NEW DELHI: India and Pakistan have decided to give peace another chance by agreeing to observe a fresh border ceasefire after a particularly violent 2020, with artillery and firing duels between the rival armies breaking all annual records in the last 18 years.
The ceasefire came into effect along the 778-km long Line of Control (LoC) and the 198-km international border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir at midnight on Wednesday after hotline talks between the Indian and Pakistan directors-general of military operations, as per a joint statement issued by the two sides.
Relations had nose dived and violations of ceasefire rose after India scrapped the provisions of Article 370 with regard to Jammu and Kashmir which was split into two union territories of J-K and Ladakh. Pakistan protested vehemently and increased efforts to push terrorists across the line of control, setting the stage for heightened tensions with India.
Senior Army officers on Thursday said the ‘basic aim’ of the fresh ceasefire was to prevent casualties of civilians living in border hamlets, who often get caught in the middle of unabated hostilities. They, however, emphasized that there will not be any let-up in the relentless counter-infiltration and counter-terrorism (CI/CT) operations of the 13-lakh force. Terror launch pads in PoK remain active as well.
The Army also ruled out any connection between the ongoing military confrontation with China on the northern borders with the decision taken with Pakistan on the ceasefire along the LoC.
“We retain the right to respond to any ceasefire violation (CFV) by Pakistan. Acts of terror will not be tolerated and a befitting reply will be given to all misadventures. All options remain open to mitigate any threat as deemed fit by battalion commanders on the ground,” said an officer on Thursday.
Army chief General M M Naravane himself had stated on Wednesday that Pakistan remains “committed” to its strategy to support terrorism in all its forms. “The terror launch pads along the LoC continue to remain operational, with terrorists waiting for the opportunity to cross over. With summer approaching, we have to be prepared for a fresh influx (of terrorists) from across the border,” he said.
As of now, there is no reason to believe that Pakistan has rolled back its proxy war, with the United Jihad Council and terror outfits like LeT, JeM and Al Badr continuing to operate with impunity on its territory.
The Army believes peace along the LoC will be “contingent” on stopping the cross-border movement of terrorists, with previous attempts being derailed because of acts of terror and Pakistan Army’s belligerence. “Let’s see…We are cautiously optimistic but will maintain high operational readiness to respond to any misadventure,” said another officer.
This is not the first time that India and Pakistan have agreed to honour the ceasefire agreement of November 2003.A similar pact, for instance, was reached between the two DGMOs in May 2018 but it gradually withered away with escalation in cross-border hostilities.
From 2,140 CFVs recorded by India in 2018, the number jumped to 3,479 in 2019, with major spikes after the Pulwama terror attack and the consequent Balakot air strikes in February and then the nullification of Article 370 in August that year.
The upward spiral continued with India conducting retaliatory punitive fire assaults against Pakistan Army, bunkers and fuel dumps across the LoC. As many as 5,133 CFVs were recorded last year, the highest since 2003, and the number had already reached 591 this year before the talks between Indian DGMO Lt-General Paramjit Singh Sangha and his Pakistani counterpart Major-General Nauman Zakaria.
“In the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders, the two DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence,” said the joint statement.
“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and all other sectors. Both sides reiterated that existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilized to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding,” it added.