8th Mar, 2021
In an unexpected development, India and Pakistan militaries have agreed to “strictly” observe all agreements and adhere to a ceasefire along the Line of Control, which is the first such understanding since the 2003 ceasefire violations pact.
- Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and 1965, and a limited war in 1999.
- Although both countries have maintained a fragile ceasefire since 2003, they regularly exchange fire across the contested border, known as the Line of Control.
- Both sides accuse the other of violating the cease-fire and claim to be shooting in response to attacks.
- An uptick in border skirmishes that began in late 2016 and continued into 2018 killed dozens and displaced thousands of civilians on both sides of the Line of Control.
Line of Control (LoC)
- The Line of Control (LoC), also known as the ‘ceasefire line’, is a de facto border that divides Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir.
- The line originally marked the military front when the two countries declared a ceasefire in January 1949.
- It was formally named the LoC after the 1972 Simla Agreement.
Key-highlights of the Joint Statement
For the first time in recent times, India’s ministry of defense and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations have issued a joint statement after the talks between the director-general of military operations (DGMOs) discussed their hotline.
- The two sides reviewed the situation along the Line of Control and all other sectors in a free, frank, and cordial atmosphere.
- The two DGMOs “agreed to address each other’s core issues and concerns which have the propensity to disturb the peace and lead to violence” in the interest of “achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders”.
- Both sides agreed for strict observance of all agreements, understandings, and cease firing along the Line of Control and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 February 2021.
- Further, the two sides “reiterated that existing mechanisms of hotline contact and border flag meetings will be utilized to resolve any unforeseen situation or misunderstanding”.
Instances of ceasefire
- According to Indian government figures, there were 5,133 instances of ceasefire violations along LoC last year, with 46 fatalities.
- This was a large number recorded in a year since 2003 and marked a big jump from 3,479 instances of violations in 2013.
- In 2021, there were 299 violations with one fatality till early February.
Will the agreement ease the situation?
- The ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan came weeks after the withdrawal of Indian and Chinese forces from the eastern Ladakh region.
- Ever since the face-off between India and China in eastern Ladakh, the possible breakout of a two-front war has become more evident.
- In this context, the ceasefire on the LoC will ease the pressure on the Indian army, which is already seeking to re-deploy its strike corps on the eastern front.
The Big Questions (still remains)
- Though it is a welcome step, it puts a question mark on how long the fresh commitment to a ceasefire along the LoC can hold especially with summers approaching.
- It is not the first time that the militaries of the two countries have agreed to maintain calm at the border.
- In 2018, both armies agreed to adhere to the terms as per the 2003 agreement, something that was reiterated today.
- However, the agreement lasted only till an untoward incident disrupted the agreement. So the current understanding is as tenuous as the previous one.
- Whether this conciliatory move will turn into a formidable détente depends on how the events unfold in the coming days and months.
- After all a single event, like the Pulwama suicide attack, is enough to bring the two countries back on the brink of war.
Why no hope should be attached to the agreement?
- Interference in domestic issues: Forget bilateral issues, Pakistan has been openly interfering in India’s domestic issues, whether it is the farmers’ protest or a judicial process. The first thing that normally happens before a peace process starts is that rhetoric is toned down. But that hasn’t happened.
- Deteriorating security issues: On the security front, things are only deteriorating. The Pakistanis are now openly trying to resurrect the Khalistan movement.
- Increasing terrorism in the valley: In Jammu and Kashmir, new terror groups (actually most of these are proxies of old terror groups, albeit with more ‘secular’ names like Resistance Front) have emerged. The security forces are braced for a ‘hot summer’ in the Valley.
- New techniques for terror activities: Pakistanis have been adopting and adapting terror tactics from other theatres – dronesto drop weapons not just in J&K but also in Punjab, tunnels to infiltrate terrorists, and introducing ‘sticky bombs’ (used to devastating effect in Afghanistan in recent weeks).
Simply put, this is hardly conducive to any kind of move towards putting the bilateral relationship back on track.
With the latest development, India has now eased border tensions with both China and Pakistan -- Ladakh disengagement and ceasefire. The move is welcomed by the US as well as the UN, which stated it as a positive step towards greater peace and stability in South Asia.