Line of Control

The Line of Control (LoC) is a ceasefire line and not an international boundary. Under international law, it is defined and protected by a bilateral treaty, the 1972 Simla Agreement, executed in writing between India and Pakistan following the 1971 war, and subsequently ratified by both parliaments.

The Shimla agreement makes it clear that the territories on either side of the LoC have remained the subject of a dispute and making any arrangements (military or otherwise) at the LoC do not prejudice the final resolution of the conflict.

Both India and Pakistan have since reinforced this understanding of the LoC in subsequent compacts such as the Lahore Declaration of 1999, an unpublished ceasefire agreement in 2003, and, a statement from the Indian and Pakistani Directors General of Military Operations in 2018 reiterating their commitment to uphold the 2003 ceasefire understanding in letter and spirit.

As with any bilateral treaty, the status or definition of the LoC can be legally altered only with the agreement of India and Pakistan.

Impact due to withdrawal of special status under Article 370

The constitutional changes to Article 370 are being fiercely contested. But it doesn’t automatically impact the status of the LoC because domestic law of one country simply cannot amend a bilateral treaty without the consent of the other party.

The earlier amendments to Article 370 or the Gilgit Baltistan Order 2018 by the Pakistan to begin the integration of Gilgit Baltistan into the federal structure of Pakistan and a step towards making it the country’s fifth province, akin to Punjab or Sindh will not alter the status of LoC because Article 4 (2) of the Simla Agreement states: “Neither side shall seek to alter it (the LoC) unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations. Both sides further undertake to refrain from the threat or the use of force in violation of this Line.”

The note from the Ministry of External Affairs has confirmed that the changes do not affect either the LoC or the Line of Actual Control, the disputed border with China running through Ladakh.

Has LoC attained a Permanent status-quo?

Given the reality of ever-hardening territorial positions and increasingly polarised narratives within Jammu and Kashmir, the LoC is the only surviving political space where common ground can be found. That is precisely why the Four Point Formula, centred around opening up the LoC for trade, travel, religious tourism and people-to-people exchanges, has survived. It allows the historic identities, cultural and familial ties, and to a limited degree, political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to be celebrated without asking either India or Pakistan to climb down from their respective legal and political positions.

The LoC can be changed in two ways: Bilateral agreement or an all-out war. In the current circumstances, the former is practically impossible when all diplomatic channels for dialogue are suspended. The latter is unlikely to produce a decisive victor and will inflict untold suffering on both sides especially on Kashmiris. Hence for time being the LoC can be seen as one with the status of permanent status quo.

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