New Delhi: Amid a growing war of words and firing from across the border, Indian and Pakistani border security forces sat across the table in a meeting to “talk about the future” even as an Indian Army soldier was injured in a cross-border firing.
According to highly-placed sources in the Border Security Force, India did most of the talking on the first day of the director general level peace talks with the Pakistan Rangers. All issues, including ceasefire violations and sniper firing targeting Indian soldiers were raised.
As the peace talks concluded “cordially”, both sides agreed to take steps to start coordinated patrolling at the border, along with the monitoring of ceasefire violations.
Saturday, last day of the director-general talks will also see an accord signed between the two sides.
“India did most of the talking and Pakistan was receptive. The talks concluded in a cordial manner.
“Pakistan mentioned some incidents of the past. We said we would not gain anything from the past. We said if you have 20 points, we have 40 points. Let’s devise a system so that this situation is controlled,” an official said.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani delegation, according to the sources, said they were under pressure from the civil society for maintaining peace and had the responsibility of protecting civilians like the Indian side.
The major focus of the meetings was to open more channels of communication, opening sector level communications and take it to battalion and post level.
As the talks went on, an Indian soldier was injured in Pakistani firing on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district.
“Lance Naik Bhupender Singh was injured in Pakistan Army sniper fire on the LoC in Krishna Ghati sector this (Thursday) evening,” defense ministry officials said.
In the meeting, Pakistan raised the issue of airspace violation while India raised the infiltration issue, and questioned how the Pakistan Rangers could not be aware of it.
However, the issue of involving a third party for monitoring truce violations was not raised by Pakistan but the Rangers admitted their failure in being unable to check infiltration.
“They said they don’t have hi-tech infrastructure along the border like India,” an official said.
According to reports, Pakistan had listed in its agenda a revived role for the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) for intervening in ceasefire violations.
The talks assume special significance as earlier scheduled talks between the national security advisers of India and Pakistan was called off following disagreement over the discussion of the Kashmir issue.
The decision for reviving the meeting was taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif at their meeting in Ufa.
It was envisaged in the meeting that the top leadership of both the border guarding forces will meet periodically and discuss issues of relevance to both the forces.
Issues requiring coordinated efforts like dealing with drug menace, smuggling, simultaneous coordinated patrolling, timely exchange of information etc. were to form the core of discussions.
After the meeting in Ufa, there have been over 100 ceasefire violations since Modi and Sharif met in Ufa. Till June, there have been 199 ceasefire violations by Pakistan.
Official figures reveal that around 430 ceasefire violations occurred on the international border while 153 violations were reported on the LoC in 2014. In 2013, the number was at 347.
In August, there was at least one incident of sniper firing that killed a soldier while two similar incidents occurred in July.
The Myanmar government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) has invited eight ethnic groups that have not signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement to attend collective peace discussions for the first time, officials whose organizations received invitations said Friday.
The political wings of ethnic armed groups that received invitation letters to the talks scheduled for March 21 include the United Wa State Party (UWSP), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Mongla’s Eastern Shan State Peace and Solidarity Committee (PSC), Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), Kokang’s Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party (MNTJP), Palaung State Liberation Front (PSLF), United League of Arakan (ULA) and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).
Myanmar’s military negotiation team will meet separately with each of the groups on March 22, they said.
The letters, dated March 13 and signed by Zaw Htay, government spokesman and director general of President Win Myint’s office, requested that each organization send a team with a leader and a member from their respective ethnic armed groups to meet with government negotiators.
Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed branch of the KIO and the leading group in the Northern Alliance collation of four ethnic armies that operate in northern Myanmar, said he could not yet confirm the Kachins’ participation in the talks because the members of the alliance must first discuss the invitation among themselves.
Khine Thukha, spokesman for the Arakan Army (AA), the armed wing of the ULA which is fighting the Myanmar Army in Rakhine state, said he could not confirm the attendance of AA delegates at the talks because the group’s leaders are still discussing the invitation.
The KNPP said it would participate in the negotiations and would discuss topics based on proposals from the government side.
The invitations also said that Myanmar’s military would discuss the temporary unilateral cease-fire that it declared in December 2018 in five of its command regions to try to kick-start the stalled peace process, when officers meet with delegates from the ethnic organizations.
The truce runs through April, but excludes the Western Command where government soldiers are battling the Arakan Army (AA). The Myanmar military is also engaged in ongoing conflicts with the KIA and the Shan State Army-North, the armed wing of the SSPP, in northern Shan state.
