A few days back media reported two back-to-back infiltration bids along the Line of Control (LoC) in Nowshera and Sundarbani sectors of Rajouri district of Jammu & Kashmir, which were foiled by the Indian army. Even as the fierce gun battle in both sectors left two soldiers, including a Junior Commissioned Officer, and three militants dead, the positive side of the encounter was that there was no ceasefire violation. Unlike in the past, Pakistan army’s intervention in the gun fight between Indian army and the militants was not reported this time.
It was a shot in the arm of reinventing peace in the region, when in a sudden and significant move, the Indian and Pakistani armies on February 25 announced that they would cease firing across the LoC while recommitting themselves to a 2003 ceasefire agreement. So far, the ceasefire agreement has not be breached by the armies of both countries despite recent hostilities in terms of infiltration attempts made by the militants to cross this side of the LoC.
Immediately after announcing this fresh ceasefire, the close observers of India and Pakistan relations had put a question mark on how long the fresh commitment to ceasefire along the LoC can hold especially with summers approaching. Of course, it is the most valid question as it has been an annual routine to witness surge in infiltration bids on the LoC in summer months in the region.
Pertinently, over a period of time, defense strategist found that melting of ice on the high mountains offers opportunity to offenders to cross the LoC clandestinely and conveniently. In this backdrop, apprehensions loomed large that summer months would prove the fresh ceasefire agreement brittle owing to surge in infiltration bids. But the two back-to-back infiltration bids, which culminated into fierce firefight between militants and the Indian army, dispelled such apprehensions as the Pakistan army didn’t appear on the scene and maintained the sanctity of the ceasefire commitments made on February 27. Indian army too played its role within the ambit of the ceasefire agreement and handled the infiltration bids without crossing the limits of the ceasefire pact despite losing two of its jawans.
This is not the first time that India and Pakistan have agreed to give peace a chance on the LoC to make the lives of civilians of both countries living along the line easy. Both the armies need to be commended for the patience which they have been showing on the LoC and this will go a long way to foster peace in the region. However, the onus lies on them to sustain and make it memorable in the history of India-Pakistan relations.
Since the February 27 ceasefire agreement has been executed with recommitment to the 2003 ceasefire agreement, it makes a sense to revisit the joint statement issued jointly in November 2003, four years after the Kargil war, by India and Pakistan committing themselves strictly to observe the pact along the (LoC).
It was on November 26, 2003, the ceasefire was implemented along the entire stretch of the India-Pakistan frontier. By virtue of the agreement, Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkot routes were opened for bus and truck services linking the two parts of the J&K region for the first time in six decades. Precisely, it encouraged cross-LoC travel, and trade. The pact even facilitated India to complete the construction of a fence near the LoC to prevent infiltration bids. It was a project that India had begun a couple of decades earlier but had to abandon it due to artillery fire from Pakistan side.
Notably, the ceasefire agreement survived for three years and remained a milestone as it brought peace along the LoC until 2006. Not a single bullet was exchanged by the armies of India and Pakistan between this period. After 2006, ceasefire violations became the norm with increasing frequency. The situation made the lives of the civilians living on the LoC hell for all these years till we saw second phase of the ceasefire agreement this year in February. Notably, Pakistan and India have fought three wars, and in 2019, the pitch of tensions rose dramatically high post the Pulwama terror attack and the subsequent Balakot airstrikes.
Even as another ceasefire agreement was reached between Indian and Pakistani armies in 2018 to recommit themselves to the 2003 ceasefire agreement, the violations continued unabated which caused heavy loss of life and property on both sides. Even both the armies have admitted that the ceasefire violations have caused heavy losses of civilian and military lives across the LoC.
Now holding of the ceasefire between Indian and Pakistani armies along the LoC for the last five months has given a feeling of peace and security to the civilian population on both sides of the Line. Here the armies of both countries have a primary role to translate this ceasefire opportunity into a long road of normalisation of ties between their countries.
There is a fervent hope to see both the armies recommitting themselves to the ceasefire agreement of 2003 when none other than the Indian Army Chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane states: “Cessation of firing is in the interest of building trust between the two armies, for giving chance to peace and for the benefit of the population residing along the LoC. India would like to continue with the ceasefire so that it contributes to stability and improvement in the relationship.”
Let me quote the Army Chief of other side. In March this year, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Baja, immediately after the joint ceasefire announcement called for India and Pakistan to "bury the past and move towards cooperation.” The statement of the Pakistan Army Chief holds firm ground in the sense that the army has ruled the country for nearly half of its 73-year existence, and has long controlled foreign and security policies.
Let this ceasefire prevail and pave way for peace, prosperity and economic profits for both the countries in general and to the J&K region in particular. Not only this, a long-lasting peace initiative can go a long way to unlock the economic potential of South and Central Asia that has so far remained hostage to the strained India-Pakistan relations.
To conclude, Indian army as well as Pakistani army which are maintaining an eye-ball to eye ball contact on the LoC have to continue this magnanimity and firmly hold the flag of ceasefire pact atop to reinvent peace in the region for the greater cause of humanity. This way they can set the highest standard of human rights. Let other stakeholders also board the bus and remove vice through peace.
(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)