then, UNMOGIP will continue to exist but with a limited capacity and an unfulfilled mandate.

Zahid Shahab Ahmed is a research fellow at Deakin University, Australia and Stuti Bhatnagar is an academic at the University of New South Wales, Australia. This analysis is based on the authors’ study which was recently published in Global Change, Peace & Security journal. The views expressed in the are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

 

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