ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and India on Thursday 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 surprise 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), which had apparently taken place a day earlier.
The conversation between Pakistani DGMO Maj Gen Nauman Zakaria and his Indian counterpart Lt Gen Paramjit Sangha was described as “free” and “frank” and held in a “cordial atmosphere”.
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.
Qureshi terms agreement a positive development; Delhi says India desires normal neighbourly relations with Pakistan
“Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings and cease firing along the LoC and all other sectors, with effect from midnight 24/25 February 2021,” said a statement.
Pakistan and India had in November 2003 agreed to cease fire along the LoC and the Working Boundary. The agreement held for a few years, but regular violations have occurred since 2008. A sharp spike in the truce breaches has, meanwhile, 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.
The statement said the two sides had concurred on reviving the existing mechanisms — hotline contact and flag meetings — for dealing with “any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding”.
Hotline contact is one of the oldest military confidence-building measures between Pakistan and India. The hotline contact was originally established in 1971, but its use followed ups and downs in the relations. The two sides had in their secretary-level talks in August 1992 agreed to resume DGMOs’ communication via the hotline on a weekly basis. The practice, however, could not become a permanent feature and remained dependent on the state of bilateral relations.
One of the key parts of the statement that did not get much attention was the one related to 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.
This effectively meant that the understanding reached between the two sides went beyond an agreement on adhering to the 2003 arrangement and carried a commitment to addressing the real issues — Kashmir from Pakistani perspective.
The announcement, whether by coincidence or design, came on the eve of the second anniversary of the February 2019 aerial skirmishes between the two countries following the Pulwama attack.
How the agreement reached?
The outcome of the DGMOs conversation, held after a long time, was significant, but people were curious about knowing how the two sides reached this point amidst all the acrimony between them.
With no convincing explanation coming either from Islamabad or Delhi, diplomatic observers believed that it was a result of some backchannel talks that may have been at work. But who were involved in it?
Sources say it had been taking place between the intelligence agencies of the two countries with the blessings of the respective military leaderships. Almost everyone agrees that not many people were in the loop on both sides.
In India it was rumoured that Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was involved in the backchannel dialogue from his side. Some Indian media organisations speculated that Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Moeed Yusuf was the person on the Pakistani side.
Mr Yusuf, however, through a tweet 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 resulted through DGMOs dialogue “done privately and professionally through the direct channel.”
In an audio clip that earlier in the day made rounds on social media, Mr Yusuf could be heard saying: “These things happen behind the scenes. A lot of effort goes into it. Do you think this happened without effort and without pressure.”
Mr Yusuf had in an interview with Karan Thapar in October 2020, which was the first by a Pakistani official with any Indian media since annexation of occupied Kashmir by India in August 2019, said India had sent message expressing desire for talks.
It should also be recalled that Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa had in two statements earlier this month made gesture for resolving tensions. Speaking at the PAF Academy, he said: “It is time to extend hand of peace in all directions.”
Another significance of the agreement is that the Pakistan government engaged with India despite setting the conditions that it would not do so until and unless India cancelled the annexation of held Kashmir and ended the human rights violations there.
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 this ceasefire agreement with sincerity. How can we make progress on the issue of occupied Kashmir unless the environment is conducive,” he said.
Mr Qureshi believed that the agreement could stop the situation from further deterioration. “Pakistan seeks peaceful relations with its neighbours,” he added.
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.”
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2021