Line of Control?

I do not know how to communicate the idea of a “line of control” in either Hindi or Punjabi. The cartographers in New Dehli and Islamabad might well employ other terms for their so-called common border. I had never even seen footage of the land around the line until recently. That changed only when earthquake recovery prompted a shift in priorities for the governments of both India and Pakistan. It was on November 8th, 2005 when the first trucks filled with supplies for the quake victims arrived and for the first time in the history of the two nations, in front of all the cameras, something other than mortars and malice crossed the line of control. I watched the citizens of Kashmir, the flashpoint of the 2,912 km divide, lining up at the line, eager to see if they too could make the crossing, desperate to end long exiles from their families and communities. November 8th was not to be their day.

Witnessing, on the evening news, the melange of hope and suspicion on their faces, I was confronted with the myth, the curious notion that this area is, in fact, a “line of control.” If that were so, exactly who would be in control there? Would it be India? Would it be Pakistan? I am certain both sides would agree that neither is in complete control of the border. Yet, in light of an extremely delicate cease fire and the continuous military presence outside of the line, it would be difficult to argue that they are controlling the line cooperatively. As far as I can tell, the reality is that no one is in control at the line of control. If anything, it could be said that the line of control itself appears to be exerting the control for which it is named, arbitrarily restricting the mobility of the people living around it, in spite of any other considerations.

This arrangement is contrary to the origins of political order. Borders are not a priori restrictions, within which communities subsequently spring up neatly, like stalks of corn – unless of course the borders are oceans, deserts, or impassible mountains. Families, communities and civilizations drive the dance of borders across the map. That is one reason why Saddam Husein opted to rule with an iron fist. His brute force alone suppressed the communal tensions that
lingered from Iraq’s contruction, in the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, as a British mandate with no unifying language, history or culture. It was a factor that Moscow failed to understand in the days of the Soviet Union, which also went the way of the Ottoman Empire. It was why Ariel Sharon created housing settlements in disputed areas of Israel many years ago as the Minister of Housing. It is also why he, as leader of the Israeli government, had to have them dismantled.

I tried to look it up online and I still could not figure out what they call the line of control in India and Pakistan. Even so, I can rule some possible descriptions out. They do not call it the line of popularity, the line of good neighborliness or even the line of sustainable developement. Yet, none of these would be any less desirable or more absurd than calling the area which has often been judged the most contentious border in the world, the line of control. If the above historical examples are representative, it is the people who live along that border, in Kashmir and elsewhere, who will eventually decide if, when, and under what conditions it will be renegotiated. If indeed the strongest desire of those individuals is to see their loved ones and revisit old homes, than there is hope that, even in the midst of a dangerous nuclear standoff, the return of order to the line of control may coincide with the restoration of peace.

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