Seven Pakistani soldiers lost their lives on Sunday night in cross-border firing along the Line of Control (LOC) in Bimber sector – in what is the worst army death toll on a single day since the ceasefire was agreed between India and Pakistan since 2003. That is not all; according to authorities, the civilian death toll from Indian shelling has risen to at least 26 in the past few weeks while another 107 have been injured. If we take a look at publications from the other side of the border, the story is the same, but with the victims flipped and the aggressors reversed.

For the citizens of the two South Asian nations, border skirmishes and a constant trickle of coffins has become an accepted reality, but this recent upsurge is uncommon even by the region’s gory standards. However, the political and practical response to this otherwise worrisome chain of events is stuck in the standardised mould of condemnation and aggressive posturing – while the situation in the border regions remains the same. Something has to change.

The Foreign Office (FO) summoned Indian High Commissioner Gautam Bambawale for the umpteenth time to “lodge its protest”. The patronising ‘summoning’ of foreign diplomats and their semi-public chastening is an effective tool to get the message across to the other side and to the rest of the world, but in the context of Pakistan and India, one has to wonder what tangible good any of it does. Both sides have the summoning and chastising bit down to a choreographed performance and crucially both sides’ foreign diplomats come prepared for it. This is the FO going through the motions of diplomatic engagement when real diplomacy is dead.

The same is true for our “appeals to multilateral bodies” such as the United Nations (UN) and the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). Token appeals and condemnations are forwarded, which receive canned and useless responses.

The military fares no better; it is locked into the “befitting response” narrative, never taking the conversation forward or backward. State funerals are offered, rousing speeches in defence of the motherland are made, and a round of shells is fired in response while it hunkers downs and waits for the next skirmish.

In the wake of these practiced and sensitised responses, real lives are being lost and real damage is being done. The state machinery needs to galvanise itself to come up with a better way of responding to these issues – be it through engagement with India or some other radical re-think. Pakistan-India relations are in a rut – and they need to be busted out of it.