By Rajat Pandit
NEW DELHI: In a significant breakthrough after months of cross-border hostilities and firing duels, India and Pakistan + on Tuesday agreed to restore peace along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir by agreeing to honour the ceasefire pact of November 2003.
Indian director-general of military operations Lt General Anil Chauhan and his Pakistani counterpart Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza decided to “fully implement the 2003 ceasefire understanding in letter and spirit” after the latter sought “a special hotline talk” at 6pm on Tuesday.
Importantly, the two DGsMO agreed that any “issue” will be sought to be resolved through the hotline and border flag meetings. Moreover, the acceptance of the ceasefire does not mean the Indian Army will slacken its robust counter-infiltration measures along the borders, said sources.
The development comes after ceasefire violations (CFVs) in just the first five months of 2018 broke all annual records since 2003, with the two armies regularly using light artillery guns, anti-tank guided missiles and heavy mortars to target each other and civilians getting caught in the middle.
With the ceasefire observed more in breach, the bid to revert to it caught observers by surprise, but follows moves to build confidence over issues like release of Indian and Pakistani fishermen held by either side. The utility of India’s decision to retaliate heavily to Pakistan fire has been debated but if the ceasefire proves durable it will be seen as a move that has delivered some results.
The number of CFVs already stands close to 1,300 this year, with 908 of them being recorded along the 778-km LoC and the rest along the 198-km IB. India has lost 36 soldiers and civilians in them, with another 120 being injured, while the number of casualties on the Pakistani side is estimated to be much more.
The number of CFVs recorded in 2016 was 449, but there was a surge in them after Indian Special Forces conducted “surgical strikes” against terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir in September that year. The CFVs jumped to 971 in 2017, with the action-reaction cycle escalating further this year. Top Hizbul leader Burhan Wani’s death in July 2016 also triggered massive protests, supported by Pakistan, and led to a spike in infiltration bids.
Tuesday’s pact will come as a major relief for civilians living in border hamlets, thousands of whom have been displaced due to the fierce cross-border firings. It also comes soon after the government declared a unilateral suspension of counter-insurgency operations in J&K during Ramzan.
“The Indian Army DGMO agreed with the proposal to undertake sincere measures to improve the existing situation to ensure peace and avoidance of hardships to the civilians along the borders,” said an official statement.
“Both the DGsMO agreed to ensure that henceforth the ceasefire will not be violated by both sides. It was also mutually agreed that in case of any issue, restraint will be exercised and the matter will be resolved through utilization of existing mechanisms of hotline contacts and border flag meetings at local commanders’ level,” it added.
A senior officer, in turn, said the Army’s three-tier counter-infiltration grid to detect and tackle infiltrators will continue as before. “We will not lower our guard. With the ceasefire, the Pak Army will find it difficult to give covering or distracting fire to infiltrators as has been its policy for long,” he said.
The 2003 ceasefire initially held for some years as a major confidence-building measure, with the two armies maintaining restraint and holding regular flag meetings. Even then, India had not agreed to formalize the ceasefire understanding into a written agreement with clearly defined modalities and standard operating procedures in order to keep its options open because of Pakistan’s continuing support to cross-border terrorism.
But the ceasefire pact had begun to fray in recent years with the Indian Army stressing the Pakistan Army-ISI combine had used the interregnum to bolster its anti-India terror machinery and push as many infiltrators as possible into India.
Since last year, Indian Army had taken to “pro-active dominance” of the LoC by conducting pre-emptive and targeted fire assaults against Pak Army forward posts that actively abetted infiltration, as also “tactical operations” along the border. Several Pak Army posts in areas like Balnoi, Mendhar, Kalal, Keran, Doda, Sarla, Laleali and Banwat were destroyed in the process, as reported by TOI earlier.