‘More talks coming out of this’
The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government has held periodic peace conferences in a bid to get the remaining ethnic armies to sign the nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), which 10 ethnic militaries have already inked.
The civilian-led government under State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has made the NCA a prerequisite for ethnic armies to participate in periodic peace negotiations, known as the 21st-Century Panglong Conference and the Union Peace Conference, to try to end decades of armed conflict that have stymied the country’s transition to a democratic federal union.
About a dozen ethnic armies have yet to sign the NCA.
The NRPC, chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi, decided to schedule the talks after members of the official Myanmar Peace Commission (MPC) held informal discussions with the KIO, PSLF, MNTJP, and ULA in February in Kunming, in southwestern China’s Yunnan province. Government peace negotiators also met with the KNPP in northern Thailand in March.
The Myanmar military met with the SSPP in February and with the RCSS in March for separate talks.
Hla Maung Shwe, an advisor to the MPC, said the upcoming session will serve as the government’s orientation to the peace process for the NCA non-signatories.
“We have traveled to Kunming and explained the process to seven non-signatory groups from the north,” he said. “We mostly explained the processes for the peace talks after the signing of NCA.”
“We are planning to meet the KNPP in a few days, so the government has now invited all [NCA] non-signatory groups to clarify the situation,” Hla Maung Shwe said.
RFA could not reach Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun for comment.
One Myanmar political analyst said he welcomes the peace talks as a rekindling of negotiations that were put on hold after the third round of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in July 2018. But he cautioned people not to expect too much from next week’s discussions.
“It is good to see peace talks at a time of endless armed confrontations and miscommunications, but we shouldn’t be expecting too much out of these talks,” said political analyst Maung Maung Soe. “I expect, at most, there will be more talks coming out of this later.”
‘Tatmadaw not ready’
International rights groups did not have sanguine views about the new round of talks, noting that Myanmar’s military has not committed to ending violence in the country.
“Over the last several years, it’s been very disappointing to see how the peace process has essentially failed,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights.
“One of the things we’re most concerned about in the failure of the peace process is the fact that the military has continued to commit human rights violations against civilians while talking about trying to establish peace, and these two things obviously are inconsistent with each other,” he said.
Smith also called for more genuine dialogue among stakeholders for the peace process to have a chance to succeed.
“When the fighting continues, when the attacks continue, when human rights violations continue, that leads people that are involved in the process to think that it’s disingenuous, and that harms the overall process,” he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, also blamed the Myanmar military for the country’s foundering peace efforts.
“It appears that the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] is not ready to offer any meaningful concessions for the ethnic groups, nor is it prepared to allow for any degree of autonomy for ethnic organizations to operate their own affairs,” he said. “I don’t know why the Burmese government continues to follow the lead of the Burmese military, when it’s clear that the military often does not want peace.”
The military’s positions in terms of the NCA—the failure to deal with basic political issues during peace talks, its unwillingness to restrain its soldiers, its unwillingness to end attacks against civilians, and the way it operates in ethnic minority regions—are the reasons why the peace negotiations have gone nowhere, he said.
Robertson also said the government’s working in lockstep with the powerful armed forces has meant that the military’s positions have influenced the administration in a way that has been unhelpful.
“Unless the government is prepared to deal with the rights-abusing behavior of the Tatmadaw, it’s going to be very, very difficult to see any sort of peace,” he said.
Two injured in Rakhine skirmish
In violence ridden Rakhine state, meanwhile, a clash between the Myanmar Army and AA in Mrauk-U township on Thursday injured two villagers, one of whom was seriously wounded and had to be taken to a hospital in the state capital Sittwe for urgent treatment, said local volunteers who helped the men.
The two men—one from Bu Ywat Ma Hnyo village and the other from Mrauk-U town’s Aung Tat ward—were injured during a skirmish near Waitharli village situated on the Yangon-Sittwe Highway, they said.
“Twenty-five year-old Maung Soe Win is in critical condition because he was hit above his pubic bone and had to be taken to Sittwe Hospital to receive surgery,” said Mrauk-U resident Than Tun.
AA spokesman Khine Thukha confirmed that Arakan fighters attacked a government army column near Waitharli village.
Government troops responded by shooting to the direction of Bu Ywat Ma Hnyo village near the ambush site, wounding the two villagers and damaging some houses, area residents said.