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The surprise India-Pakistan ceasefire call and what it means, explained

The India-Pakistan ceasefire move coincides with a new incumbent in the White House and no sooner than India began the disengagement process with China. What is the significance, can it hold and other questions answered.

February 26, 2021 / 05:09 PM IST
Representative image

Representative image


Uncle Sam talking. With over 4,600 instances of ceasefire violations (CFVs) by Pakistan recorded in 2020, the highest in under two decades, the thaw in New Delhi-Islamabad ties, in deep freeze, caught everyone by surprise.

On February 25, India and Pakistan issued a joint statement to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the LoC and other sectors, and to address “each other’s core issues and concerns”. It was their first joint statement in over eight years.

It stated that the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of the Indian and Pakistani armies had held talks this week to renew the peace process. It said both the countries agreed to “strict observance of all agreements, understanding and ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors with effect from midnight 24/25 February”.

Just when relations between the two sides had plummeted to an all-time low, the question is why this attempt to improve relations now? "It is a good question to ask,” says former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan and veteran diplomat, G. Parthasarathy. In his view, New Delhi is being tied down by the new Biden administration. "I don’t know if it is a good thing or bad, but I will not trust the Americans with Kashmir,” he told this writer.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, Parthasarathy said that Islamabad had no option. "It is the Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is in charge in Pakistan and not Imran Khan. Bajwa is amenable to US pressure,” he said.

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Nonetheless, some key questions need answers as Moneycontrol seeks to unravel a seven-decade-long-quagmire, which has defied all personalities and lengthened the odds.

What is the officially stated position for agreeing to the ceasefire?

The two sides have cited threats to the civilian population on both sides as the reason to implement the ceasefire. The Line of Control (LoC), a 748-km-long unsettled boundary between India and Pakistan in the rugged heights of Jammu and Kashmir, recorded the highest number of CFVs since an agreement came into being in 2003. More than defence personnel, civilian lives are endangered in this never-ending spiral. Farmers, petty businessmen and their families, not willing to leave their land, are the main victims of sporadic firing.

What is the history of ceasefire agreements and violations between the two sides?

The two sides had agreed to follow the 2003 ceasefire understanding. Though there had been no written agreement then, Pakistan had announced unilateral ceasefire on November 26, 2003, which was reciprocated by India. However, the violations had started by 2009. The government told Parliament earlier this month that 2020 witnessed 5,133 ceasefire violations as compared to 3,479 in 2019 and 2,140 in 2018. The incidents led to deaths of 22, 18 and 30 civilians, and 24, 19 and 29 security personnel, respectively. According to Indian Army data, January and February 2021 have seen 591 crossfire violations already.

How does the mechanism work?

Under the current system, a Brigadier-rank officer conducts a weekly call with his counterpart in the DGMO’s office through the hotline. Any urgent or outstanding issue is resolved through the hotline. Military sources say that the two DGMOs also interact regularly through this hotline to review the situation along the LoC and International Boundary to try and “achieve observance of all understandings and agreements between the two militaries.”

Can such decisions be reached over night?

No, they cannot. The Indian Express quoted sources to suggest that India and Pakistan have been holding back-channel talks for the last three months, with National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval leading the Indian diplomatic initiative with Pakistan’s civilian-military leadership. Sources said more steps towards peace are likely in the coming weeks, with both sides 'engaged’ and 'cautiously optimistic’. While Doval had met his counterpart Moeed Yusuf, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on security affairs in a third country, he had also kept communication channels open with Pakistan Army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. Yusuf, courtesy his proximity to Khan as well as the military, and Bajwa due to the power the Pakistani Army wields, were both crucial links in the chain. There is no official confirmation of such talks, but it is a tad ambitious to expect people to talk on record.

Can the ceasefire hold?Most experts agree that it is extremely tenuous. Analyst Sushant Sareen, who specialises in Pakistan, believes this could well be a pre-emptive move from both sides. "Before the Americans land up, both sides can say we have been trying to ease the situation,” he told this writer. In Sareen’s estimation, "if this ceasefire survives the summer, it would be an achievement, knowing the ways of Pakistan.” He said that there is nothing on ground to suggest that the situation warrants such a ceasefire.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.

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