A recent decision by military leaderships of Pakistan and India to abide by the 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control has come as a pleasant surprise. The development has rekindled hopes the two countries can hold talks and resolve their longstanding issues, including Kashmir, in a peaceful manner.
The move is unexpected, especially after persistent aggression from New Delhi on the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&C) and intensified shelling on civilians in Pakistan. The tension between the two neighbours was so high until recently that no one could even imagine the resumption of bilateral talks.
In a joint statement, Pakistan and India said that they had recommitted themselves to the 2003 ceasefire arrangement at the Line of Control and agreed to address the core issues that could undermine peace and stability. The announcement was made in a joint statement by the militaries of the two countries on a hotline contact between their directors general military operations (DGMOs). It said Pakistani DGMO Maj-Gen Nauman Zakaria and his Indian counterpart Lt-Gen Paramjit Sangha talked in a “cordial atmosphere” and the agreement reached between them took effect a night earlier under which ceasefire violations at the LoC had ended from midnight of Feb 24 and 25. “Both sides agreed to strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and all other sectors, with effect from midnight 24/25 February 2021,” the statement added. The two sides also agreed to revive the existing mechanisms — hotline contact and flag meetings — for dealing with “any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding”.
One of the key parts of the statement related to the commitment to addressing core issues bedeviling the ties. “In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues, concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” the statement noted. Experts say it means that the understanding reached between the two sides goes beyond an agreement on adhering to the 2003 arrangement and carries a commitment to addressing the real issues, especially Kashmir.
However, it is yet to be seen how effectively India abides by the agreement. In November 2003, Pakistan and India had agreed to cease fire along the LoC and the Working Boundary. The agreement held for a few years, but India started regular violations in 2008. The situation worsened after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in India in 2014. Indian troops committed over 3,000 ceasefire violations in which 28 Pakistani civilians were martyred last year.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi welcomed the agreement, saying it was a positive development. “It could be a good start for the future. India will have to abide by the ceasefire agreement with sincerity. How can we make progress on the issue of occupied Kashmir unless the environment is conducive,” he said. Indian Ministry of External Affairs, in its reaction, said: “India desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan. We have always maintained that we are committed to addressing issues, if any, in a peaceful bilateral manner.”
The United Nations and the United States also welcomed the joint statement, saying it was a positive step towards peace and stability in South Asia. United Nations General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said, “I wholeheartedly welcome the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan. Their stated commitment to achieve sustainable peace through addressing each other’s core issues and concerns sets an example for other countries and demonstrates UNGA values.”
It is also interesting to note that the announcement of the ceasefire came on the eve of the second anniversary of the February 2019 aerial skirmishes between the two countries following the Pulwama attack. Questions are also being raised about who brokered or encouraged the two countries to revive the agreement after a long time, especially after recent atrocities by India in occupied Kashmir. According to media reports, diplomatic observers believe that it was a result of some backchannel talks that may have been at work for months. It is said that the intelligence agencies of the two countries were involved in the talks with the blessings of their respective military leaderships and not many people were in the loop on both sides.
According to the Indian media, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Moeed Yusuf were also involved in the talks. However, Moeed denied that he was part of any backchannel talks. He tweeted: “No such talks have taken place between me and Mr Doval.” In another tweet, he said the agreement had resulted through DGMOs dialogue “done privately and professionally through the direct channel.” In an audio clip, he said: “These things happen behind the scenes. A lot of effort goes into it. Do you think this happened without any effort and without pressure?”
Another significance part of the agreement is that Pakistan also showed leniency to start the talks because it had set the condition that it would not do so until and unless India cancelled the annexation of held Kashmir and ended human rights violations there. India also agreed to address core issues bedeviling the ties. Undoubtedly, it is a huge development, especially considering the tension between the nuclear-armed rivals two years ago, when they were at the brink of war.
However, it will be unwise to expect that the bitterness afflicting bilateral ties will disappear in the days and weeks to come on the basis of the joint statement. It will take years and decades for sustainable peace, which would immensely benefit the people of the two countries.