THE Pakistan-India relationship is known for its complexity and bitterness, but there are times when surprises of a more positive kind are sprung. The recent decision by both militaries to honour the 2003 ceasefire along the LoC certainly qualifies as a pleasant surprise, considering the acrimony that has marked relations of recent.

In a joint statement released after hotline contact between the respective directors general military operations, “both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements ... along the LoC and all other sectors”. Considering that two years ago on this date both nuclear-armed rivals were at the brink of war, this is a welcome development. Moreover, too many innocent lives have been lost in cross-border shelling and ceasefire violations last year.

The move has not gone unnoticed, with the US State Department spokesman welcoming the move and encouraging continued “efforts to improve communication between the two sides”. Washington has also urged Islamabad and New Delhi to hold direct parleys on Kashmir.

It is difficult to say in concrete terms whether this development is the result of bilateral backchannel contacts between Pakistan and India, or if the new US administration has ‘nudged’ both actors to try and resolve their differences. Regardless of the impetus, the fact that both sides are talking instead of facing off at the border heralds a welcome change in the region, especially if the bellicosity that was emerging from New Delhi not too long ago is remembered.

And while the statement covers purely military matters along the LoC, buried within it are the seeds of normalisation, should both sides — particularly India — wish to pursue deconfliction. The “DGMOs agreed to address each other’s core issues/concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence”, the statement says. Of course, from Pakistan’s perspective Kashmir is the core issue, and it is hoped that this and other irritants to peace are eventually addressed in a frank and progressive manner by both sides.

However, no one should be under the illusion that the bitterness afflicting bilateral ties will magically disappear on the basis of one statement. Peace-building is a long and arduous process, and when the relationship is as complex as that of Pakistan and India, things will take time to fall into place. As for external players, if the US is serious about peace in South Asia, it should clearly let New Delhi know that dialogue with Pakistan needs to be continued.

In the short term, the development bodes well for the people living along the LoC, who have paid with their lives due to Indian aggression. In the longer view, if New Delhi genuinely wants peace with Pakistan, it should make efforts towards restarting the dialogue process. Confidence-building measures will be more effective once political temperatures cool and India reviews its disastrous policy in held Kashmir.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2021

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