The hostilities along the LOC and working boundary ended on the midnight of February 24-25 as a result of talks between the DGMOs of India and Pakistan. The cessation of hostilities represents a recommitment by both the countries to abide by the ceasefire agreement as well as address the core issues which have the potential to undermine peace and stability.
It may be recalled that Pakistan and India had concluded a ceasefire agreement along LOC in 2003. The agreement held for a few years, but regular violations from the Indian side started in 2008. A sharp spike in the truce breaches has been witnessed since 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in India. Last year, Indian troops committed over 3,000 ceasefire violations in which 28 people were martyred.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed the decisions of the DGMOs meeting as a positive step while India said it desired normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan. It was also hailed at the global level as a right step towards reducing tensions in the region.
This development came as a surprise for many. However, reports in the media quoting official sources suggest that the ceasefire marked a milestone in secret talks brokered by the UAE which began months earlier behind closed doors. According to these sources, the ceasefire is only the beginning of a larger roadmap to orchestrate lasting bonhomie between the two neighbors.
The next step in the process involves both sides reinstating envoys in New Delhi and Islamabad; they had been withdrawn in 2019 after the Modi government unilaterally ended the special status of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir by revoking Article 370 of the Indian constitution, and through a legislative enactment made it part of the Indian union in contravention of the UNSC resolutions. Then comes the hard part: talks on resuming trade and a lasting resolution of the Kashmir dispute, the subject of three wars between the two countries. The UAE government has not responded to these reports. However, the UAE foreign ministry in a statement welcomed the understanding between the two sides stressing that it was an important step towards achieving security, stability and prosperity in the region. It also emphasized the importance of permanent ceasefire and commitment to diplomatic means to build bridges of confidence and establish a lasting peace that achieves the aspirations of both the people.
It is also being speculated by some diplomatic sources that the ceasefire could have been the result of some backchannel talks that may have happened. In India, there was a rumour that Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was involved in backchannel dialogue with his counterpart from Pakistan Moeed Yusuf. This contention has been denied by Yusuf through a tweet: “No such talks have taken place between me and Mr Doval.”
Nonetheless, irrespective of how the two countries agreed to defuse the heat, it is a very significant and much needed occurrence which might prove to be a steppingstone to set rolling the process of rapprochement between the two countries.
Besides the commitment by the two sides to honour the ceasefire agreement, another encouraging development is that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written a letter to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan to extend best wishes to Pakistan as it celebrated the Pakistan Day, reiterating “As a neighbouring country, India desires cordial relations with the people of Pakistan. For this, an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative. It is a difficult time for humanity. I would like to convey my best wishes to you and the people of Pakistan for dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic”. In the meanwhile, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind has also wished his Pakistani counterpart Arif Alvi on Pakistan’s National Day.
The reality is that continued enmity between Pakistan and India is not only detrimental to the efforts of both the countries to deal with their abject poverty but is also jeopardizing the chances of shared economic prosperity in the region for which there exists enormous potential. They both need to work for peaceful co-existence through resolution of their disputes, more so the Kashmir issue which is the main stumbling block towards achieving that objective.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has made several overtures towards India for making a new beginning but has not received much reciprocity. Instead, the Modi government responded by further aggravating the situation through illegal actions in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and by adopting a hostile posture towards Pakistan which nearly brought the two countries to the brink of war when Indian planes bombed imagined terrorist camps at Balakot. As a result of the retaliatory action by Pakistan, India lost two of its planes while one of its pilots was captured. It was due to the restraint shown by Pakistan and the intervention by some friendly countries that the situation was de-escalated.
It is noteworthy that Prime Minister Imran Khan and COAS General Bajwa in their discourses to the Islamabad security dialogue again reiterated the need for peaceful co-existence with India, emphasising that economic prosperity cannot be sustained without a peaceful neighbourhood. They however made it a point that in the backdrop of the permeating situation, India had to take the first step. COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa said: “we are ready to improve our environment by resolving all our outstanding issues with our neighbours through dialogue in a dignified and peaceful manner. However, it is important to state that this choice is deliberate and based on rationality and not as a result of any pressure. We have learned from the past to evolve and are willing to move ahead towards a new future, however, all this is contingent upon reciprocity. Kashmir dispute is obviously at the head of this problem”.
Prime Minister Modi needs to understand that merely wishing cordial relations between the two people is not enough; concrete steps are needed to achieve that. He can make a beginning by rescinding the steps taken in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and then agree on resolving the Kashmir dispute in conformity with the UNSC resolutions. He cannot get away with his illegal actions and efforts to keep the people of Occupied Kashmir under subjugation with the barrel of the gun. He must see the reality and move accordingly. Peace between India and Pakistan is essential for both the countries.