ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday signalled Pakis­tan’s readiness to take the peace process with India forward and said making headway was contingent on India providing an environment conducive to progress.

“We have always stood for peace and remain ready to move forward to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue,” the prime minister said in a series of tweets on the second anniversary of Pakistan Air Force’s ‘Swift Retort’ operation in which two intruding Indian Air Force fighters were shot down and one of the pilots was captured.

The prime minister’s message reflected the recent developments on the bilateral front in which the two arch-rival neighbours agreed to honour a ceasefire on the Line of Control that has witnessed some of the worst violations by the Indian troops in recent years.

The directors general mili­tary operations (DGMOs) of Pakistani and Indian armies in a hotline contact on Wednesday had agreed to abide by the 2003 bilateral ceasefire arrangement at the LoC. The commanders had further decided “to address each other’s core issues / concerns which have propensity to disturb peace and lead to violence”, according a rare joint statement issued by the two militaries.

Our response will always be swift and resolute if our sovereignty is challenged, says air chief

The joint statement is believed to be a result of what Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Security Moeed Yusuf had in an audio clip described as ‘behind the scenes’ efforts.

Mr Khan, who had so far not publicly commented on what the DGMOs had decided during their conversation, hailed the development, saying: “I welcome restoration of the ceasefire along the LoC”.

The ceasefire had taken effect from the midnight of Feb 24 and 25.

In accordance with the joint statement, which had mentioned the intent to address outstanding ‘core issues’ and ‘concerns’, it is expected that both the countries would be taking further steps towards lowering of tensions and normalisation.

Emphasising that “the onus of creating an enabling environment for further progress rests with India,” PM Khan urged India to “take necessary steps to meet the longstanding demand and right of the Kashmiri people to self-determination acc to UNSC resolutions”.

Mr Khan in his latest tweets made no mention of the previous condition set by Pakistan, including the reversal of August 2019 action by India to annex the Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, for a meaningful engagement and ceasing of human rights abuses in the Valley.

Observers had earlier been surprised at Pakistan’s engagement with India that resulted in the agreement on recommitting to ceasefire and resolving outstanding issues despite its own condition of revocation of annexation.

Foreign Office (FO) spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri had at the weekly media briefing on Friday denied any change in Pakistan’s “principled position” on the Kashmir dispute.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the FO said: “Pakistan remains committed to peaceful coexistence and resolution of the long outstanding Jammu & Kashmir dispute in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.”

Swift Retort

Mr Khan said Pakistan responsibly responded to intrusion by Indian fighters in February 2019. He said India had resorted to “irresponsible military brinkmanship” by sending its jets across the LoC, but Pakistan acted maturely by returning the captured Indian pilot.

“I congratulate the entire nation and salute our Armed Forces on the second anniversary of our response to India’s illegal, reckless military adventure of air strikes against Pakistan. As a proud & confident nation, we responded with determined resolve at a time & place of our choosing,” Mr Khan said.

While speaking at a special ceremony held at the Air Headquarters in connection with the anniversary of the Swift Retort operation, Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan assured the enemies of a forceful response to any misadventure by the adversary in future.

“We want to live in peace but if our sovereignty is challenged, our response would always be Swift and Resolute as it was on 27 February, 2019,” he asserted.

Pakistan Air Force, the air chief said, was maintaining its operational readiness to deter aggression by augmenting “its capability in all spectrums of operations while pursuing modernization through indigenous efforts.”

In a similarly phrased message on the occasion, the Pakistan Army issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations, said: “Pak stands for peace but when challenged, shall respond with full might.”

In an apparent reference to India’s conventional advantage, the ISPR statement maintained: “It is not numbers but courage and will of a resilient nation that triumphs in the end.”

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2021

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